For the Stucco Relief at the Lower Left of the Venus and Minerva in the Gallery of Francis I, Fontainebleau
1535 or 1536
Paris, Ensba, Masson 1389.
Pen and ink, 24.6 x 36.5, the scene itself in an oval slightly cut at the top and left and less cut at the bottom by the edges of the sheet; wm?. Creased down the center, and considerably stained at the left.
PROVENANCE. Jean Masson (Lugt 1494a), given to ENSBA in 1925.
Masson, 1927, 24, no. 123, as anonymous, sixteenth century.
Kusenberg, 1931, 150, no. 36, as related to the stucco relief at the lower left of the Venus and Minerva in the Gallery of Francis I and as made for the transfer of the composition to the wall and as in the manner of Thiry.
Kusenberg, 1933, 170, n. 4, as possibly by Thiry.
Béguin and Pressouyre, 1972, 125, as in the manner of Thiry and as related to the oval stucco relief in the gallery.
Carroll, 1987, 231, n. 3, under no. 71, as a copy of a lost drawing by Rosso.
As noted by Kusenberg, the drawing is related to the oval stucco relief beneath the large male statue to the left of the Venus and Minerva in the Gallery of Francis I (Fig.P.22, I N i). The relief differs from the drawing in the postures of three figures at the lower right whose actions are dramatically clearer in the gallery. Their dress or degree of nudity is also different. In the relief, the cornices of the architecture have moldings, while they are schematically described in the drawing. There are, furthermore, very minor differences in the shapes of a few details. Clearly the drawing was not copied from the relief. At the same time, they are so similar as to require the recognition that the drawing must be related to the preparation of that relief, which is probably the same size as the large drawing.
Graphically, the drawing shows the same kind of penmanship that is found in Rosso’s Albertina Annunciation (Fig.D.43a) and in the Petrarch drawing at Christ Church (Fig.D.47a), but it is more regularized in the Naval Battle and without the inflection one finds in Rosso’s autograph works. The drawing appears, therefore, to be a copy of a study by him for the relief. This is also indicated by the schematic rendering of the cornices in the drawing that is like that in the Allegory of the Virgin as the Ark of the Covenant (Fig.D.33Aa) and in the study for the early version of the Scene of Sacrifice (Fig.D.50Ca). However, done only with line, the copy is unlike any autograph pen drawing, all of which show shading with wash or washes. It is, therefore, likely that the lost original drawing also had washes to give relief to the scene. It could, then, have resembled the Throne of Solomon (Fig.D.34) or the Pandora and Her Box (Fig.D.67a). But the lost original drawing could also have been done on a dark ground and have had white heightening in addition to the dark washes, in which case it would have resembled the Albertina and Christ Church drawings and the study for the early version of the Sacrifice (Fig.D.50B). It could, perhaps, be argued that because the lost drawing was for a relief it could have been done in line only. But the only other known drawing for stucco, again known from a copy, for the frame of the East Wall (Fig.D.57), has shading. Hence, with the information available, it is not possible to hypothesize a class of line drawings made for the stucco parts of the gallery.
As the entire wall with the Venus and Minerva would seem to have been designed in 1535 or 1536, the lost original Naval Battle drawing would have been done in one of these years. It must have been followed by another drawing by Rosso from which the relief, with its changes, would have been modelled.
It is not possible to prove Thiry’s authorship of the drawing that Kusenberg first suggested, or even to say that it is his manner as distinct from that of any other, unknown, copyist.