D.47 Ornamental Panel

D.47 Petrarch drawing

with Scenes Illustrating the First of Six Visions of Petrarch’s Rima CCCXXIII on the Death of Laura.

c. 1534

Oxford, Christ Church, no. 1337.

Fig.D.47b bw
Fig.D.47c bw, text

Pen and brown ink and gray-brown washes, slightly yellow, heightened with white, possibly over traces of black chalk, on light brown prepared paper, 42.6 x 53.8, composed of two sheets, the left one 31.1 wide, joined slightly right of center; creased down and across the center; in a few places the white has oxidized to black and here and there to red.  Inscribed in ink on the plaque in the center with Petrarch’s poem:

Standomi un giorno solo a la fenestra
onde cose’ vedea tante e si nove’,
ch’ er sol di mirar’ quasi gia stanco
una fera m’apparve’ da mâ dextra
con fronte humana da far’ arder giove
cacciata da duo veltri, un nero û biâco
che l’un e l’altro fianco
de la fera gentil’ mordean si forte’.
che’n poco tempo la menaro al passo
ove chiusa in un sasso
vinse’ molta bellezza acerba’ morte
e mi fe sospirar’ sua dura sorte’.

Beneath the poem is written in pencil: di Dante, and above it possibly faintly in pencil: di Petrarca; in the lower right corner in ink: M… which Byam Shaw has read as: Michael[angelo].

PROVENANCE: Sir Peter Lely (Lugt 2092); General John Guise, who bequeathed the drawing to Christ Church in 1765.


Bell, 1914, 83, as Salimbeni, and as a Design for a Tapestry(?).

Göbel, 1928, 499, ns. 1-2, establishment of tapestry workshop at Fontainebleau c. 1534.

Between Renaissance and Baroque, 1965, 110, no. 371, as Rosso, and that A.E. Popham identified the arms on the drawing as those of Cardinal Jean de Lorraine.

Béguin, 1966, 58, as a copy after Rosso, its draftsmanship mechanical, dry, even somewhat niggardly; possibly by Boyvin.

Byam Shaw, 1972, 45, no. 64, as Rosso.

Béguin, in EdF, 1972, 181, under no. 204, as similar to the Louvre Mars and Venus, and if the coat-of-arms dates from before 1540, then the attribution to Rosso appears justified.

Dumont, 1973, 341, as Rosso.

Carroll, 1975, 18, Fig. 3, 19-20, as Rosso, probably done in 1533-1534 shortly after the discovery of Laura’s tomb by Maurice Scève.

Byam Shaw, 1976, I, 66-67, no. 125, II, Pl. 89, as by Rosso and resembling a tapestry; he points out that the handwriting of the inscribed poem accords very well with the specimen of Rosso’s hand reproduced in Kusenberg, 1931, Pl. XXX.

Carroll, 1978, 28, 32, Fig. 13, as Rosso, around 1533-1534.

McAllister Johnson, 1984, 131, Figs. 5-6, 133-135, 139, n. 4, as Rosso, and as not necessarily related to the discovery of Laura’s tomb.

Carroll, 1987, 10, 31, 208-212, no. 67, with Figs. including Color Pl., as Rosso, c. 1534.

Béguin, 1988 (1989), 12, 13, Figs. 9-10 (details), as by Rosso.  Franklin, 1988, 324.

Miller, 1992, 111, commented that all the problems of this drawing had been previously solved in preparatory drawings.

Béguin, 1994, 277, Pl. 39a, as showing the arms of Cardinal Jean de Lorraine, and as perhaps influenced by Giulio Camillo Delminio, whose first protector was the Cardinal and who wrote a commentary on Petrarch, the drawing made in 1533-1534 at the time that the Gallery of Francis I was being planned and perhaps as an illustration of Petrarch’s poetry.

Knecht, 1994, 435, as for a tapestry designed for the Cardinal of Lorraine.

Gruber, 1995, 28, as Rosso, as undoubtedly made for a tapestry.

The attribution of this large drawing to Rosso, first made by Byam Shaw, is easily supported by comparison with many details of his inventions in the Gallery of Francis I as well as by the over-all composition of the drawing, with its scenes surrounded by a rich border that are like the decorations in the gallery.  At the top of the drawing, the romping children are similar to those above the Education of Achilles (Fig.P.22, II N a), and the panel in the center is similar to the stuccoes alongside the Revenge of Nauplius (Fig.P.22, III N a).  In the lower corners of the drawing, the writhing youths are not specifically comparable in their poses to any in the gallery but they have precedents in Rosso’s figures of Adam and Eve in the Allegory of the Immaculate Conception designed for S. Maria delle Lagrime in Arezzo (Fig.D.32).  However, the nudes in the Christ Church drawing are more slender, recalling those in Rosso’s early version of his Scene of Sacrifice for the gallery (Fig.D.50A; Fig.D.50B; Fig.D.51; and Fig.E.50).

Further supporting the attribution to Rosso is the similarity of its draughtsmanship to that of his Design for a Chapel of 1529 (Fig.D.37a), his Mars and Venus of 1530 (Fig.D.42a), and his Annunciation in the Albertina of 1531 or 1532 (Fig.D.43a), all of which are executed with pen and ink and wash, heightened with white, on dark prepared paper.  Béguin found the execution of the drawing “mechanical and dry, even somewhat niggardly,” but what can instead by observed, as in the other drawings by Rosso mentioned above, is a kind of precision in the penmanship and a refinement of touch in the washes and highlights that approach the degree of finish characteristic of Rosso’s oil paintings.  No copies of Rosso’s drawings show the graphic subtlety of the Christ Church drawing.  The handwriting of the poem in the center of the drawing certainly seems to be the same as that of Rosso’s 1526 letter to Michelangelo (DOC.9 and Fig.DOC.9), as noticed by Byam Shaw.

The coat-of-arms of Cardinal Jean de Lorraine (Fig.Jean de Lorraine) at the top of the drawing most likely indicates that the drawing was done in France.  Stylistically, the Christ Church drawing appears closest to those parts of the Gallery of Francis I that would seem to have been designed before April 1535 and possibly even before April 1534.  The small forms in the drawing recall those of the decorations of the gallery walls with the Loss of Perpetual Youth (Fig.P.22, II S a), the Unity of the State (Fig.P.22, VI S a), and the Royal Elephant (Fig.P.22, VI N a).  Also similar to the drawing is the early version of the Scene of Sacrifice and the Nymph of Fontainebleau engraved by Milan and Boyvin (Fig.E.103).  The overall appearance of the frame in the drawing recalls most closely the frames that were designed for the Pavilion of Pomona, of 1532 or 1533, preserved in Fantuzzi’s etching (Fig.E.63).  In the left half of the drawing the monster’s head closely resembles Judith’s in the engraving by Boyvin (Fig.E.7) after a lost painting by Rosso probably of 1531 – 1532.  It seems, therefore, that the Christ Church drawing was done in the first half of the decade that Rosso was in France.  The extraordinary sophistication of the drawing and its relationship to the decorations in the gallery would appear to indicate that the drawing was not done immediately upon Rosso’s arrival in France and not before he began considering the decorations he designed for Fontainebleau.  It could date from about the time of the Pavilion of Pomona.

The subject of the drawing may make it possible to date it more closely.  Between the 29th of August and the 11th of September 1533 Francis I and his court stayed at Avignon on the way to Marseille for the celebrations of the Dauphin to Maria de’ Medici.  It was in Avignon on September 8th that Maurice Scève “discovered” the supposed tomb of Petrarch’s Laura.  In his devotion to the poet, the king ordered a mausoleum to be built for her.1  Although “the (false) discovery of the false tomb” and the ceremony connected to it were reported only later by Clément Marot in his epigram Du Roy et de Laure, the events themselves immediately followed upon the arrival at the French court of several copies of the Aldine Petrarca printed in Venice in June of the same year.2  It contained the six Canzone delle visioni of which the first, Rime 323, is transcribed and illustrated in Rosso’s drawing.  In the year of the “discovery” of the tomb Marot’s translations of Petrarch’s Visioni appeared for the first time.3  The Cardinal Jean de Lorraine worked then for the protector of Italian literature at the French court, Luigi Alamanni, a Florentine exile and poet himself, who maintained at the court of Francis I the poetical and symbolic link with Petrarch’s poetry.4  This was already an interest of the Cardinal from Lyon, the primary center of the early study of Petrarch’s writings in sixteenth century France.5  Such was it that “François monarque” was identified with “François Petrarch” in Mellin de Saint-Gelais’s eight-line poem Sur le sépulchre de Madame Laure refaict par le roy en Avignon.6  Perhaps not accidental was it that the Chapel of the Holy Cross in which Laura’s tomb was found was in a convent dedicated to St. Francis.7

In the Roman document of 20 May 1535 (see Preface to D.31-34) concerned with an appeal of the authorities in Arezzo to Pope Paul III to prevent Rosso from exercising his art and to have him pay his debts related to the aborted S. Maria delle Lagrime project (see D.31-34), it is mentioned that Rosso is in Avignon (civitate Avinionis).  There is no other record of Rosso having been in Avignon, and it seems unlikely that he was away from Paris and Fontainebleau in 1535 at a time when his work at the king’s château would seem to have required his continuous attendance there.  It would, however, be equally strange that the Roman document mentions Rosso in Avignon if this were not the case.  It is possible that he was known to be there recently, although Rosso need not have been in Avignon at the very moment that the document of 20 May 1535 was written in Rome.  Perhaps he was there with the king in the autumn of 1533 to look at the Tomb of Laura, and again later in relation to the building of the mausoleum that the King was interested in having built.  It is impossible to know precisely what to make of the reference to Rosso in Avignon.  Still, a visit by him to that city may indirectly have had something to do with the Christ Church drawing, perhaps even with the tomb for Laura that the king ordered.  For while Petrarch’s poem refers to Laura as “chiusa in un sasso” Rosso has conceived this “rock” as a splendid sarcophogus.

Although the Christ Church drawing technically resembles the Mars and Venus, it is not necessary to conclude that the former, like the latter, was made as an independent work of art.  The circumstances for which the Louvre drawing was made – to be sent from Venice to Francis I to give the King an idea of Rosso’s talent – are not ones that would seem also those for the making of this drawing for the Cardinal of Lorraine, who could easily have known of Rosso’s abilities from other sources.  If it were in a sense a miniature, one might expect it to have been done on a single sheet of paper instead of on two pasted together.  The text might also have been more carefully arranged to fill the plaque on which it is written.  Nor, given its technique, can the drawing be considered a disegno di stampa from which an engraving would have been intended.  More likely the drawing was executed to give an idea of a work that would have been realized in another medium or media and on a larger scale.

Byam Shaw’s comment in 1976, based partly upon my remarks to him, that the drawing was probably made for a wall decoration to be executed in fresco and stucco rather than for a tapestry, no longer seems to me to be true.  While some sixteenth century French wall paintings have inscriptions, none, so far as I know, have long texts like the one that appears in the Christ Church drawing.  None of Rosso’s known wall decorations have such passages.  However, it is not uncommon for sixteenth century French tapestries to have lengthy texts set on plaques, the arrangement derived from an older tapestry tradition.  It is, therefore, likely that Rosso’s drawing was made as a modello for a tapestry8.  Bell was already of this opinion in 1914.

Although there is no documentary record of Rosso’s having been occupied with tapestries, nor is such an occupation mentioned by Vasari, there is no reason to believe because of this silence that the opportunity to design tapestries was not available to him.  We now know that the Vienna tapestries after six of the wall areas in the Gallery of Francis I were begun before Rosso died.  As they were woven at Fontainebleau, it is very possible that they were started under his direction.9  The Christ Church drawing may give proof of other, and possibly earlier, work with tapestries, and at Fontainebleau, where, according to Göbel, 1928, 499, ns. 1-2, a tapestry workshop was established around 1534.  That the project represented by this drawing was never fulfilled, as seems to be the case, may be due to the fact that just around 1534 Rosso became too occupied with other projects for Francis I at Fontainebleau to be also employed elsewhere, as at Avignon, perhaps, and by someone else.

The tapestry project for the Cardinal of Lorraine may well have been more extensive than is indicated by this drawing, for the poem it illustrates is actually the first of a set of six poems by Petrarch constituting six visions, each of which is an allegory on the death of Laura, the set ending with a congedo of three lines:

Canzon, tu puoi ben dire:
Queste sei visioni al signor mio
àn fatto un dolce di morir desio.
(Cansone, you may say:
These six visions have given to my lord
A sweet desire to die, as a reward.)

As tapestries were generally made in sets to decorate a room it is probable that the Christ Church drawing is for one tapestry of a projected set of six.10  Perhaps this drawing was the only modello made before this enterprise was abandoned.  Had it been continued, large cartoons would have to have been made.  The cartoon made from this drawing might have shown the inscribed poem differently spaced to fill the area in which it is set, and perhaps translated into French.  Around 1534, Rosso and his assistants were busy making similar cartoons for the frescoes to be executed in the gallery at Fontainebleau (see P.22, Summary on the Construction and Decoration of the Gallery of Francis I).  Cartoons for the related tapestries were begun soon afterwards (see P.22 Tapestries).  At this time, Rosso and his studio could hardly have been expected to make six tapestry cartoons also for the Cardinal of Lorraine.11  The drawing may very likely have been done around 1534.


1 See V.-L. Saulnier, Maurice Scève (ca. 1500-1560), Paris, 1948, I, 38-47; The French Renaissance, London, 1969, 256, 316, n. 64; and Balsamo, 2006, 270, 272.

2 Balsamo, 2006, 270.

3 Robert Leushuis, Visions of Ruin: Vanitas Vanitatum in Du Bellay’s Songe and Petrarch’s Canzone Delle Visioni (Rime 323), Petrarch and His Readers in the Renaissance, edited by Karl A. E. Enenkel and Jan Papy, Leiden and Boston, 2006, pp. 234.

4 Balsamo, 2006, 270, 273.

5 On the city of Lyons and its four annual fairs as the “principal gathering of Italian trade,” see Lucien Romier, “Lyons and Cosmopolitanism at the Beginning of the French Renaissance,” in French Humanism 1470-1600, ed. Werner L. Gundersheimer, London, 1969, 91-94.

6 Balsano, 206, 273.

7 V.-L. Saulnier, Maurice Scève (ca. 1500-1560), Paris, 1948, I, pp. 40-41.

8 See the Birth of St. Stephen dated 1532 in Toulouse (Viatte, 1965-66, no. 6, and Fig.).  Earlier sixteenth century French tapestries contain many long inscriptions (Viatte, 1965-66, nos. 1, 3, 45, Figs.), and they continue to appear in tapestries of the 1540s (Viatte, 1965-66, nos. 7, 8, 9, Figs.; see also Standen, in Actes, 1975, 87-98, Figs. 2, 6, 14).

9 See the discussion of the Vienna tapestries at P.22, The Tapestries.

10 For a set of six tapestries in the Kunsthistorisches Museum in Vienna, probably North French and of the first half of the sixteenth century, based on Petrarch’s Trionfi, see Panofsky, 1965, 142-145, with bibliography.

11 For a smaller drawing, but similar in media and composition, however without any text, see Old Master Drawings, Sotheby’s, New York, 26 January 2011 (Fig.Sotheby’s Trojans).  Although this drawing, showing the salamander impresa of Francis I, is presented as a “design for a wall decoration,” meaning to be executed in painting and stucco, it is possible that it was intended for a tapestry, like the Christ Church drawing.