Florence, Uffizi, no. 2151.
Canvas, 160 x 117.1
The picture was cleaned in or just before 1909; twenty years earlier it had to be taken down because it was so dirty, according to Gamba.2 Franklin, 1994, 112, states that it was apparently restored c. 1789, but gives no source for this information (on a Medici inventory of that year that lists this painting, see below). It is rather thinly painted on relatively coarse or broad weave canvas with a horizontal seam just below the center. Gamba, 1910, 145–146, suggested, because he feels that its final touches are missing, that it was incautiously cleaned in the past, unless its present state indicates that it is unfinished (see below). Franklin, 1994, 112, notes “There are numerous tears in the canvas, particularly along the bottom edge, through Moses’ waist and through the head of the man falling at the left. A large amount of dirt has also settled in the pores of the canvas. In a raking light, a white sediment is visible over most of the surface, the result of the numerous repaints and revarnishings that have deteriorated.” Elam, 1988, 823, speaking of the picture as having been sent to France by Battista della Palla and returned to Florence, notes that it is “damaged almost irreparably.” Elam, 1993, 70–71, n. 142, suggesting that the picture was once owned by Francis I and in reference to so many of his pictures having been installed in the 1540s in the unsuitable environment of the Appartement des Bains at Fontainebleau, remarked “This could possibly explain why the Moses is in such deplorable condition. The lower half of the painting is so abraded and restored that it almost looks like a copy, but the female figures at the to right reveal Rosso’s characteristic touch.” Mugnaini, 1994, 103, and in Rosso e Volterra, 1994, 135, also commented on its disastrous condition: abraded, damaged and clumsily repainted. From my observations there are some losses in the drapery at the upper left, in the ground at the lower left, and a long horizontal loss is visible in the outstretched arm of the nude fallen on his back; these have been discretely filled. A diagonal scratch was inflicted on the inner side of the elbow of this arm on 12 January 1965.3 It was damaged in the bombing of the Uffizi in 1993 and first returned to the museum early in 1996, as noted in Art News, February, 1996, 69, with Color Fig. Because of the color that comes through the head of the uppermost sheep it looks like a late addition by Rosso.
So far as I know there has not yet been published a scientific report on the condition of this picture. Much of the appearance of the painting has always struck me as an aspect of Rosso’s intention, and as related to the unknown purpose for which it was painted. Being painted on canvas, and the only work by Rosso on canvas, may indicate that it was done for a special site. Pontormo’s approximately contemporary Supper at Emmaus may have been placed low on a wall in a feigned doorway at the Certosa to give the illusion of seeing the scene in an adjacent room, a special placement that may have required occasional removal of it for the maintenance of the room on the wall of which it was actually framed (frescoes are rarely painted to the floor).4 But whereas Pontormo’s picture had what would have been a permanent site at the Certosa, it is possible that Rosso’s did not have such a secure location. It could have been done for a less permanent site and temporary occasion, and may thus resemble to a certain extent the mostly lost paintings done for festivals. Perhaps for this reason it was available to Battista della Palla. In any case, the actual condition of the picture may have to be judged in relation to what was intended by its appearance in the first place, which may also have to do with its unprecedented style that does not reappear in any subsequent works by Rosso. The technique of the painting may also have something to do with its cost; it may have been cheap because it was not intended to be a highly finished work of art. It is not necessary to believe that it is technically related to the lost painting that Rosso did for Giovanni Cavalcanti, and that has been connected to the panel picture in Pisa (P.15).
The nude parts of the figures are painted on a dark ground. The male bodies are shades of pinkish tan, the lightest value being on the back of the figure at the bottom left, the darkest on the figure at the upper left. Moses’ drapery is slightly greenish dark blue; his hair is light brown and blond. The drapery of the figure at the upper left is pink violet; his hair is light brown. The woman at the right of the sheep is dressed in light greenish blue becoming white in the highlights; her hair is tan and blond; her headscarf dark blue-green; red beads hang across her forehead; her skin is light in tone. The two nudes at the lower left have brown hair; the one at the right, blond. There are six female figures in the background: the first has brown hair and a rose sleeve; the second has brown hair, a blue and red headdress, and a yellow dress with a red sash; the third wears dark green and has blond hair bound with a pink ribbon; her beads are red; the fourth has a dark pink violet dress and red beads; the fifth, just to the right of the frightened woman in the middle-ground, is dressed in bright red-orange visible at her shoulder and at the side of the waist of the frightened woman; the last woman, with a bare back, wears very dark green with a tan-yellow cast. The sky is blue; the buildings in the background are light brown. The sheep are gray with a greenish cast. The well is brown-orange with a blue round inset. At the upper left and beneath the figure running in from the left the ground is dark green. The steps in the middle-ground are dark gray. The lower ground is gray-green.
PROVENANCE: In the Lives of 1550 Vasari states that the picture was painted for Giovanni Bandini and “credo che in Francia fosse mandato.” Elam, 1988, 822, and 1993, 61–71, 93, Doc. 6, 107–109, Doc. 20, Fig. 7, discovered a letter of 2 March 1529 to Filippo Strozzi in Lyons in which Giovanni Bandini, in Rome, states the “I had a letter from Battista della Palla in which he asked me for a quadro d’ignudi I had in my camera terrena. I immediately gave order that it be consigned to him free of charge.” Then in an undated memorandum by Battista della Palla in Florence, probably written after the end of October 1529, that was sent to Filippo Strozzi in Lyons, Battista lists “il quadro da Giovanni Bandini” as one of the works that had been sent to Marseilles. There is no record of the picture having actually gotten to France, but Vasari’s statement, uncertain as the expression of his knowledge is, gives support to its having at least been sent there. Fifty-nine years later the picture was inventoried in the Medici Collection (Inventory of 14 March 1587 [modern style, 1588]: ASF, Guardaroba Medicea, vol. 136, fol. 154v; “Uno quadro in tela con più figure che fanno forze et animali con ornamento di noce profilato d’oro dissono di mano del Rossi, alto braccia 3 largo braccia 2 in circa”; see Paola Barocchi, “La Galleria a la Storiografia Artistica,” in Gli Uffizi, Quattro Secoli di una Galleria, Florence, 1983, I, 54, n. 31, and Franklin, 1994, 281, n. 87, from which this text was taken). In spite of this inventory listing it has been reported that it was bequeath to the Medici Collection in 1632 by Don Antonio de’Medici, the son of Bianca Cappello and Francesco I (Poggi, 1909, 265, and Gamba, 1910, 144; Berti, 1993, 110, also states that the collection of Don Antonio was at the Casino di San Marco). In the Medici inventory of 1798 it is described as Hercules killing the Minotaur and destroying the wall of Troy (Baldini, in Mostra del Pontormo, 1556, 133, no. 166). Around 1890, the year it appears in the Inventario Gallerie as no. 2151, it was taken off exhibition at the Uffizi by Ridolfi because it was so dirty, and re-hung there after it was cleaned in or shortly before 1909 (Gamba, 1910, 144). It was recorded in the Tribune in 1926 (L. Berti, S. Rudolph, and A. Biancalani, Mostra della Tribuna degli Uffizi, Quaderni degli Uffizi, I, 1970–1971, 37, and Franklin, 1994, 281, n. 89).
The picture has generally been associated with the following passage in Vasari, 1550, 798 (Vasari-Ricci, IV, 244), substantially the same in Vasari, 1568, II, 206 (Vasari-Milanesi, V, 159), immediately following his discussion of the Marriage of the Virgin, dated 1523: “Fece ancora a Giovanni Bandini un quadro di alcuni ignudi bellissimi, storia di Mose quando egli amazza lo Egizzio; nel quale erano cose lodatissime; e credo che in Francia fosse mandato.”
Poggi, 1909, 264–265, as by Rosso and probably the picture mentioned by Vasari.
Gamba, 1910, 144–146, also believed this identification probable. He speaks of the modernity of the picture and of Rosso’s use of color to define the elements of the picture and their spatial relationships.
Goldschmidt, 1911, 21–22, identifies it with the picture painted for Giovanni Bandini, but places it in Rosso’s Roman period because of Vasari’s reference to Rosso’s study of Michelangelo there; however, Goldschmidt also relates the painting to Florentine art and specifically to the Battle of Cascina.
Pieraccini, 1912, 84, no. 1583.
Voss, 1920, 186, as contemporary with the Sposalizio of 1523 and as approaching the sculptural ideals of Roman painting; he also recognizes in the energetic movement and in the planar definition of the figures similarities to Bandinelli’s drawings.
Friedlaender, 1925, 75, 76, Fig. 11, 77–78 (1957, 32–34, Fig. 11), as done before 1523 when Rosso went to Rome, and as showing the influence of Michelangelo’s Bathers; he also speaks of its layered composition, non-perspective space, and its strong and unreal color creating a picture for which there is no Renaissance precedent.
Pevsner, 1928, 29–30, believes it was done early in Rosso’s Roman period and relates the picture to his Labors of Hercules engraved by Caraglio.
Antal, [1928–1929] 1966, 81, as stylistically related to Bloemaert’s Niobids of 1591.
Panofsky, 1930, 185–186, as influential on a German woodcut of Hercules and Cacus.5
Kusenberg, Strasbourg, 1931, 110, recognized the influence of Dürer.
Kusenberg, 1931, 22–24, 27, 128, 186–187, ns. 51–56, as executed during Rosso’s last years in Florence; he also speaks of its relation to the upper half of the Volterra Deposition, and to the style and technique of Bandinelli and Pontormo.6
Venturi, IX, 5, 1932, 214, 215, Fig. 121, 226, 230, as done immediately after the Sposalizio of 1523, and , apparently, in Florence.
Berenson, 1932, 495.
Kusenberg, 1935, 62, as done around 1523.
Exposition de l’Art italien de Cimabue à Tiepolo, Peintures, Paris, 1935, 185, no. 410.
Salmi, 1940, 79–80, as having a virtuoso emptiness but an aesthetic effect like Uccello’s Flood.
Sabatini, 1941, 424–425.
Becherucci, 1944, 28, finds a return, but with Michelangelesque forms, to the lyrical qualities of the Volterra Deposition; for her the Uffizi picture “sembra più vicina alla dissonante irrealtà di questo periodo fiorentino che alle più ripensate soluzioni formali del seguento periodo romano.”
Barocchi, 1950, 51–55, 65, 246, believes that the picture was probably done in 1523 and in Florence, and that it is probably the picture mentioned by Vasari; she also recognizes the influence of the Battle of Cascina.
Becherucci, 1955, 171, discusses its relation to Michelangelo’s art.
Triomphe du Maniérisme, 1955, 89, no. 104, Pl. 3, as very likely painted around 1523.
Baldini, in Mostra del Pontormo, 1956, 133–134, no. 166, as probably identifiable with the picture mentioned by Vasari, and done in Florence around 1523. He says that nineteenth century critics thought it to be a sketch (but does not cite these critics).
Oertel, 1956, as Rosso, ca. 1523?
Shearman, 1957, I, 244–246.
Becherucci, 1958 (1968, 455, Color Pl. 290).
Brugnoli, 1962, 342, 349–350, ns. 48–51, discussing the Uffizi picture with the copy of Rosso’s lost Rebecca and Eliezer in Pisa doubts their identification with the paintings mentioned by Vasari and believes that both were done in Rome, at the same time, it seems, after the frescoes of 1524 in S. Maria della Pace and before making the drawings that were engraved by Caraglio. She points to the influence of the frescoes of the Sala di Costantino, especially Giulio Romano’s Battle, and of the ancestors of the Sistine Ceiling. Brugnoli also sees their influence on Perino del Vaga’s frescoes in the Palazzo Doria in Genoa and cites this supposed influence as further evidence of the execution of Rosso’s pictures in Rome.
Smyth, 1962, 22–23; 1963, 191–192; 1992, 79, and Fig. 56, recognized in the Moses strong precedents for maniera in Rosso before 1530.
Shearman, 1963, 217, 219, dates the picture 1523 (and apparently refers also to the Rebecca and Eliezer when he mistakenly mentions “the two Moses compositions”), and speaks of it as taking the new stylistic direction represented by Perino del Vaga’s and Pontormo’s compositions of the Ten Thousand Martyrs, and mentions the appearance in the painting of Michelangelo’s teste divine of the 1520s.
Berenson, 1963, 194, Pl. 1468.
Hirst, 1964, 122, 125, states that Vasari was well informed and believes the Moses is the painting mentioned by him as having been done in Florence just before Rosso’s departure for Rome.
Carroll, 1964 (1976), I, Bk. I, 99–100, Bk. II, 129–131, II, Bk. III, Fig. 30, as done in Florence either late in 1523 or early in 1524.
Bousquet, 1964, 98, dates it 1522 and observes the reduction of its human forms to geometrical structure.
Becherucci, 1965, 39, no. 2, 58, Fig., as valued at $50,000.
Hauser, 1965, 193–194, as of about 1523; he speaks of the mannerist character of the space as essentially a result of horror vacui, and the absence of spiritual content and expression.
Borea, 1965, Pl. XV, dates the picture in Rosso’s Roman period and speaks of the influence of Giulio Romano, Perino, Polidoro, and Michelangelo. She also suggests the influence of Parmigianino on the woman in blue.
Freedberg, 1966, 563.
Carroll, 1967, 297, n. 1, 298, n. 8, 299, indicates that the picture should be considered in relation to that of the Sposalizio of 1523, and of Bandinelli’s Massacre of the Innocents, engraved by Marco Dente, Perino del Vaga’s Moses Commanding the Red Sea, and his and Pontormo’s compositions of the Martyrdom of the Ten Thousand.
Murray, Linda, The Late Renaissance and Mannerism, New York, 1967, as done in Rome around 1523.
Clark, 1967, Pl. XIV, 18–19, as done in 1523; he speaks of the figures as derived from an antique sarcophagus of the Sons of Niobe and of the profound effect of Uccello’s Flood.
Chastel, 1968, 106, as of around 1523; speaking of the introduction of the arabesque into Italian painting and of the “taste for composing groups of intertwined figures” as appears in Giulio’s Battle of Constantine, states that Rosso’s picture “with its avalanche of toppling bodies, showed the method at its most effective.”
Hartt, 1969 (1987, 561, Fig.600) as c.1523, done in Rome, and a comment on the foreshortening in Michelangelo’s Brazen Serpent.
Göransson, 1969, 132, as anti-classical and as influential on Bronzino’s Venus, Cupid, Folly, and Time.
Mostra Storica, 1970, 37, as in the Tribune of the Uffizi in 1926.
Freedberg, 1971, 129–130, 484, n. 27, as done in Florence and as influenced by the Cascina cartoon and by Pontormo’s martyrdom scene of 1522 or 1523, but not by Perino’s.
Ragghianti, 1972, 65, n. 18, mentions evidence here of Rosso’s study of quattrocento art.
Del Conde, 1975, 126, mentioned.
Peluso, 1976, 87–106, as done in Rome.
Smith, 1977, as possibly influenced by the writings of Philo Judaeus.
David Summers, “Contrapposto: Style and Meaning in Renaissance Art,” AB, LIX, 1977, 339, believes that the figure of Moses is derived from a mutilated torso of the Discobolos discovered in Rome in 1513.
Nyholm, 1977, 137, 146, 153, 154, Fig. 84, as influenced by Uccello and influential on Beccafumi.
Barolsky, 1978, 107, suggests that is a parody of Michelangelo’s terribilità, and points out the sexual aspect of the picture in the placement of Moses’ genitals in the center of the composition.
Walters, 1978, 159, believes that Rosso elaborates on its subject “in an arbitrary and melodramatic way.”
Becherucci, in Uffizi Cat., 1979, 460, P1375, as the picture mentioned by Vasari and as probably done in 1523.
Miedema and Meijer, 1979, 95, pointed out that the picture shows “dark underpainting of contours and even of whole areas.”
Chastel, 1983, 274, n. 45, as done in Florence.
Darragon, 1983, Fig. 12, 37, believes that Rosso here liberates his art from the weight of commenting on its subject to being confident in its own powers.
Lévêque, 1984, 165.
Vasari-Darragon, 1984, 178, 192, n. 16, as done in Florence in 1523.
Olszewski, 1984, as probably done in Florence, and as showing three episodes of Moses’s early career: Moses killing the Egyptian, Moses stopping the quarrel between two Hebrews, and Moses rushing to the aid of the seven daughters of Jethro with Sipporah seen at the right.
Wilmes, 1985, 65, 68, 71–73, 77, 82, 109, 125, 133–138, 140, 161, 164, 168–169, Fig.25, as done in Florence, 1523–1524.
Parma Armani, 1986, 122, followed Brugnoli in dating the painting 1524–1527.
Carroll, 1987, 20–21, 34, n. 49, as done in Florence.
Gaston, 1988, as related not only to the writings of Philo Judaeus but even more closely to the interpretations of its subject by Savanorola and Machiavelli. She also recognized that the figure of Moses is based on an antique image of man overcoming a bull which was also used for depictions of the exploits of Hercules.
Paolucci, in Pittura, Cinquecento, 1988, I, 301, as c. 1523.
Caron, 1988, 368, 369, Fig.7, 370, as done in 1523 and unfinished, the bottom less so than the top, because Rosso went to Rome.
A.Giovanetti, in Pittura, Cinquecento, 1988, II, 826, as dated by most to just before he left Florence for Rome, except by Peluso who placed it in Rome ca.1525.
Ciardi and Mugnaini, 1991, 17, 23, 29–30, 31, 104–109, no.19, with 4 Color Pls., 111, 114, seem to believe in a Roman date and suggested stylistic affinities with Botticelli’s Moses fresco in the Sistine Chapel.
Hall, 1992, 153, 254, n. 4, as 1523–1524, notes blond manner in color, and as “surely unfinished.”
Elam, 1988 and 1993, see above under PROVENANCE, relates the picture to the “hot-headed” Giovanni Bandini. In the past Battista della Palla, who’s sent the Moses to France, perferred and ordered pictures on canvas (making it likely that the Rosso painting also was on canvas because it was made for export).
Berti, 1993, 110, Color Fig., as c. 1523–1524.
Cox-Rearick, 1993, 128, Fig. 76, 129, 219, related the nudes to the foreground nudes in Bronzino’s Brazen Serpent in the Chapel of Eleanora da Toledo, noted that it is unclear why Moses scenes appeared in Florence in the 1520s and 1530s.
Franklin, 1994, 30, 109–114, 116–117, 132, 172, 222, 264, 283, n. 57, Color Pl. 79, as done in Florence, and sent to France by Della Palla, returning to Florence between 1568 and 1587, as slightly unfinished, but maybe also as finished as Rosso intended; as related to Michelangelo’s Cascina cartoon, “the pose of Moses with his knee in the back on one of his victims” as “adapted from a figure on some antique sarcophagus relief,” and Zipporah from the Venus Genetrix type; its most immediate model Perino’s Moses parting the Red Sea in the Uffizi.
Brilli, 1994, 62, 63, Color Pl., 64, as done in 1523, after the Marriage of the Virgin.
Falciani, 1994, 22, as showing the heroic language of Uccello’s Battles; he also connects Bandini to Carlo Ginori during the plague of 1527.
Falciani, in Gnocchi and Falciani, 1994, 14, 16, 66, Color Fig., 67, as perhaps done in Florence in the last months of 1523.
Haitovsky, 1994, 118, notes its composition as revolving around Moses’ genitals.
Mugnaini, 1994, associates the subject with Hercules, with Moses seen as an exemplum virtutis, and as related to Fortune, with both Hercules and Moses as anticpators of Christ and as invincible champions of virtue and justice; he also notes the centrality of sex, its “vitalismo” underlining Moses rescuing mission, with reference to the picture’s chronologically nearest image by Rosso, the Fury [E.18].
Mugnaini, in Rosso e Volterra, 1994, 134, Color Fig., 135, no. 1, 152, under nos. 5–10, relates it to Rosso’s Hercules Fighting the Centaurs engraved by Caraglio [E.22].
Ciardi, 1994, 20, 31, 33, 36, 44, 50, 53, 68, 81–82, 85, 93, n. 94, as showing the influence of Michelangelo’s Cascina and Leonardo’s Anghiari, and of Donatello and Uccello.
Marchetti Letta, 1994, 68–72, Color Pls. 97–98, as repainted by one or more persons; as showing, besides Moses defending the daughters of Jethro, in the center Moses slaying the Egyptian who attacked a Hebrew, and, at the top, Moses stopping the fight between two Hebrews; and, probably as noted, following Mugnaini,1994, showing Rosso’s “reflection on the heroic theme of the triumphant victory of the moral force of virtue over the inexorably fickle action of fortune.”
Natali, 2006, 130, 134, 138, Fig.95 caption text, 139, Fig. 95, 141, 143, various endnotes, as a fine copy of an original of which reflectographs done before the last restoration of 1995 reveal poorly made graphic marks causing one to question the originality of the painting as Rosso’s as does its canvas support; the original sent to France, implying that it was bought by King Francis I; returned to Florence between 1550 and 1588 when it appears on the inventory of the Casino di San Marco. Hence not able to say that this inventoried picture is the same one that was sold to the French king; it and the Rebecca and Eliezer in Pisa belonging to that aristocratic Florentine ambient of ideal republican sympathies, but according to Savonarolian ethics.
Olszewski, 2008, pointed out that beauty was often equated with goodness in the sixteenth century underscoring Zipporah’s suitability as the future bride of Moses, her exposed breast derived from that of the Amazons signifying her fortitude and abstinence and “her diurnal courage as she confronts the male shepherds”; Zipporah’s “virile knot of drapery gathered at her groin” related to this detail in Marcantonio’s Lucretia indicating “the tenor of virility appropriate to the subject.”
Rosso’s authorship of this painting seems never to have been questioned until Natali, in 2006, through indications of underlying graphic traces non proprio excelso, thought the picture a copy. Never having seen this evidence but finding the visible aspect of the picture, in spite of various area of repainting that have been noted, remarkably interesting and aesthetically affecting, I am inclined to recognize its composition and the subtle and clever, even primitive, execution of it as Rosso’s. However much it has been repainted in the period of fifty-nine years of its unknown whereabouts to get it into a saleable condition the appearance of it is still of an originality that it would be difficult to assign to a copyist. It has most often been associated with the passage by Vasari quoted above and hence placed at the end of Rosso’s Florentine period. Situated by Vasari immediately after the Sposalizio that is dated 1523 the Moses would, therefore, have been done in 1523–1524, assuming that Rosso went to Rome early in 1524, which is likely. This date, however, is not recognized by Goldschmidt, Pevsner, Brugnoli, Borea, and Peluso, who placed the picture in Rosso’s Roman period. Carroll, 1987; Paolucci, in Pittura, Cinquecento, 1988; and Caron, 1988 as done in Florence. A. Giovanetti, in Pittura. Cinouecento, 1988, as dated by most to just before he left Florence for Rome, except Peluso, 1976, who placed it in Rome c. 1525. All subsequent scholars considered the picture as having been done in Florence before Rosso went to Rome.
As Hirst pointed out, Vasari is a well-informed source for Rosso’s activities. It may by added that for his career prior to his departure for France Vasari is all but infallible insofar as the surviving visual and documentary evidence corresponds with the information and chronology that his “Life” of Rosso presents.7 Therefore, there is every reason to believe the basic truth of Vasari’s comments that just before Rosso left Florence for Rome he painted a picture for Giovanni Bandini the subject of which was an episode of the story of Moses. It is also clear from Vasari that the subject was one of violence and the picture contained “alcuni ignudi bellissimi.” The obstacles to identifying the painting in the Uffizi with the one mentioned by Vasari have been what has been considered the slight difference in subject and his belief that the picture “in Francia fosse mandato.” Vasari says that the picture for Bandini showed the “scoria di Mose quando egli amazza lo Egizio” (Exodus 2: 12–13), while the Uffizi picture has been recognized, ever since Milanesi pointed it out (Vasari-Milanessi, V, 159, n. 2), as showing Moses defending the daughters of Jethro (Exodus 2: 15–17). But Olszewski, in 1988, brought up the possibility that the picture shows both scenes (as well as a third episode of Moses’s early life). Furthermore, Elam discovered documents that prove Vasari was right in thinking that it had been sent to France. There seems, therefore, no reason to doubt that this is the painting mentioned by Vasari, even if he had never seen it.
The picture painted for Bandini is mentioned by Vasari just before another painting that Rosso painted in Florence for Giovanni Cavalcanti; this picture is known from a copy in Pisa (P.15). Brugnoli believes that the Uffizi picture and the lost original of the work in Pisa were made as pendants and therefore cannot be connected with the paintings mentioned by Vasari as having been done for two different Florentines. This opinion carries with it the supposition that the two paintings recorded in the “Life” of Rosso are lost and that the two surviving paintings, of subjects almost identical to those of the supposed lost ones, are two Roman works—and two large ones, one might add—that are unrecorded by Vasari. As Hirst has stated there is no evidence to support this hypothesis which is not only improbable but also puts unnecessarily into serious doubt the accuracy and completeness of Vasari’s account of Rosso’s artistic activity.
Although the size, kind of subjects, and the compositions of the Uffizi and Pisa pictures suggest that they could be related, as pendants according to Bucci and Baldini, in Mostra del Pontormo, 1956, 134, to Barocchi, and to Peluso, this may be because they were conceived and executed at the same time, or one immediately after the other, rather than because they were painted as a pair for a single patron. There are also certain aspects of the panel painting in Pisa that indicate that Rosso’s lost original may not have been stylistically absolutely identical to the Uffizi picture. On the other hand it is possible that the two pictures, identifiable with those mentioned by Vasari, did in some respects form a pair because of some special and as yet undiscovered circumstance that connects the commission from Giovanni Bandini with that from Giovanni Cavalcanti. The disappearance of both paintings at about the same time—Vasari thought that the second one had been sent to England—might suggest a connection between the two men and the two pictures.
Pevsner speaks of the Uffizi picture as having been done early in Rosso’s Roman period. Brugnoli dates it after the S. Maria della Pace frescoes of 1524 and before the prints by Caraglio made from Rosso’s designs which she seems to place in 1526, or thereabouts, although these prints were made throughout Rosso’s stay in Rome. Brugnoli does not mention the Dead Christ in Boston that was done in Rome around 1525 or 1526 (P.18). Compared with Rosso’s frescoes of 1524 and with the Boston painting the Moses defending the Daughters of Jethro reveals a total lack of those large volumes and substantial masses that give to the other works their particular Roman quality. The juxtaposed shapes of light and dark, and the broken angular rhythms of the Uffizi painting also distinguish it from Rosso’s Roman works, including the Labors of Hercules (E.19–24), engraved by Caraglio, that Brugnoli mentions as do Pevsner and Peluso, with their hard, tensely rounded, and anatomically precise figures. The abstract denotation of the forms and the spatial and figural abbreviations of the Uffizi picture are not those of Rosso’s Roman works even when the latter are formally most complex and witty.
Both Brugnoli and Peluso suggest certain works in Rome that they feel Rosso would have to have known to create the Uffizi and Pisa compositions. However, unprecedented as certain elements of the Moses painting may at first appear to be in the context of Rosso’s works done before his trip to Rome its composition is not a unique kind in Florence just at the moment when Vasari’s account would place the painting that Rosso made for Giovanni Bandini. Rosso’s picture is very similar to Pontormo’s’ Victory and Baptism of the Ten Thousand Martyrs. The violent activity, the foreshortening of the nudes, the piling up of the figures, and the spatial construction of this composition are very similar to those of Rosso’s painting, as pointed out by Rearick, 1964, I, 49 (see also 210–212, no. 195, and II, Fig. 185). Similar relationships can be found between Rosso’s work and Bandinelli’s Massacre of the Innocents, engraved by Marco Dente around 1520–1521. What has also to be recognized is that certain of the stylistic characteristics of the Uffizi painting go back to some of those of the Volterra Deposition and that these were completely transformed immediately upon Rosso’s arrival in Rome. This stylistic transformation to a Roman manner in nowhere evident in the Moses picture, as it is in Rosso’s Michelangelesque frescoes in S. Maria della Pace, in his Boston Dead Christ, and in all his other Roman works.
On the basis of these considerations the Moses has to be recognized as a Florentine work. Furthermore, it seems altogether reasonable to identify is as the painting that Vasari says Rosso made for Giovanni Bandini in Florence immediately after the Sposalizio of 1523. As Rosso probably went to Rome early in 1524, a date of 1523–1524 is most likely for the Uffizi picture. But it may have preceded the Rebecca and Eliezer painted for Cavalcanti (Fig.P.15a). It should also be remembered that in Bandini Roman letter of 2 March 1529 he writes as having received a letter from Battista della Palla about the picture, suggesting that the picture was not in Rome. Furthermore, in Battista della Palla’s later Florentine letter it is implied that the works he shipped to Marseille were sent from Florence, where other works he had remained.
Gamba suggested the picture may be unfinished. Others, including Franklin and Mugnaini, have also expressed this opinion, which has a history going back at least to 1841 (L. Bartolini, G. Bezzouli, and S. Jesi, Imperiale e Reale Galleria di Firenze pubblicata e con incisioni in rame di una Società…ed illustrata da Ferdinando Ranalli, I, Florence, 1841, 316, and Franklin, 1994, 113, 281, n. 95) However, the actual degree of finish of the picture is everywhere consistent and consonant with the schematized drawing and modeling of the forms and shapes of the figures—note, for example, the merely adumbrated raised hand of the second woman in the background—and with its somewhat arbitrary and, in places, irrational spatial relationships—as in the definition and placement of the sheep.
Although the evidence is fairly clear that the picture was sent on its way to France, there is no documentation that it ever entered the collection of Francis I, as distinct from a number of Florentine works that are known definitely to have been owned by the king.8 Given that it was already back in Florence by 1587, and may have gotten there earlier, even if not before the second edition of Vasari’s Lives in 1568, it would be hard to explain how it would have gotten out of the French royal collection. It also seems likely that it was not the kind of picture of nude men fighting that would have been enjoyed by Francis I and the French court. Thus it is may be that if the picture did reach Marseilles, whoever had it could not find a buyer, which may be one of the reasons why it appears so soon back in Florence.
Caution should also be taken in interpreting the picture too much in relation to what can be known of the active, even tumultuous, life of Bandini. When he himself described the picture he called it “un quadro d’ignudi” rather than referring to its violent subject matter. This may give some indication of how he appreciated the picture, and how it was conceived. Also Mugnaini’s recent interpretation of the picture suggests a relation to virtue and virtù and to Fortune, rather than to mere violence. Olszewski’s suggestion that the picture shows more than one scene from the early life of Moses strikes me as plausible, but I can recognize only two figures, both wearing capes, as Moses. Hence I see only two episodes, the one recognized by Milanesi, and the one that Vasari in the sixteenth century thought the picture depicted.
1 Uffizi Cat., 1979, 460, P1375. Gamba, 1910, 144, mentions that as the result of successive relinings the canvas has been reduced by several centimeters at all its edges cutting off parts of the arms and legs (repeated in Ciardi and Mugnaini, 1991, 104). The copy on panel in Pisa (P.15) of Rosso’s lost but stylistically similar Rebecca and Eliezer, done at the same time, measures 164 x 117; this may indicate that the Uffizi picture has not been significantly altered although it seems that the Pisa painting has also been cut.
5 The print is now recognized as by Gabriel Salmon (see A. M. Hind, An Introduction to the History of Woodcut, Boston and New York, 1935, II, 697, n. 1). If a relationship does exist between these two works it is more likely that Rosso would have known the woodcut rather than that Salmon had seen the painting that was probably still in Bandini’s private possession in Florence when the print was made. Furthermore, on the basis of the visual evidence and Rosso’s possible earlier interest in Northern prints it is more reasonable to see in the Uffizi picture Rosso’s use and transformation of the stylistic idiosyncrasies of the woodcut than to see the woodcut as a deformation of Rosso’s painting as would be the case if the print followed from it. The laconic definition of Rosso’s composition might also be seen as dependent upon the character of the technique of the print. Unfortunately, the date of the woodcut is not known but Jean Laran (L’Estampe, I, Paris, 1959, 390) has suggested that it was executed around 1528. Perhaps the two works share a common source. Mugnaini, 1994, 120, Fig., 121, has also commented on the relationship of the woodcut and Rosso’s painting, but more in regard to their subjects than to which is dependent on the other.
6 Kusenberg relates the technique of the picture to the painting of St. Jerome in the Madonna and Child with Sts. Jerome and Francis in the Uffizi that has been attributed not only to Pontormo and to Bronzino, but also, wrongly, to Rosso himself (Costamagna, 1994, 283–284, A31, Fig.).
7 There is only one chronological error in Vasari’s account of Rosso’s Italian career, the placement of the S. Maria Nuova Altarpiece. This mistake is probably understandable in relation to Rosso’s Angel Playing a Lute, in the Uffizi (Fig.P.4a), that is a fragment of a lost and possibly never completed altarpiece of late 1514 or 1515 about which Vasari may have had vague information that he confused with what he knew about the other and slightly later picture that is documented as having been done in 1518.