E.4 Altar

E.4a Alberti, Altar, I

Engraving by Cherubino Alberti, 75.6 x 46.7 S (Florence, 1579ss).

Two states:

I.  At the upper left the arms of Pope Gregory XIII; at the upper right an inscription in Greek translating as: Gregory XIII standing vigil in the House of the Lord.  On the front of the altar another inscription in Greek translating as: the assemblage (or covenant) of the Prophets.  Inscribed on the base of the pier at the lower left: Rubeus Florentinus . /Inuentor  . , and on the base of the pier at the lower right: Cherubinus . Albertus . Excussor . Romae . 15 . 7 . 5 . .  Inscribed on the middle step: CON . PRIVILEGIO . DE . PAPA . GREGQRIO . XIII

II.  The third word in the inscription at the base of the right pier has been changed to: Fecit.  Below the inscription on the step is added: denuo cum priuilegio Urbani VIII. 1628.  The figures on the front of the altar have also been changed (see below).

Fig.E.4a (State I, Florence, 1579ss)
Fig.E.4b (detail, figure of Christ in niche)

Heinecken, I, 1778, 95.  Bartsch, XVII, 1818, 73-74, 66 (State II).  Le Blanc, 1854-1890, I, 9, 68.

COLLECTIONS: Florence, 1579ss (I); 92124ss (fragmentary).  Florence, Marucelliana, Vol. XIII, no. 58 (II).  London, 1874-8-8-505; W3-113 (both II).  New York, 53.638.1 (II, bottom half only).  Paris, AA 5; Ba 12; Eb 13 (all II).  Vienna, It.I.37, p.45 (II).


Basan (Mariette Sale), 1775, 104, under no. 677.

Kusenberg, 1931, 157, 159, as a tabernacle by Alberti after Rosso’s drawing in the British Museum, with the base of the tabernacle and the arch framing it added by Alberti.

Carroll, 1966, 170, 171, Fig. 5 (Florence), 173, as Alberti after Rosso but perhaps not made directly from the drawing in London.

Eisler, 1969, 244, n. 162, 245, as by Alberti, the design possibly by Rosso.

Thirion, 1971, 33, mentioned because of the figure of Christ occupying the center niche.

Zerner, in EdF, 1972, 246, Fig. (Paris), 247, no. 279, and in Fontainebleau, 1973, I, 172, Fig. 158, II, 77, no. 279 (Paris, AA 5).

Béguin and Pressouyre, in RdA, 16-17, 1972, 133, Fig. 194, point out that the putti on the altar are derived from the frame of the Danaë in the Gallery of Francis I, probably through Boyvin’s print of it.

Borea, 1980, 251, 261, no. 665, as Alberti after Rosso’s drawing with the suggestion that the latter was done in 1527-1530.

Buffa, IB, 34, 1982, 186 (London).

Carroll, 1987, 37, 41, 168-169, no. 56, with Fig. (Florence, I).

Béguin, 1988 (1989), 11, Fig. 6 (State II), as designed by Rosso in France.

Carroll, 1989, 15-17, 19, Fig. 29 (Florence, State I).

Franklin, 1994, 253, Pl. 203 (London), 254, 266, as of Rosso’s design.

This print is derived and reversed from Rosso’s drawing in the British Museum (Fig.D.38a) that was executed in Arezzo between late March or April and early September 1529.  The drawing has been cut but it is very probable that originally it showed a full altar below, but without any decoration, and the steps leading up to it as in the engraving.  The minor variations between the print and the drawing are given in the catalogue entry of the latter, where it is suggested that the engraving may have been executed from a copy of the drawing made by Alberti or someone in his shop.  That copy would have shown the several additions or changes that appear in the print, including the decoration of the front of the altar and the piers and arch that frame it, as well as the figure of Christ in the central niche.

The piers and the arch would seem to have been added by Alberti after his own design, as this architecture is not stylistically related to that of Rosso’s altar or to the architecture seen in any other work by him.  However, in the first state of this print, the two major additions are derived from Rosso’s art.  For the figure of Christ (Fig.E.4b), Alberti used an image by Rosso of around 1538-1540, a thrice removed copy of the image, the anonymous Christ in a Niche III (Fig.E.158), that shows a wafer above the chalice.  On the front of the altar table Alberti placed a strapwork plaque of his own design and flanked it with pairs of nude putti singing from a book.  These putti seem to be derived from those in reverse at the right side of the Milan-Boyvin engraving of the Nymph of Fontainebleau (Fig.E.103), a design by Rosso that was planned for the Gallery of Francis I and partly executed there.  Or the putti could have been derived from the excellent copy of the print.  But it is interesting that two of the putti in Alberti’s print are bald, as they are not in the Milan-Boyvin print.  Such bald putti are characteristic of Rosso and might indicate that Alberti worked from a drawing by Rosso of the Nymph of Fontainebleau.  However, it may be more likely that Alberti made the putti bald from the example of two at the far left of the Milan-Boyvin print and because the putti at the top of Rosso’s altar are bald.  For in “completing” Rosso’s altar Alberti would appear to have wished to be as accurate as possible in maintaining Rosso’s style throughout.

In the second state of the engraving, dated 1628, the pairs of nude young boys were changed to single seated winged cherubs, each holding a plaque.  As this print was issued thirteen years after Alberti’s death, the design of the cherubs cannot be due to him.  They are now decidedly Baroque cherubs and were in 1628 probably thought to be more proper than Rosso’s naked boys with the arm of one around the shoulder of the other.

Rosso’s Design for an Altar could very well have been one of the drawings that he left behind when he fled Arezzo in 1529, and which were inventoried in 1532 (see DOC.13).  Alberti may well have obtained the drawing from someone in Arezzo.