Francis I Adoring the Enthroned Virgin and Child with His Two Sons, Saint Michael, an Old Bearded King, Victory, Fame, and Two Captured Vices (Treason and Heresy?)
Formerly Florence, Sotheby’s (1974).
Pen and brown ink and brown wash heightened with white (oxidized in several places), 40.3 x 39.2 (from the sale’s catalogue);1 wm?; horizontal center crease. Inscribed in ink at the lower left: Rous..2
PROVENANCE: J.A. Weigel, Leipzig (see Weigel, 1869, 155, no. 1068, as Rosso).
Carroll, 1964 (1976), II, Bk. II, 446, n. 1, as not seen.
Catalogo di disegni e dipinti dal XVI secolo, Sale’s catalogue, Sotheby’s, Palazzo Capponi, Florence, 32 October 1974, lot. 24, as the Apotheosis of Francis I before the Madonna by Rosso.
Béguin, Louvre, 1982, 71, n. 98, as a copy, perhaps by Boyvin, of Rosso’s lost painting of Saint Michael.
Béguin, 1989, 828-829, and Fig. 17, as attributed to Boyvin after Rosso, as intended to celebrate the liberation of Francis and his older sons from their captivity in Madrid, and as perhaps to be identified with Rosso’s lost Saint Michael. The two captives in the right foreground she thought probably represent Heresy and Treason and the crowned figure in the background could be Clovis or one of two predecessors who had been held captive, Jean d’Angoulême or St. Louis.
Franklin, 1994, 197, 248, Pl. 197, as a copy of a drawing by Rosso, showing Francis I with his two sons before the Virgin with personifications that have been identified as Victory, Fame, Heresy, and Treason, and as perhaps recalling Rosso’s lost image of Moses Carrying the Ark for S. Maria delle Lagrime in Arezzo.
Both the iconography of the drawing, in particular the appearance of Francis I as its central figure, and the style of the figures, composition, and details indicate that the image must be Rosso’s. Stylistically, it comes closest to Rosso’s Combat of Athena and Poseidon of around 1536 (Fig.D.66; Fig.E.13; Fig.E.78). The Victory figures in both scenes are very similar, as are the postures of the other figures, especially the contortion of some, along with the crowding of the scenes, and their architectural settings. Some of these same characteristics can be found in the Death of Adonis and the Scene of Sacrifice of 1536 in the Gallery of Francis I (Fig.P.22, III S a and Fig.P.22, VII N a), as well as in the Cleobis and Biton (Fig.P.22, V S a), the Enlightenment of Francis I (Fig.P.22, VII S a), and the Revenge of Nauplius (Fig.P.22, III N a) of 1535 or 1536. St. Michael seen from the back but with his head in profile recalls the figure of St. John in the Louvre Pietà of 1538 (Fig.P.23a). He also resembles Gabriel in the Albertina Annunciation of 1531 or 1532 (Fig.D.43a), although the posture of that angel is not so contorted. The Virgin wears a bonnet that resembles that in the Dei Altarpiece of 1522 (Fig.P.12c) and in the Holy Family with St. Anne of 1539-1540 (Fig.D.82).
The handling of the drawing is too uncertain in too many places to be Rosso’s own, but everywhere the draughtsmanship gives evidence of copying his, as in his Design for a Chapel (Fig.D.37a), in the Albertina Annunciation, and in the Petrarch drawing at Christ Church (Fig.D.47a). However, all of these drawings are done on a dark ground, which does not appear to be the case with Francis I Adoring the Enthroned Virgin and Child, which I have not actually seen. But it is possible that the lost original drawing also had a dark ground, for the copy, where so much of the background is dark, may imitate on white paper a drawing done on dark washed or prepared paper. Comparing this drawing with the other autograph drawings, it is quite clear that it does not show their sureness of execution. The feebleness of the drawing is particularly visible in the head of the bearded king in the background. Nevertheless, the draughtsmanship in most respects seems faithfully to follow that of a lost original.
As the drawing shows only two of Francis I’s three sons, the original would in all likelihood have been done after 10 August 1536, when the Dauphin died. Sylvie Béguin thought that it was created for Francis I to celebrate his release, and the release of his two elder sons, from imprisonment in Spain. The sons, who were held as hostages after Francis was returned to France on 17 March 1526, were released on 1 July 1530, a few months before Rosso arrived in France to work for the king. This would suggest that the original drawing was done soon after Rosso’s arrival. But the style of the drawing appears to me to be later, from about the time of the Combat of Athena and Poseidon of around 1536 and of the scenes done for the gallery during the second phase of designing its decorations, in 1535 to April 1536, and immediately thereafter, at the end of 1536. Of course, even at this date, the image could have been made in thanks for the release from Spanish imprisonment, although I am inclined to believe that the drawing may rather be about the king, the French crown, and the king’s lineage after the threat to it by the death of his eldest son, in relation to the State and the Church. Francis I appears in relation to the defeated Vices (Beguin’s probable Heresy and Treason)3 at the lower right as St. Michael stands victor over the horned Devil. The image may have been prompted by the death of the Dauphin and done in the latter part of 1536 or in 1537. I am not inclined to see it as related to work that Rosso was doing in Notre Dame in Paris somewhat later than the style of this drawing seems to indicate (see L.54-58).
Béguin suggested that the drawing may have been for the lost painting of Saint Michael that Vasari mentioned (see L.61). This, too, is possible, but it might be asked why a picture so designated would be a work in which St. Michael is only one figure among so many others. If it was not made for this lost painting, then it is not known that a painting was ever executed from the drawing.
Béguin also suggested that the drawing may be by Boyvin. This seems unprovable, even though the inscription at the lower left gives Rosso’s name, in its spelling and orthography, as it appears in the engravings of Milan and Boyvin. The Christ Child blessing with his left hand is an unusual detail and could suggest that the image is in reverse as the model for a print. But Victory crowns the king with a laurel wreath held in her right hand, which seems correct. Furthermore, the putto above her supports a shield with his right hand, which also seems appropriate. So Christ’s gesture could be required by his standing position on the Virgin’s lap with his right arm and hand around her neck for support and her right arm and hand fully visible.
1 The cutting off of the top of the cherub’s head at the top of the drawing, the missing tip of Fame’s elbow, and the absence of parts of the Son’s feet at the bottom of the scene indicate that the sheet has been trimmed on three sides. At the far left, the missing tips of St. Michael’s wings suggest that this side has also been cut.
3 Béguin’s identification of the two captured figures as Treason and Heresy requires, in French, that both be female, whereas in Italian, Treason (il tradimento) is masculine. In the lower right corner, the supine figure is clearly a woman and hence could be either personification. The sex of the other figure is uncertain and so could be the representation of either vice.
The bare-chested, long-bearded king in the background of this scene may well be Clovis, as suggested by Béguin. As the most holy founder of the French monarchy, his presence may be seen here to guarantee its succession through Francis I’s sons even after the untimely death of the eldest one.