1539 or 1540
Milan, Museo Civico, no. 796/1, 6038P (formerly no. 2163).
Pen and ink and wash over outlines in black chalk, 31.3 x 27.9; laid down; wm.? Inscribed in ink in the upper right corner: 24.
PROVENANCE: Giovanni Morelli (Lugt 1902).
Gustavo Frizzoni, Collezione di quaranta disegni scelti della raccolta del Senatore Giovanni Morelli, Milan, 1886, Pl. XI, as Rosso.
Berenson, 1903, no. 2447, as Rosso.
Kusenberg, 1931, 137, 143, no. 57, 160, under Boyvin, R.-D. 71 Pl. LXXIII, as Rosso, 1530-1540.
Berenson, 1938, I, 323, II, no. 2447, as Rosso.
Levron, 1941, 74, under no. 164, as Rosso.
Barocchi, 1950, 224, as perhaps a copy after a lost drawing by Rosso.
Hartt, 1956, 65-66, as Rosso, and as graphically similar to Rosso’s Pandora and Her Box and to the Vertumnus and Pomona in the Louvre.
Berenson, 1961, I, 470, Color Pl. LXIII, II, no. 2447, as Rosso.
Carroll, 1964 (1976), I, Bk. I, 260-261, II, Bk. II, 431-435, D.53, Bk. III, Fig. 132, as a copy of a lost drawing of c. 1538-1540.
Carroll, 1987, 358, under no. 113, and 360, 362, n. 1, under no. 114, as a copy of a late drawing by Rosso.
Franklin, 1988, 326, under No. 114, as a copy after the anonymous engraving of this composition.
Compositionally, the Holy Family with St. Anne is closely related to Rosso’s Pietà in Borgo Sansepolcro (Fig.P.19a), but even more so to his Pietà in the Louvre (Fig.P.23a) and the painting in Los Angeles (Fig.P.24a), with their larger forms and broader gestures. The Virgin’s face is very similar to that of the woman immediately behind Christ’s legs in the earlier Pietà, while her bonnet looks quite like the one worn by the Virgin in the Dei Altarpiece (Fig.P.12c) and by the figure of Virtue in the Dream of Hercules in the Louvre (Fig.D.78a), which is more clearly visible in Boyvin’s engraving of this composition (Fig.E.17). Joseph’s profile is close to that of the man at the foot of Christ in the Sansepolcro altarpiece and St. Anne very much resembles her counterpart in the Los Angeles painting. There can be no doubt that the invention of the Holy Family with St. Anne is Rosso’s.
The draughtsmanship of the Holy Family is similar to that of Rosso’s Pandora and Her Box of around 1536 (Fig.D.67a). In both, the surfaces of the figures and of the draperies are broken up into patches of light and shade. The washes are applied in several layers, creating a rich variety of shadows that, by contrast, increases the brilliance of the pure, even highlights. Pen lines are restricted to the delineation of contours. The short, hooked lines that mark the creases in the draperies in the Milan drawing are also found in the Pandora and Her Box. But the Holy Family is somewhat more freely drawn. There is a kind of looseness in its penmanship and a fluidity in the application of its washes that is not quite what appears in the Pandora drawing. However, in these respects, the handling of the Milan drawing comes very close to that of Rosso’s Design for a Tomb of 1539 or 1540 (Fig.D.81a). The largeness of the forms in both these drawings also relates them, suggesting that they were done about the same time. Both are also similar to the Reclining Nude Woman (Fig.D.79a), also of 1539 or 1540, it would seem, although that drawing is done in red chalk. Iconographically, the Holy Family with St. Anne bears a partial relationship with the picture in Los Angeles, done probably in 1540.
But close as the draughtsmanship of the Milan drawing is to that of the Design for a Tomb, a comparison of them strongly suggests that the former is not autograph but rather a good copy of a lost original drawing. The pen lines waver too indecisively and tend to wander along the edges of forms rather than enclose them. The washes are somewhat clumsily applied and tend to confuse forms rather than project them. Nothing quite so vague in its intentions appears in the Design for a Tomb. Therefore, it is likely that the Milan drawing is a copy of a drawing by Rosso, the original having been done in 1539 or 1540.
Franklin’s belief that the drawing is merely a copy of the anonymous engraving of this composition is not supported by a comparison of the two. In the print, the head of Anne overlaps the Virgin’s, as it does in the chiaroscuro woodcut of this scene (Fig.E.101, II), a detail that would seem to have been an aspect of the lost original drawing. Furthermore, in the Milan drawing there is a faint indication at the lower left of the ledge at the bottom of the composition. This does not appear in the engraving. One should add that it seems most unlikely that the draughtsman of the Milan drawing should produce so much the appearance of Rosso’s wash drawings by copying an engraving that would not suggest the use of such draughtsmanship.
PRINTS: Anonymous, E.16 (Fig.E.16). Engraving in the same direction as the Milan drawing, and slightly smaller. Probably made from Rosso’s lost drawing and may copy some of its details, such as the hair of the Child and of St. Joseph, more carefully than does the Milan drawing; the piece of fruit held by St. Joseph is also clearer in the engraving and resembles a pear. The left side of St. Anne is much more clearly described than in the drawing and shows her sagging left breast, an indication that the Milan drawing is, in fact, a copy, because it shows this detail so uncertainly.
Master NDB, E.101 (Fig.E.101, II). Chiaroscuro woodcut in reverse of the Milan drawing and without the drapery behind Joseph; the back of St. Anne is also slightly cut off. The far side of the latter figure is unclearly described. Possibly made from Rosso’s lost drawing but certainly not from the Milan copy. In several details, the woodcut is closer to the engraving (see above) than to the drawing in Milan.