D.85 The Visitation or Vertumnus and Pomona?

D.85 The Visitation or Vertumnus and Pomona?


Paris, Louvre, RF 52967.

Fig.D.85b bw, cropped all sides

Red chalk, 20.6 x 17.4; the drawing is damaged at the lower left of the center and in the entire area of the lower right corner, and there is redrawing of the contours in the first damaged areas and of the shadows at the lower right; the drawing is also rubbed in places; but it is not as severly damaged as it appears to be in a black and white photograph or in other reproductions; wm. in a circle, and a second.1

PROVENANCE: Sir Joshua Reynolds (Lugt 2364); A.M. Champernowne (Lugt 153); Nathanial Hone (Lugt 2793); Victor Koch (see Barocchi, below); Robert Lebel; Jean-Jacques Lebel; acquired by the Louvre in 2001.


Kusenberg, 1931, 143, no. 55, as Rosso, 1523-1527.

Kusenberg, 1931-1932, 85, 88, Fig., as Rosso, around 1523-1527.

Kusenberg, 1933, 163f., as Rosso.

Berenson, 1938, no. 2446A, as Rosso.

Barocchi, 1950, 206f., n. 8, as Rosso from his Roman period.

Berenson, 1961, no. 2446A, as Rosso.

Carroll, 1964 (1976), II, Bk. II, 494-495, F.38, Bk. III, Fig. 190, as possibly by Vasari, “Addition to the Preface,” 1976, vii-viii, as a very late drawing by Rosso.

Dessins du XVIe et du XVIIe Siècle dans les collections privées françaises, exh. cat., Paris, Galerie Claude Aubry, 1971, no. 94, as Rosso, and perhaps a study for his painting in Los Angeles.

Carroll, 1987, 366-369, no. 117, with Fig., as Rosso, 1540, and if not showing the Visitation, perhaps two sibyls or Vertumnus and Pomona.

Franklin, 1988, 325, the attribution to Rosso debatable.

Cordellier, 2003, 18, as Rosso, in France; suggesting that the subject may be Vertumnus and Pomona.

Kusenberg’s attribution of this drawing to Rosso has never been questioned, although no convincing argument has ever been made in support of it.  Nor has the date of this drawing in Rosso’s Roman period, made by Kusenberg and accepted by Barocchi, ever been seriously defended.  Later that date was apparently questioned by the suggestion that the drawing might be a study for Rosso’s painting in Los Angeles.  These opinions are repeated here because, judging from a photograph, I once did not think that this drawing was by Rosso.  Although now, having seen the drawing, which is better preserved than reproductions indicate, I believe otherwise, it has to be admitted that the drawing is most unusual and requires a rather special defense to support an attribution to Rosso.

The figures in the drawing, especially the old woman, can be related to figures in several works by Rosso.  The old woman is a type that appears throughout Rosso’s art, going back to the Disputation of the Angel of Death and the Devil drawing of 1517 (Fig.D.1a), but most frequently found in his French works, including several frescoes in the Gallery of Francis I, and the drawing (Fig.D.84a) and the painting in Los Angeles (Fig.P.24a).  Her posture is close to that of St. Anne in the latter work.  The young woman has the long proportions of such figures by Rosso as Philyra in the fresco to the right of the Royal Elephant (Fig.P.22, VI N a) and the nude women in the Three Fates, Nude, engraved by Pierre Milan (Fig.E.105).  Her hair appears to be piled up on the back of her head as in these and other works by Rosso.  The garments she wears are not very specifically described, but they do feature what seems to be a button or broach drawing together the drapery at the end of her left shoulder and such a detail can be found in several works by Rosso: on the shoulders of Venus in the Death of Adonis (Fig.P.22, III S d), and on the right shoulder of the Magdalen in the Louvre Pietà (Fig.P.23a).  Compositionally, the drawing, with its two large figures set within a rather narrow space and facing each other across the breadth of the scene, is very much like what appears in the drawing and painting in Los Angeles.  This is also similar to what appears in Rosso’s Vertumnus and Pomona, known from a copy of a lost drawing in the Louvre (Fig.D.46Aa) and from Fantuzzi’s etching (Fig.E.62a).

While the figures and the composition of the drawing can be related to Rosso’s art, the draughtsmanship of this work, which so vaguely describes what is represented – so vaguely, in fact, that it is difficult to specify what is seen as similar to Rosso’s style – is not immediately comparable to the handling of Rosso’s most securely authentic drawings.  To accept the Louvre drawing as autograph one has to see its draughtsmanship as the farthest extension of a kind of drawing by Rosso that has its origins quite far back in his career.  Already in Rosso’s Study for an Altarpiece of around 1519, in the Uffizi (Fig.D.4), the head and body of St. Joseph are described largely in terms of planes of light and shade with only a very limited use of contour lines.  In the Madonna della Misericordia of 1529 (Fig.D.35a), contour lines are so finely drawn as to have little independent value and the scene as a whole appears composed almost entirely of fluctuating values of light and shade.  This mode of draughtsmanship is even more extraordinarily utilized in Rosso’s Martyrdom of Sts. Marcus and Marcellinus of around 1537 (Fig.D.70a), where line is even less apparent although forms are larger and the action of the scene is far more dramatic.  It is, however, in the Reclining Nude Woman of 1539 or 1540 (Fig.D.79a) that light and shade have the breadth that they have in the Louvre drawing and where line, insofar as it is used, becomes ragged and discontinuous.  A comparable kind of draughtsmanship, but in pen and ink and wash, appears in Rosso’s Design for a Tomb (Fig.D.81a) and in the copy of his Holy Family, in Milan (Fig.D.82), both of 1539 or 1540.  The Louvre drawing carries this kind of draughtsmanship, in red chalk, even farther in the direction of an almost purely chiaroscural drawing.  But here form has almost entirely lost its substance and the scene has become almost spectral, which, however, is also an aspect of the Misericordia and Martyrdom drawings.  Therefore, looking back over Rosso’s drawing oeuvre and following the history of his draughtsmanship, it is possible to recognize the Louvre drawing as an autograph work by him.

This history also leads one to see the drawing as a late work by him, done after Rosso’s work on the Gallery of Francis I was completed.  It was probably done about the same time as the Reclining Nude Woman in the British Museum, and, because of the even greater freedom of its draughtsmanship, possibly later.  Compositionally, it is most similar to Rosso’s painting in Los Angeles, and hence may also have been done in 1540, as one of Rosso’s latest works.

However, the Louvre drawing does not seem to be a study for that painting, which contains several other figures not at all found in the drawing.  The drawing could represent the Visitation, although the left handed gestures of the figures would be strange in this case, unless the drawing is a counterproof, which could also partially account for its lack of equal definition throughout.  It could represent two sibyls.  But it also brings to mind the subject of Vertumnus and Pomona, as suggested also by Cordellier.


1 See Cordellier, 2003, 19, n. 28.