D.6 Virtù Vanquishing Fortune

D.6b Virtù Vanquishing Fortune

c. 1521-522

Darmstadt, Hessisches Landesmuseum, no. AE 1476.

Fig.D.6a bw

Red chalk over faint outlines in black chalk, 14 x 20.7, the four corners cut and added; laid down; wm.?  Inscribed in ink at the lower right: Rosso; at the upper left on the added corner: 448; at the lower left on the added corner: 28.


Carroll, 1961, 446, 447, Fig. 2, 449, as Rosso and related to his paintings of 1521 and 1522, and as showing “Virtu” Vanquishing Fortune.

Forlani, Disegni italiani, [1964], XXVII, 167, no. 27, and Fig., as Rosso, and no later than 1518.

Carroll, 1964 (1976), I, Bk. I, 77-83, 85, 88, 91-92, 95, Bk. II, 216-219, D.10, II, Bk. III, Fig. 24, as Rosso, ca. 1521-1522.

Bergsträsser, Gisela, Dessins du Musée de Darmstadt Hessisches Landesmuseum, exh. cat., Musée du Louvre, Paris, 1971, 18-19, Pl. II.

Monbeig-Goguel, 1971, 11-12, 81, Pl. VI, as Rosso.

Béguin, “Maître,” 1972, 103, as Rosso.

Carroll, 1975, 25, 26, Fig. 11, and 1978, 25, 26, Fig. 3, 39, 40, 42, 45, as Rosso around 1521-1522.

Darragon, 1983, 25, Fig. 6, as Rosso, ca. 1521-1522, and as seeming to show Rosso’s sharing the ferocious vision of Virtue’s cruel success.

Carroll, 1987, 10, 11, 19, 24, 60-63, no. 4, with Color Pl., as Rosso, c. 1521-1522.

Franklin, 1988, 324, as apparently a drawing serving as an end in itself rather than as a preparation for a painting.

Mundy, 1988, 1979, and Fig., questioned the subject as Virtue Vanquishing Fortune.

Leone de Castris, 1988, as Rosso, and an Allegory of Virtue (Virtù) and Fortune.

Miller, 1992, 112.

Franklin, 1994, 82, 83, Pl. 61, as Rosso, c. 1519-1520, as the so-called Virtue Vanquishing Fortune.

Ciardi, 1994, 72, noted its unusual iconography.

Mugnaini, 1994, 110, 112, 114, Fig., 115, 117, as Virtue (Virtù) Vanquishing Fortune, its subject never so ruthlessly expressed, showing Fortune as diabolical in conflict with divine providence as in Lattanzio and St. Augustine, and as mad and wicked, echoing Cartari, and seeming to pass over the Christian ethic, perhaps with a reference to Hercules in the figure of Fortune as an aggressive virago.

The figures in this drawing are closely related to those in Rosso’s Deposition of 1521 (Fig.P.9a): the head in profile in the background of the drawing is very similar to that of the Virgin and that of the woman at her left in the painting; the pulled-back head of Fortune is like Christ’s in the same picture; and the seated figure of Virtù closely resembles Mary Magdalen in the altarpiece. Furthermore, the tightly stretched legs of the struggling figures in the drawing are very much like those of the men on the ladders in the Volterra picture, and the claw-like hands of the two nude women are equally related to the various hands in the painting.  Similar comparisons can be made with details of the Villamagna Altarpiece (Fig.P.10a), and with the Dei Altarpiece (Fig.P.12a) where the profile of St. Bernard is almost identical to that of Virtù in the foreground of the drawing.

Compositionally the drawing is also closely related to the Deposition in the circular as well as angular complementary rhythms of the figures.  The isolation of Fortune in the foreground from the struggle at the right is related to the separateness of St. John from the other figures in the Deposition.  The Villamagna picture and the Dei Altarpiece contain similar compositional relationships.

The draughtsmanship of the “Virtù” Vanquishing Fortune is almost identical to that of Rosso’s study (Fig.D.7) for the figure of St. Sebastian in the Dei Altarpiece of 1522, suggesting that the Darmstadt drawing was done about the same time.  This is also indicated by the composition of the upper part of the Madonna and the Child in the altarpiece where their forms are fluidly interrelated within the limits of a more or less circular area, a compositional configuration that is also found at the upper right of the Darmstadt drawing.  Furthermore, the profile of Fortune in the foreground is more specifically like that of St. Bernard in this painting than to that of any other figure by Rosso.  But the thin, tight forms and angularly postured legs in the drawing still recall the Deposition.  Consequently, it is reasonable to date the drawing around 1521-1522, shortly before the Dei Altarpiece.

Mundy chose not to see the object held by Virtù as a breast, but rather as a scalp or hank of hair.  Reading my too convenient translation of Virtù as virtue in too limited a fashion, he thought the one lady’s “behaviour decidedly not virtuous.”  But virtù at the time Rosso’s drawing was done, and as frequently used by Machiavelli, also has an active and virile meaning, even as the noun is feminine and must be visually personified as a woman: “to possess virtù was a character trait distinguishing the energetic, even reckless (but not feckless) man from his conventionally virtuous counterpart, rendering him less vulnerable to the quirks of Fortuna” (J. R. Hale, in A Concise Encyclopaedia of the Italian Renaissance, ed. J. R. Hale, New York-London, 1981, 338; see also Jerrold E. Seigel, “‘Virtù’ in and Since the Renaissance,” Dictionary of the History of Ideas, ed. Philip P. Wiener, New York, IV, 1973, 476-486).  Mundy also thought that the drawing shows Opportunity (Occasio) grabbing Fortune by the forelock which she cuts off, citing Vasari in the “Life” of Taddeo Zuccaro and in the “Life” of Salviati as proof of such a subject (Vasari-Milanesi, VII, 23, 81).  Unfortunately, Vasari was wrong in naming Fortune and Occasio as adversaries (see F. Kiefer, “The Conflation of Fortuna and Occasio in Renaissance Thought and Iconography,” Journal of Medieval and Renaissance Studies, IX, 1, 1979, 1-27). Taddeo’s image of Prudence seizing Fortune by the forelock was the favorite impresa of Pope Julius III, as shown in Alessandro Nova, The Artistic Patronage of Pope Julius III, New York-London, 1988, 29-30, 50, n. 61, 159, 163, 190, n. 72, and 192-193, n. 82, Figs. 11, 12, 29, 54, 73, and 77, including a variation of the impresa showing Virtù subduing Fortune.  Salviati’s fresco in the Palazzo Vecchio (Dumont, 1973, Pl. XLIII, Fig. 92, at upper right) also shows Prudence, with a mask on the back of her head and a snake at her waist, pulling the forelock of Fortune.  In Rosso’s drawing, Virtù in the background is clearly doing two different things with her two hands, her right hand pulling Fortune’s head back by its forelock, the left pulling something from Fortune’s chest.  It may be uncomfortable to conclude that a breast (or breasts) is being ripped from the figure, but this is what is happening (note the nipple of the breast in the foreground again, marked by a dot, in the background).  The unexpected emphasis of nude breasts, such as those of the Virgin and of saints, occurs in several drawings by Rosso, including a study for the Christ in Glory (Fig.D.27A), the Madonna della Misericordia (Fig.D.35a), and the late Annunciation (Fig.D.83).  Gloria Kury suggested to me that Rosso’s image of Fortune may have come to him by an inverted analogy with the personification of Charity.  Such an inversion brings up the issue of decorum and the relation of Rosso’s image to what would have been conceived as proper in art just before the time that he did this drawing.

Cox-Rearick (1964, I, 168, no. 107, II, Fig. 107, and 1984, 144, Pl. 119) identified a drawing by Pontormo as representing Fortune, suggesting a connection with Pontormo’s activity at the Medici Villa at Poggio a Caiano in 1520-1521.  While this drawing bears no relation to Rosso’s either stylistically or interpretatively, it is interesting that the theme may have occupied Pontormo so shortly before it did Rosso.