D.33A, B (COPIES?) Allegory of the Virgin as the Ark of the Covenant and/or as the “Scala Coeli”

D.33A (COPY) Allegory of the Virgin, London

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


D.33A. (COPY?) London, British Museum, no. 1950-11-11-48.

Fig.D.33Ab bw

Pen and dark brown ink, brownish and brownish gray washes, over black chalk, with ruled perspective lines and light squaring in black chalk; 32.4 x 25.5 (the drawing is contained within a quarter-circle with the arc at the right, and the sheet cut just outside the outlines of this arc and the straight sides at left and bottom); laid down; wm?.  Inscribed in ink in the bottom margin: Cao [?], and in pencil on the mount: After Rosso. French XVI cent. Rene Boyvin?


Carroll, 1961, 452, 453, Fig. 15, as a copy of a lost drawing by Rosso for the Lagrime project.

Carroll, 1964 (1976), I, Bk. I, 187-195, II, Bk. II, 298-300, D.29, Bk. III, Fig. 87.  Carroll, 1966, 169, 173.

Fagiolo dell’Arco, 1970, 110, Fig. 227, as by Rosso, and as reflecting his interest in alchemy and its myths.

Julian Klieman, in Giorgio Vasari, 1981, 104, under no. 2.

Darragon, 1983, 51, 53-54, n. 8.

Ciardi and Mugnaini, 1991, 122, apparently refer to this composition.

Franklin, 1994, 237, 246-250, Pl. 196, as a copy after Rosso, and as showing Five Images of the Virgin.

D.33B. (COPY) Turin, Biblioteca Reale, no. 15662.


Pen and ink and wash over traces of black chalk, 23 x 15.3 (the sheet is cut into an arc at the upper right); laid down on a very slightly and faintly larger sheet and the drawing very slightly and faintly extended at the upper left and right; wm?.


Bertini, BdA, 1952, 312-314, as no. 15652, and as a weak copy of a lost drawing by Rosso resembling his Throne of Solomon in Bayonne, but of the French period because of the resemblance of the rays of the dove to those of the bird in Rosso’s Pandora and Her Box in the École des Beaux-Arts.

Bertini, 1958, 51, no. 381, the same as in 1952 but as a copy of that drawing either of the Italian period or of the French period.

Carroll, 1961, 453, n. 29, as a copy of the same drawing copied in the British Museum drawing.

Carroll, 1964 (1976), II, Bk. II, 298, under D.29.

Franklin, 1994, 237, 246, 248-250, Pl. 195, as a copy after Rosso, and as showing Five Images of the Virgin.

D.33B (COPY) Allegory of the Virgin, Turin

The two drawings show, the Turin one only partially, a drawing by Rosso that can be related to the frescoes projected for the half-lunettes in the atrium of S. Maria delle Lagrime in Arezzo.  What is represented in the complete British Museum drawing is most probably identifiable with the description of one of Rosso’s cartoons for this project that Vasari, in 1568, gave as: “quando l’Arca federes è portata da Mosè, figurata per la nostra Donna, da cinque virtu circondata.”  Although the Ark of the Covenant is not actually shown, the stairway in the drawing could be the one that led to it, and from which the dove descends.  Vasari mentioned five virtues and these could well be the five young women in the drawing.  It seems highly unlikely that there was another, but lost, composition for another of the half-lunettes of this project that also showed five female personifications.1  Furthermore, the style of the drawing – its figures, its composition, and its draughtsmanship – is very similar to that of Rosso’s Throne of Solomon in Bayonne (Fig.D.34), which corresponds to another cartoon for this project that Vasari described.  The Turin drawing also bears an old inscribed attribution to Rosso.  Thus while neither the Turin drawing, which is certainly a copy, nor the British Museum drawing, very well executed and possibly by Rosso himself, can be recognized without any doubts as autograph drawings – the former is too course, and the other perhaps too belaboured – they can be recognized as representing a lost drawing for the Lagrime project.  (The Turin drawing shows in black chalk the arm and hand of the foremost kneeling woman in the London drawing drawn over to obliterate them and to make the scene look complete with only three women.)  But in spite of its crudeness there is a certain sharpness of line and boldness of tonal contrasts in the Turin copy that, judging from the autograph Throne of Solomon, is more indicative of Rosso’s style than what, in these respects, appears in the other copy, suggesting that this copy is not made from the London version.  There is no reason to believe that the complete London drawing is by Boyvin or that it was done in France as the note of the mount suggests.

The squaring of the British Museum drawing also appears in Rosso’s Throne of Solomon, which is also almost exactly the same size.  One other detail of this version deserves mention: the ruled perspective lines in black chalk of the third step from the bottom.  In a copy this would not seem to have been necessary, especially when so little of that step appears in the finished scene.  One probably has to assume that these lines were in the original drawing and conclude that the copyist wished to be as accurate as possible in recording the autograph drawing.  Perhaps such a copy was assigned to one of Rosso’s assistants to provide another exact model from which the cartoon would be made and to use when the fresco itself was being executed by an artist other than Rosso.

I am not wholly convinced that the London drawing is a copy.  It is not as brilliant in its execution as the Throne of Solomon, which also shows no pentimenti.  Could the British Museum drawing, with its perspective lines and light squaring, be a copy by Rosso himself for the special needs of executing this fresco project?

The proportions of the London drawing indicate that this composition was made for the north or south wall of the central bay of the atrium of the church.  As the light in the drawing comes from the upper left and as it seems most likely that it is so directed in accord with the light entering from the window in the façade of the church, this scene would most likely have been intended for the right half-lunette on the north wall.  The shape of the scene accords with that location.  Next to it, on the left, would have been placed the Throne of Solomon with its comparable flight of stairs.

Rosso’s drawing would have been done between 28 November 1528, when the Lagrime commission was awarded to Rosso, and mid-September 1529, when he fled Arezzo.  However, this composition and the very similar Throne of Solomon are so unlike the two versions of the Allegory of the Immaculate Conception (Fig.D.31; Fig.D.32) for this same project that it is likely that the latter were not done at the same time as the other two.  Because of their similarity to Rosso’s study of 1528 (Fig.D.29) for the Christ in Glory, the compositions of the Immaculate Conception appear to have been done first, in 1528-1529; the Throne of Solomon and the Allegory of the Virgin as the Ark of the Covenant should be dated later, in 1529.


1 In the London drawing there is a bearded and apparently nude figure wearing a band around his forehead and hair, peering out over his shoulder behind the stairs in the lower right corner of the scene.  He looks cross-eyed and sinister, resembling the evil-looking figure in the background of the Borgo Sansepolcro Pietà.  Perhaps he serves a similar function, juxtaposed to the five virtues of Pollastra’s invention.  On the possibility that the drawing may show, or also show, the “scala coeli,” and refer to Jacob’s ladder, see the Preface to D.31-34, n. 18.