L.55 Cartoon or Drawing for a Work on a Vault in Notre Dame in Paris


Grodecki (1975, 103, 110, V.(I.) 16) published the following document of 24 May 1544 from the “procès-verbaux capitulaires” of Notre Dame (here slightly corrected):

Paris, Archives Nationales, Fonds capitulaires de Notre-Dame, LL 143, p.623.

“Communicetur cuidam italo pictori (hic domino cardinale de Turnone requirente) protractus certe ymaginis supra voltas ecclesie incepte per defunctum dominum de Rossis.”

This request refers to a cartoon or drawing by Rosso for a work he planned for or began on a vault in Notre Dame and left incomplete at his death in November 1540.  One can probably assume that the unnamed Italian painter, who had been recommended by Cardinal François de Tournon, wanted the cartoon or drawing from the Chapter of Notre Dame in order to complete Rosso’s work.

Although, as Grodecki pointed out (105, n. 35), the word “ymaginis” could refer to sculpture or to a panel painting (see also Béguin, 1989, 829, n. 7),1 it is most likely, given the reference to the “ymaginis” as on the vaults of Notre Dame, that the work was a wall painting.  This is also indicated by the fact that Rosso’s cartoon or drawing was to be given to a painter.  Grodecki suggested that it might be related to a document of 7 February 1538 (DOC.35) that authorized Rosso, while painting in Notre Dame, to wear lay clothes.  It might also be possible to associate this “ymaginis” with Rosso’s plans for the alteration of the vaults near the “altaris ardentium” in Notre Dame authorized by the chapter on 19 December 1537 (L.54) if one thinks of this work as preparation of the vaults so that a painting could be executed upon them.  Assuming these associations to be true, then the cartoon or drawing that was wanted in 1544 could already have been made late in 1537, or early in 1538.

Grodecki (103, 105, ns. 35, 36) brought up the possibility that the lost work by Rosso was related to the cartoon that Vasari said Rosso made for a painting for the “Congregazione del capitolo, dove [Rosso] era canonico” (L.57) or to the cartoon of Augustus and the Tiburtine Sibyl (L.58) that was found among Rosso’s things at the time of his death.  But she also believed that it was not done for the Chapter of Notre Dame because it was not mentioned more often or more explicitly in the “procès-verbaux capitulaires.”  Nevertheless, it is to be noted that it was this Chapter that had Rosso’s cartoon or drawing.

It is likely that the cartoon by Rosso that Vasari related in one place to the “Congregazione del capitolo” and the cartoon that he mentioned elsewhere as representing Augustus and the Tiburtine Sibyl are the same.  As this cartoon was found at the time of Rosso’s death, it seems reasonable to conjecture that it was a project that he was at work on when he died.  As a cartoon, it was obviously made as a model for a painting that he was actually going to execute, and because the cartoon was preserved it is probable that it was for a painting that had not yet been done, or completed, by mid-November 1540.  Furthermore, it would appear that the “Congregazione del capitolo” was the Chapter of Notre Dame rather than the other one in which Rosso also had a canonicate, that of “Santa Capella,” although Vasari seems partly to have confused it (that is, the Chapter of Sainte Chapelle) with that of Notre Dame.  The visionary subject of Augustus and the Tiburtine Sibyl, showing the emperor looking up to the apparition of the Virgin and Child in the sky, would be a fine subject for a painting on a vault, especially in a cathedral dedicated to the Virgin Mary.  Vasari said that this cartoon showed the king, the queen, soldiers, and a crowd of people, which seem also appropriate for a picture in the cathedral of Paris, and perhaps especially appropriate for one above or near to the “altaris ardentium,” where the king’s body would be placed before its burial at Saint Denis.2  If this was the picture that was still incomplete in 1544 then it is possible that it was a royal commission and for this reason was not otherwise mentioned in the “procès-verbaux capitulaires of Notre Dame.”  This could account for the Cardinal de Tournon’s involvement in the matter.  In 1544 he was one of the king’s principal advisors3 and he may have been acting on behalf of Francis I when he recommended the Italian painter who was presumably to finish the wall painting begun by the king’s former painter.  As the painting was in Notre Dame, the carrying out of the king’s commission could have been entrusted to the Chapter of Notre Dame because it had jurisdiction over the vaults on which the picture would have been painted.4  It was this chapter, of which Rosso was a member since September 1537 (DOCS.31-35), that had been holding his cartoon or drawing since his death.5  It was also this chapter that commissioned Rosso on 27 October 1537 to make a design for a screen to enclose their choir (L.53), from which his wall painting would probably have been visible. This choir screen was being paid for by the king.

On the possible location of the vaults on which Rosso’s wall painting would have been executed, see L.56.


1 Béguin seems to want to connect this “ymaginis” to Rosso’s lost painting of St. Michael (L.61), but no references connect this painting to Notre Dame.

2 On the service in 1547 in Notre Dame, see Giesey, 1960, 14-15.  Giesey (44) pointed out that the normal place for the “chapelle ardente,” the temporary structure placed around the coffin, was in the choir, and it was there that Francis I’s coffin was placed (see Terrasse, III, 1970, 254).  But it seems clear from the architecture shown in the illustration of the “chapelle ardente” at the service for Anne of Brittany in Notre Dame in 1514 (Giesey, 1960, Fig. 11) that it was placed in the sanctuary at the location of the “altaris ardentium.”  Thus it is possible that some years before his death it was thought that Francis I’s body would also be placed there.

3 See Seward, 1973, 227-228, and Knecht, 1982, 299.

4 On the jurisdiction of the chapter in the late Middle Ages, see Timbal and Metman, 1967, 130.  Although the bishop seems to have had jurisdiction over the “altaris ardentium,” the chapter seems to have had it over the rest of the church, which would apparently have included the vaults above the altar.

5 Grodecki eliminated Jean du Bellay, the bishop of Paris, as the commissioner of the work because of his personality, and any confraternity that would have been associated with a chapel in the cathedral because of the location of the work on the vaults of the church.