D.32 Allegory of the Immaculate Conception

D.32 Allegory of the Immaculate Conception

For an Unexecuted Fresco at S. Maria delle Lagrime, Arezzo


Florence, Uffizi, no. 15559F.


Black chalk, 36.8 x 27 (the drawing is contained within a quarter-circle with the arc at the left), wm., a pilgrim with a staff set within a circle surmounted by a star, similar to Briquet 7577-7579.  Inscribed in pencil on the verso at the lower right: Del Rosso.


Berenson, 1903, no. 2459, as School of Rosso.

Ferri, 1917, no. 17, as Rosso, and probably a study for the S. Maria delle Lagrime project.

Leoporini, 1925, 62, no. 151, as Rosso.

Kusenberg, 1931, 137, 141, no. 37, as by Rosso for the S. Maria delle Lagrime.

Venturi, IX, 5, 1932, 216-219, 221, Fig. 126, as by Rosso, and Michelangelesque with the sfumato of Sarto.

Kusenberg, 1933, 159, and n. 1, Fig. 3, as Rosso.

Berenson, 1938, no. 2459, as a copy after Rosso.

Mostra del Cinquecento, 1940, 58, as Rosso.

Becherucci, 1944, 30 (1949, 30), as probably a copy of a drawing by Rosso, for the Lagrime frescoes.

Barocchi, Commentari, I, 1950, 160.

Barocchi, 1950, 70-71, 209, Fig. 48, as a copy after Rosso’s drawing for S. Maria delle Lagrime.

Longhi, 1951, 59 (1976, 99), as by Rosso.

Bologna and Causa, 1952, 60, as Rosso.

Marcucci, in Mostra di disegni, 1954, 24, no. 34, as by Rosso, for S. Maria delle Lagrime, and shows the influence, from Rosso’s stay in Rome, of both Raphael and Michelangelo.

Sinibaldi, 1960, 17, no. 91, as Rosso, for the Lagrime frescoes.

Bean, 1960, under no. 146, as probably an original drawing by Rosso for the Arezzo project.

Emiliani, 1960, Fig. 27, as by Bronzino.

Carroll, 1961, 453, as a copy, possibly by Bronzino, of a drawing by Rosso for S. Maria delle Lagrime, and as influenced by Pontormo’s Deposition at S. Felicita and by Michelangelo’s contemporary art in Florence.

Berenson, 1961, no. 2459, as a copy after Rosso.

Forlani, [1964], 168, under no. 29, 169, no. 30, and Fig., as Rosso.

Hirst, 1964, 125 and n. 23, as a copy after Rosso and as dependent upon Roman art prior to the Sack.

Carroll, 1964 (1976), I, Bk. I, 184-195, II, Bk. II, 291-297, D.28A, Bk. III, Fig. 85, as a copy.

Borea, 1965, as recording part of the Lagrime project.

Fagiolo dell’Arco, 1970, 110, n. 12, Fig. 226, as by Rosso, for the Lagrime frescoes.

Salmi, 1971, 23, as a copy after a drawing by Rosso for the Aretine project.

Collobi Ragghianti, “Libro de’Disegni,” 1971, 22, Fig. 10, as Rosso, and as one part of Vasari’s collection of drawings.

Ragghianti Collobi, 1974, I, 118, II, 201, Fig. 373, as probably a copy after Rosso by Bronzino, and possibly from Vasari’s Libro.

Boase, 1979, 13-14, 29, Fig. 7, as a copy of Rosso’s cartoon.

Giorgio Vasari, 1981, 87, under no. 25 (A. Cecchi), 103-104, under no. 1, 104, no. 2, Fig. 375, as Bronzino?, 106, under no. 3, 108, under no. 107 (J. Klieman), 323 (M. Maetzke).

Darragon, 1983, 51, Fig. 31, as a copy.

Franklin, 1994, 237, 241-244, 246, Pl. 189, as possibly by Rosso, or a copy, as depicting The Virgin as the Second Eve.


This drawing can be related to Vasari’s description of the cartoon of the Allegory of the Immaculate Conception1 that Rosso made for the S. Maria delle Lagrime project.  Not only does the subject of the drawing correspond to Vasari’s detailed description, but the proportions of the quarter-circle shape of the drawing also match the half-lunette wall areas on the north and south sides of the central bay of the atrium of the church that Rosso was to fresco.  Furthermore, the composition and its figures are closely related to those of many works known to be by him.  The extension of the figures across the surface of the scene recalls the arrangement in Rosso’s frescoes in S. Maria delle Pace (Fig.P.17a) and in his Pietà in Borgo Sansepolcro (Fig.P.19a).  Eve brings to mind Minerva (Fig.E.45) and Adam Saturn (Fig.E.26) in the Roman series of Gods in Niches of 1526.  The figures in the Allegory of the Immaculate Conception are also very closely related to those in Rosso’s Mars and Venus of 1530 (Fig.D.42a).  Thus it is reasonable to conclude that the drawing is related to the composition that Vasari described.

Although this drawing is often considered an autograph work, this opinion has also and as often been refuted or most recently questioned.  Accepting it as Rosso’s, Kusenberg then judged the version in the Ensba, Paris (see below), which has also been considered to be by Rosso himself, a copy of the other.  The drawing in Paris is not an autograph drawing by Rosso, as the clumsiness of its execution in many places indicates – see especially the heads of Eve, the Virgin, and Apollo.  In the Paris drawing the body of Apollo, his right arm, and his head are fully described, details that are only partly described in the Uffizi drawing.  Yet the head of Apollo in the Paris drawing, with its curly hair blowing out to the side, is as characteristic of Rosso as any other detail in it.  The hair is quite like that of the figures of Thetis (Fig.E.31) and Hebe (Fig.E.41) in the Gods in Niches.  In the Paris drawing, the branch of the tree to the right of Eve is more completely drawn than it is in the Uffizi drawing, and the outlines of the bow that Diana holds in her left hand that are visible in the Paris drawing appear only very faintly in the Uffizi drawing.  It might be thought that the drawing in the Ensba was not copied from the slightly less detailed drawing in the Uffizi.  At the same time, the latter drawing cannot be considered a copy of the other as the actual description of certain details of the Uffizi drawing is much more characteristic of Rosso’s style than the handling of these same details in the Paris drawing.  For example, the head of Eve in the Uffizi drawing is very similar to many heads in Rosso’s works – see, for comparison, the head of the woman at the lower left of the Borgo Sansepolcro Pietà (Fig.P.19a), and the head of the young man above her, while the same head in the Paris drawing is less specifically related to the precision of his style.  The draughtsmanship of the Uffizi drawing resembles that of Rosso’s Nude with a Standard of 1524 (Fig.D.12), and of the Bacchus in a Niche (Fig.D.18a) and the Pluto in a Niche (Fig.D.17A) both of 1526.  On the possibility that the drawing is the “cosa rarissima” mentioned by Vasari, see L.25.

While I had thought the Uffizi and the Ensbas drawings were both copied from a single lost drawing, I now believe the former is by Rosso himself and the other a copy of it, the copyist having worked up a few of the details that Rosso left only lightly sketched.  He did not, however, complete Apollo’s legs, nor the wheel upon which he rides (and that, by the way, is similar to the one in Rosso’s Apollo in a Niche, engraved by Caraglio [Fig.E.36]).  He also did not copy Rosso’s pentimenti, as at the sole of Adam’s left foot and along Apollo’s torso, but seems to have made a few of his own, as in his attempt to copy Adam’s right hand.

As the  drawing was for a fresco to the left of the interior window on the south side of the nave of the church (see the Preface to D.31-34), the upper right part of the composition would have extended into the space above the pediment of that window.  It is in this area that the left arm of Apollo would have appeared, that part of the composition that is cut off by the edge of the paper on which the drawing is made.  It is likely that Apollo, like Diana, held a bow in his left hand and that the position of his right arm and hand, again like Diana’s, indicates the pulling back of the bow string.

Rosso’s drawing must have been done between 28 November 1528, when the Lagrime project was commissioned to him, and mid-September 1529, when he fled Arezzo.  But this scene differs considerably from two other compositions that were designed for this project, the Allegory of the Virgin as the Ark of the Covenant (Fig.D.33Aa) and the Throne of Solomon (Fig.D.34), and from the Madonna della Misericordia (Fig.D.35a), also executed in Arezzo in this short period.  The Allegory of the Immaculate Conception is, however, closely related to Rosso’s early study (Fig.D.29) for his Christ in Glory, a study that was probably made shortly after this picture was commissioned on 1 July 1528 and only shortly before he began working on the designs for the S. Maria delle Lagrime project.  The way in which the figure of Adam in the Allegory is projected forward almost beyond the front limit of the scene quite specifically recalls the placement of the male figures in the immediate foreground of the study for the picture in Città di Castello.  The similarity of these two studies is also evident in the mutual dependence of the conceptions of the figures on Michelangelo’s contemporary figures, and on Pontormo’s weightless figures of his Capponi Chapel Pietà, indicating that Rosso must have taken a trip to Florence at some time after completing the Pietà in Borgo Sansepolcro and before he began to design the Christ in Glory.  In Rosso’s other Aretine works, in his final design for the Christ in Glory, and in his Mars and Venus of 1530 (Fig.D.42a), the figures are less obviously Michelangelesque.  Consequently, it is most likely that Rosso’s Allegory of the Immaculate Conception was executed soon after Rosso made his first plans for the picture in Città di Castello.  Rosso’s drawing probably dates from very late 1528 or early 1529, and was done before Rosso designed the Allegory of the Virgin as the Ark of the Covenant and the Throne of Solomon for S. Maria delle Lagrime.

Rosso’s drawing would, however, have been done slightly later than his Allegory of the Immaculate Conception known from a copy in the Louvre (Fig.D.31), which was also planned for the Lagrime project but for the left half-lunette of the façade wall.  A change of plan transferred this subject to the south wall where the half-lunette it would have occupied was larger.  Hence the somewhat expanded composition of the later version with the addition of the figures of Diana and Apollo.  But the very similar Michelangelesque aspects of both versions indicates that the one must have followed very quickly upon the other.

COPY: Paris, Ensba, Masson 1198 (formerly Masson 316) (Fig.D.32 Copy, Paris, Beaux-Arts).  Black chalk, 29 x 20.6 (the drawing is cut at the left in the shape of a quarter-circle), lightly squared in black chalk; laid down.  PROVENANCE: Sir Thomas Lawrence (Lugt 2445), Phillipe, marquis de Chennevières (Lugt 2072 and 2073), and Jean Masson (Lugt 1494a).  LITERATURE: Chennevières, 1894, 254, as by Rosso for the Lagrime project.  Masson, 1927, 51, no. 316, as Rosso.  Kusenberg, 1931, 151, no. 52, as a copy of the above drawing in the Uffizi.  Carroll, 1961, 452, and n. 26, as a copy of a lost drawing by Rosso for the Lagrime project.  Carroll, 1964 (1976), same as for D.32A, except for II, Bk. III, Fig. 86.  Giorgio Vasari, 1981, 104, under no. 2, as a copy (A. Cecchi).  Darragon, 1983, 53, n. 8, as a copy.  Franklin, 1994, 241, Pl. 190, as a copy after Rosso, and showing The Virgin as the Second Eve.

The copy is only slightly smaller than Rosso’s drawing but otherwise indicates the intention to make a very close second version of its composition and its draughtsmanship.  In this respect it is successful, althought it attempts also to complete a few details, especially the upper half of Apollo.  The copy is least successful in the rendering of the heads, this failure most evident in the heads of Eve and the Virgin.

A significant addition is the squaring of the copy, suggesting its intended use as the model for a wall painting.  Then why is the original drawing not squared?  Vasari makes a point of Rosso’s dislike of painting in fresco, such that he continually procrastinated in executing the cartoons in order that eventually the fresco would be executed by Raffaellino del Colle (dal Borgo Sansepolcro).  While this never happened, it must have been seriously considered and just possibly to prepare for it Raffaellino made this squared copy of Rosso’s drawing.  This suggestion needs to be further considered.


1 On Franklin’s designation of the drawing as showing The Virgin as the Second Eve, see my Preface to D.31-34, n. 17.