The visual material presented in the following entries on each section of the Gallery of Francis I has been selected on the basis of its relevancy to an understanding of the decoration of the gallery as it was conceived by Rosso and executed between around 1531/1532 and 1539. This is also true of the remarks that are made on this material and on the present appearance of the gallery. Fuller documentation can be found in the special issue of the Revue de l’Art, 16–17, 1972, devoted entirely to the gallery, especially part III, “Dossier technique,” 45–97, by Binenbaum and Pressouyre, and part V, “Dossier documentaire,” 124–142, by Béguin and Pressouyre. In the latter almost all the later material is listed, such as the prints by Du Cerceau and those by Battista Angolo del Moro, formerly given to Schiavone,1 as well as other works derived largely from early prints that are directly derived from Rosso’s designs. Only the early prints are listed here except when a later one also has some special significance.
The present condition of each wall area is discussed only if a major alteration has been made to it.
Copies of preparatory drawings are listed and briefly commented upon; they are fully recorded in the Catalogue of Drawings. But a few other remarks may be appropriate here.
From the information given by Vasari and the documents, and from what is also indicated by the extent of the paintings and stuccoes in the gallery and by their appearance, it is clear that Rosso was aided by a number of assistants. Vasari says that the paintings, and, it would seem, the stuccoes, too, were executed by these assistants from Rosso’s drawings “che furono d’acquerello a di chiaroscuro.” None of these autograph drawings appear to have survived, but a certain number of copies of lost drawings exist that must give a rather good idea of what the assistants had to work from. All but two are for paintings in the gallery, for the large center pictures and one for a small round scene, and all of these copies record drawings of whole compositions. One drawing gives the full composition of a stucco relief at I South while another is for the stucco frame of the central section of the East Wall, but without the oval oil painting by Rosso that it would have enclosed. The evidence of these copies indicates that most of the lost original drawings were executed in pen and ink and wash, which concurs with Vasari’s comment. One copy, of a drawing for the first version of the Sacrifice (Fig.D.50B), also shows the use of white highlights and of brown washed paper, and reveals the same kinds of media and draughtsmanship of such drawings as the Aretine Design for a Chapel (D.37) and Design for an Altar (D.38), the Mars and Venus (D.42), and two French drawings, the Annunciation (D.43) and the illustration of a sonnet by Petrarch (D.47). It cannot be determined if all the lost originals were similarly done on tinted paper with highlights, but this is possible. For a second copy of the same lost drawing for the Sacrifice (D.50C) is done on white paper and has no highlights, and another copy (Fig.D.50A) shows only the pen and ink outlines of the more elaborately executed lost original work. Furthermore, while the penmanship of the copies appears consistently to record Rosso’s, the generally somewhat vague and indecisively placed washes and especially the differences between copies of a single lost drawing suggest that they may, nevertheless, all be derived from original drawings that had dark grounds and white highlights. The less fully defined copies without tinted paper and highlights would simply have been easier to make. Some of the copies may, of course, be copies of copies but the overall similarity of them does not make it possible to determine when this is the case. The copy of the drawing for a stucco relief (D.57) is also done in pen and ink lines only but probably it was copied from an original drawing that had washes, if not also a dark ground and white highlights, to show the sculptural effect that was intended for the relief to be made from it. A drawing of this kind, with washes, was probably the model for the anonymous etching of the Birth of Venus (E.148) related to the relief under the Enlightenment of Francis I.
Other kinds of drawings may also have been made for the gallery of which no drawn copies are known. That there is no evidence for sketches is not surprising as there is a total lack of them from Rosso’s earlier career as well, and in any case it is less likely that sketches, if there were any, would be copied. But there must have been studies for the individually placed figures, such as the lost drawing represented by an anonymous etching (E.147) related to but not used for the fresco decoration of the upper sides of the Enlightenment of Francis I, and for small groups of painted figures that are placed around some of the principal paintings. One would expect there to have been separate drawings for the large stucco figures and for the reliefs that are not individually framed. Rosso must also have made a drawing for each entire wall area that included the large central painting and all that frames it comparable to what is presented by the Petrarch drawing (D.47). Such a drawing was probably the model from which Milan and Boyvin executed their engraving of Rosso’s Nymph of Fontainebleau (E.103), the frame of which now surrounds Primaticcio’s fresco of Danaë. There were also full-size cartoons for the paintings, evidence for which exist in the prickings and incisions in the plaster surface of the frescoes. Probably no practical reason required the making of full-size cartoons for the sculpture, even for the reliefs. These could have been modelled from detailed drawings, the figures and compositions enlarged by the sculptors to the required size while they were modeling the statues and reliefs in a studio and in the gallery itself.
In spite of Rosso’s employment of assistants, there is not a single detail of the stuccoes or of the paintings that suggests the invention of anyone other than Rosso himself. This is fully supported by the evidence of the copies of Rosso’s lost drawings. What differences there are between them and the executed paintings and stuccoes are minimal, and there is no reason not to believe that even these slight changes were dictated by Rosso. In the case of the paintings the changes are so minor that they must have been made at the last minute, probably at the time the cartoons were being executed. The two drawings that can be related to the stuccoes and which show details that were changed in the gallery were most likely followed by other drawings from which the stuccoes were actually executed.
Not having been trained by a sculptor, it may be necessary to assume that Rosso personally executed none of the stuccoes in the gallery, but the appearance of them shows that he must have very carefully overseen the execution of all of them. The most finely executed, such as the large nudes flanking the Venus and Minerva (Fig.P.22, I N a) and the round relief (Fig.P.22, I S c) beneath the Combat of Centaurs and Lapiths, reveal so precisely Rosso’s sensibility that we must think of his assistants as completely trained to do nothing other than fulfill Rosso’s intentions. Even the less brilliantly executed stuccoes show no stylistic characteristics that would seem significantly to betray what Rosso devised. What may be seen in these less fine stuccoes is merely a lack of precision, resulting perhaps in the loss of some small details, in the crude definition of others and in the overgeneralization of some forms.
No attempt has been made to distinguish in the stuccoes and frescoes the hands of the assistants who executed Rosso’s designs. Barocchi, 1950, 181–185, tried to recognize them in the stuccoes, but Béguin, “Galerie,” RdA, 1972, 101, rightly questioned this attempt because of the complete lack of comparative visual material to connect the names in the documents to the various and to some extent stylistically different sculptures in the gallery. Béguin wished to connect Nicolo Bellin da Modena to the execution of the stuccoes. But it is unclear that the reference to “Modon, who wrought there in the begynnyg of the same” (McAllister Johnson, “Diplomatic Correspondences,” 1972, 53) necessarily records a recollection that Nicolo da Modena worked specifically in the gallery, where the documents do not place him, or rather more generally in the château at Fontainebleau, where the documents indicate he worked under Primaticcio as a painter. This would have been before August 1537, when he received a pension from the king of England. Raggio, 1974, 75, thought that the large male figure to the left of the Venus and Minerva was by the same hand that executed the statue to the right of the Twins of Catania, a sculptor of the school of Rustici who may have made the terracotta terms from Oiron. Pressouyre, “Galerie,” RdA, 1972, 97–141, attempted to distinguish the hands that executed the frescoes, suggesting that one of the four major hands may have been Rosso’s.2 Her remarks are very interesting but even she had to admit that it was not possible to connect the names in the documents to specific frescoes or parts of frescoes. It does not seem to me that the quality of the execution of the frescoes as it can be appreciated in their present condition, even after their recent fine restoration, allows for the identification of Rosso’s hand. Nevertheless, his documented activity in the gallery from April 1536 (probably) through November 1536 when the frescoes were being executed strongly suggests his most immediate supervision and perhaps some active participation. The important fact, however, as Pressouyre emphasized, is his control over what was done to create frescoes that everywhere show his intentions.
Although not considered in detail in this catalogue, there is one factor in the procedure of producing the final frescoes that should be brought up and that is not explained by the surviving evidence: the colors of the frescoes and how they were decided upon. The colors of all the paintings must have been dictated by Rosso and not merely in what was selected for certain important details but also, as is shown, for example and especially by the Death of Adonis, in what was prescribed as the general coloristic tonality for each of several scenes. One could hypthothesize that the cartoons were executed in color and that Rosso was largely responsible for the execution of them. From them his assistants could have transferred his colors to the frescoes. But the lack of evidence in general for the use of colored cartoons for frescoes does not allow for this hypothesis. Instead, it must be thought that Rosso worked continuously in the gallery himself while the frescoes were being executed, dictating to his assistants what colors they were to use. The documents suggest that this was the case. Although the execution of the stuccoes was probably begun in 1534, the painters did not start their work until at least a year later. Rosso’s name appears for the first time in the documents related to the gallery in April 1536, as “conducteur desdit ouvrages de stucq et painture” and his is paid the highest sum of any of the artists active at Fontainebleau “pour avoir vacqué, advisé, et conduit lesdits ouvrages.” At this time the stuccoes were well on the way to completion. Rosso’s name occurs monthly in the documents through November 1536. As a painter, he would appear to have been most continuously needed in the gallery during these eight months of the most intense activity on the execution of the frescoes.
The prints are listed with a few comments on their relation to the frescoes and stuccoes in the gallery; they are fully recorded in the Catalogue of Prints after Rosso’s Designs. Prior to the recent restoration of the gallery, the prints were primarily used as evidence of what the frescoes looked like before the extensive repainting of them in the nineteenth century. The value of the prints must be seen as somewhat different now except in the rare cases where they may clarify a somewhat obscured or obliterated detail of a painting or a stucco. While the prints can be used as evidence of the means of the dissemination of Rosso’s art, as is also the case with later prints derived from the early ones,3 the early prints are listed here primarily because they would seem to be dependent upon lost drawings by Rosso for the frescoes and the stuccoes. This is clearly demonstrable in certain instances, and very likely in others. Only one print, Milan and Boyvin’s engraving of Rosso’s Nymph of Fontainebleau with its frame (E.103), planned for the center wall of the south side, shows the entire ensemble of a wall with its picture and surrounding decoration of frescoes and stuccoes. This print is certainly based on a lost drawing or drawings by Rosso. All of the other prints—by Fantuzzi—showing an ensemble have landscapes in the center and surrounding decoration that is somewhat different from what appears in the gallery. But details of these prints indicate that Rosso’s drawings were used as their models for the surrounding decoration. Comments on these prints will indicate the special circumstance of each case. A few other prints are listed that are or may be related to the gallery in other ways.
Other copies that have some particular importance are also listed: drawings that are not based on lost drawings by Rosso but which might be confused with those that are, and a few prints and drawings of special documentary value. The tapestries in Vienna are catalogued here but are discussed as a group below. They were not as a whole directly copied from what appears in the gallery but have instead a somewhat parallel origin.
2 Rosso’s assistants are briefly discussed in Béguin, 1989, 834–835, and n. 42. In Béguin, et al, 1972, 5, Zerner thought that the personality of Rosso overcomes the disparity of the executants, but Béguin disagreed, saying the unevenness is very evident, with the Revenge of Nauplius the most brilliant fresco and possibly by Rosso himself.