D.39 (COPY?) Allegory of the Immaculate Conception

D.39 (COPY?) Immaculate Conception


St. Petersburg, Hermitage, no. 16377.


Pen and black ink and wash heightened with white over traces of black chalk on blue-gray paper, 32.7 x 20.3 (see Shearman below), the drawing set within a drawn arch at the top; the upper right corner cut and all sides trimmed.  The drawing is very severely abraded, especially at the upper left where the design is almost entirely obliterated.

PROVENANCE: Academy of Fine Arts, Betsky Collection; to the Hermitage in 1924 (information from the museum).


Dobroklonsky, 1940, 113, no. 326, as Rosso, and as measuring 32.5 x 20.5 and done on gray paper.

Dobroklonsky, 1962, 11-15, 47, and Fig., as Rosso.

Carroll, 1964 (1976), I, Bk. I, 239-242, II, Bk. II, 373-375, D.40, Bk. III, Fig. 105, as a copy of a lost drawing of around 1533-1536.

Gulden, 1966, 151, n. 18, accepting the attribution to Rosso, saw the drawing as done around 1530 and as standing between Rosso’s drawing of the same subject made for S. Maria delle Lagrime in Arezzo and Vasari’s painting in SS. Apostoli, Florence.

Shearman, BM, 1966, 171, n. 39, as on blue paper, as probably an original drawing by Rosso of about 1528 rather than a copy, and as possibly a drawing that Vasari would have seen in Arezzo.

Fagiolo dell’Arco, 1970, 110, n. 12, Fig. 225, as by Rosso and as done for the Lagrime project in Arezzo.  Fagiolo dell’Arco believed that the drawing reflects Rosso’s interest in alchemy and its myths.

Julian Klieman in Giorgio Vasari, 1981, 107-108, under no. 4, as probably derived from Vasari’s composition of this subject; the attribution of the drawing is not considered.

Franklin, 1994, 246, as possibly an autograph drawing by Rosso; mentioned in the context of Rosso’s Aretine works.


Figuratively and compositionally, this Allegory of the Immaculate Conception is closely related to Rosso’s Christ in Glory, executed in 1529-1530 (Fig.P.20a).  The posture of God-the-Father in the drawing is similar to that of the female at the upper left of the painting.  Furthermore, almost every head in the Allegory can be related to one in the altarpiece.  The verticality of that picture and the somewhat rigid symmetry of its composition are also found in the St. Petersburg drawing.  Compositionally, the drawing resembles the Madonna della Misericordia (Fig.D.35a), too, but the amplitude of form in that drawing is missing from the Allegory.  In the tightness of its forms and again in the verticality of its design, it resembles more the Collection of Manna of Rosso’s Design for a Chapel of 1529-1530 (Fig.D.37c).  The seated God-the-Father surrounded by cherubs in that scene is quite like that in the St. Petersburg Allegory.

Graphically, the drawing comes close to that of Rosso’s Throne of Solomon of 1529 (Fig.D.34).  But the line of the former is more regular and the shading less varied, making the Allegory appear closer to the Design for a Chapel.  The use of white heightening in the St. Petersburg drawing when it was in pristine condition may have resembled that in the Design for a Chapel.

As the drawing most closely resembles works that Rosso did in Arezzo and shortly thereafter it is most reasonable to date the Allegory around this time.  Its closest resemblance to the Christ in Glory indicates a date in 1529-1530.  The drawing would then be a later version of the same subject represented by Rosso’s composition of 1528 in Hamburg (Fig.D.30).  Although Gulden and Shearman would find, it seems, the St. Petersburg drawing influential on Vasari’s picture at SS. Apostoli in Florence, this does not really seem to me to be the case.  Nor does the drawing in Germany look similar to Vasari’s painting.  His altarpiece is, instead, dependent upon the drawing of 1528-1529 of the same subject that was made for S. Maria delle Lagrime (Fig.D.32).  From this drawing Vasari adapted the figures of Adam and Eve to his composition.  Consequently, it is not necessary to recognize the St. Petersburg drawing as having been done in Arezzo or as a drawing that Vasari necessarily knew.1

As I know it only from a photograph, it is not possible to have a definite opinion on the authenticity of this damaged drawing.  It does not seem to have the quality of Rosso’s best drawings and a detail such as the right hand of the king at the right seems too awkwardly drawn for him.  If it is an autograph drawing, then it is a rather perfunctorily executed one.  As a copy, it would follow, except possibly in its awkwardness, a lost drawing very closely.  It might be noted that here, as in the earlier drawing in Hamburg, the Virgin’s foot is not clearly visible on the serpent’s head.


1 Klieman thought the St. Petersburg drawing was dependent upon Vasari’s composition, which would date the drawing after 1540.  But Klieman did not consider the authorship of the drawing.