Preface to the Catalogues

With Kusenberg’s monograph of 1931, Berenson’s corpus of Rosso’s drawings in the second edition of The Drawings of the Florentine Painters published in 1938, and Barocchi’s major publication of 1950, the number of reproductions of paintings and drawings by Rosso Fiorentino and a few prints made from his designs presented an oeuvre that was generally accepted as authoritative.


Only the attribution and dating of several undocumented small and medium size paintings remained a problem because their attribution to Rosso was due largely to the lack of knowledge at the time that would make possible their assignment to other artists. So remains the problem with the Madonna in Glory in the Hermitage (Fig.RP.22a) and with the Madonna and Child with the Young St. John the Baptist in Frankfurt (Fig.RP.10a).  New discoveries were hastily attributed to the artist for, I assume,  professional zeal and dealers’ rewards, generally with little if any scholarly justification such as comparisons with documented works.  The false attribution to the very young Rosso of a picture of the Madonna Crowned by Angels with the Christ Child and the Young Baptist (Fig.RP.15) seems to have been guided by both persuasions.  A large and recently restored Assumption at Volognano (Fig.RP.23a) was another work again too highly appreciated to satisfy the wish to discover another painting from the earliest period of Rosso’s career.  The unacceptable attribution of many works may be due to the lapse of memory of the level of achievement of Rosso’s documented works.  An early refusal to accept the attribution of the Volognano painting to Rosso still referred to it as “an outstanding work.” “Mediocre” or “uninspired” would have been a closer indication of its quality.

The Death of Cleopatra in Braunschweig (Fig.RP.4a) may be a somewhat different matter.  Here the mistaken attribution to Rosso seems to be the result of genuine confusion as to what one is seeing and to the art historical associations that were at work to produce and then reproduce it in unprecedented numbers for a work by Rosso Fiorentino.

At the 500th anniversary of Rosso’s birth in 1994, the problems of his painting oeuvre as presented in the small but seriously conceived Catalogo completo of Ciardi and Mugnaini of 1991 and in Franklin’s 1994 extensive monograph on Rosso’s career in Italy were peripheral to their assessments of the artist’s major achievements.  These problems turned on the modern attribution of six small and medium size easel paintings and on one very damaged fresco.  Of the three portraits two have had extended connections to the artist: the Portrait of a Young Woman as Mary Magdalen in the Uffizi (Fig.P.1a) lost its traditional attribution to Rosso when published as Sarto’s in 1896, regaining it in Berenson’s opinion only in 1932 and now again sometimes denied.  The Portrait of a Young Man in Berlin (Fig.RP.2a) was first attributed to him in 1911.  A work assumed to be of the “Florentine School,” the Portrait of a Knight of St. John in London (Fig.RP.16), was first suggested as Rosso’s in 1975.  In 1896 the Frankfurt Madonna and Child with the Young St. John the Baptist (Fig.RP.10a) was published as Rosso’s by Berenson, followed in 1931 by the Berlin (Fig.RP.3) painting of the same subjects, catalogued as his although another version of it in a private collection in Norway (Fig.RP.3, Norway) came to be thought the original of this composition only in 1994.  The Death of Cleopatra in Braunschweig, first inventoried in 1710 and long thought to be by various Italian artists of the mid- or late sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, was first attributed to Rosso in 1984 and dated 1525–1529.

So stands Rosso’s painting oeuvre, not much different from Barocchi’s account of it, and as here argued in the entries of the Catalogue of Paintings and the Catalogue of Rejected Paintings. One  work of rejected sculpture appears in a separate entry.  What has changed in the last ten years is the number of color reproductions of Rosso’s paintings and the sculpture in the Gallery of Francis I in the château at Fontainebleau. So they appear in various sizes and other unknowable differences from the originals, printed in books, magazines, and periodicals from photographic transparencies, and as digital images projected with PowerPoint in the classroom and to accompany lectures and available on the World Wide Web.


The situation with Rosso’s drawings has been a very different one, due largely to historical circumstances unlike those that secured the history of Rosso’s paintings executed in Italy, if not so well those done in France.  Unlike most of the major paintings that have been identified by Vasari’s citations, their original locations, and documents, the drawings, which might be supposed more numerous than the paintings, have far fewer such connections to guarantee their originality and date.  The artist’s frequent changes of working sites and the nature of his sudden movements from place to place were serious obstacles to the survival of his works on paper.  Few if any drawings were probably taken with him when he fled the Sack of Rome, although a number could have reached him when his Dead Christ Attended by Four Angels was sent to Borgo Sansepolcro.  It is likely that very little of any collection of drawings that he may have accumulated in Italy went with him to France in 1530, although it may be otherwise with the thirty-one disegni di stampe that he made for Caraglio in Rome, the only surviving four of which have turned up  in French collections.  Those remaining in Italy would have been scattered, there having been no single heir there to receive them.  An inventory made in March of 1532 of his possessions left behind when he fled Arezzo in April of 1530 lists 43 drawings, including 28 confirming Vasari’s comment that rarely a day passed that Rosso did not draw from the nude model.  Only four nude studies survive from his Italian years of the large number that might have been made.

The drawings remaining in his studio at his death in France seem not to have been left to a single heir. They may have passed from his assistant Francesco Pellegrino to printmakers, perhaps to Antonio Fantuzzi at Fontainebleau, and a small number to Pierre Milan in Paris, and used as models for their etchings and engravings in the first half of the 1540s.  The Nymph of Fontainebleau, begun by Milan from a drawing by Rosso, was still unfinished in 1545 when the plate was left with Claude Bernard, who commissioned Boyvin to complete it between 3 March 1553 and 15 February 1554.  At his death in 1557 Bernard owned 840 impressions of this engraving inscribed Rous. Floren. Inuen.  The print may have been made from two drawings, one of the central oval image, the other for the cartouche that frames it, both of which probably would have been made as models for their execution in fresco and stucco in the Gallery of Francis I.  Neither drawing survives but their existence is documented by the 840 impressions pulled from the engraved plate made from them.  A large number of Rosso’s drawings are known by the same kinds of translation into engravings and etchings, the drawings themselves having been either destroyed by the handling of them by the printmakers and their assistants or randomly dispersed and lost. These translations appear in the Catalogue of Prints after Rosso’s Designs.

Many drawings are known only from drawn copies. Some lost autograph drawings are represented by several copies or by a number of partial copies that together preserve the lost work. These copies are in addition to the number of copies, a few of remarkable accuracy, of surviving autograph drawings. Among the ninety-one original drawings (eighty-six numbered plus five additions) half are known only from drawn copies.

The situation with the drawings of Pontormo, Rosso’s exact contemporary, was wholly different, as clearly described and explained by Janet Cox-Rearick in 1964.  At his death in 1557, the drawings accumulated by him passed to his nearest relative and remained in Florence and virtually dispersed, although they “were not widely dispersed or known outside Florence,” where his activity as a painter was entirely concentrated.  Around 1700 the majority of them were in the Medici collection where they remain in the Uffizi, totaling 186 sheets. The Uffizi has only eleven drawings by Rosso but his activity in Florence was over when he left in 1524 and, except for a likely short visit in 1529, probably mainly for family or legal concerns, he never returned.

In the Preface to the Catalogue of Drawings there appears a description of the method of attribution that evolved from a consideration of the motley of drawings that had accumulated under Rosso’s name in drawing room collections and in publications. In my own more direct experience at a graduate level talk I heard in the spring of 1956 I saw the problem that had to be solved. The subject of that talk was Rosso’s drawings and it preceded my talk on his paintings, in preparation for which I read the same published literature and looked at the same published illustrations as did my student colleague.  Such was it, then, that at that lecture I saw that not a single work shown, all published drawings, was, so far as I knew at the time, by Rosso Fiorentino. I chose Rosso’s drawings as the subject of my doctoral dissertation.


The dissertation of 1964 was only satisfactory because of the insufficient handling of the drawings done in France, as I noted in a preface to the publication of it by Garland Press in 1976.  These drawings, I came to se,e could only be successfully studied with equally serious attention given to the prints made from Rosso’s works, which, as I came to realize, were all made from his drawings. Many of these were lost, making the engravings and etchings derived from them all that more valuable as examples of Rosso’s art. Each of these prints has an entry in the Catalogue of Prints after Rosso’s Designs.

It is here, especially, in the publication of the prints on a website, that the fullness of Rosso’s achievement is made possible. For example, I know of no print publication, even the most prestigious, Franklin’s monograph of 1994, that illustrates all of the twenty Gods in Niches engraved by Caraglio in 1526 (E.26–45), except the publication of my own dissertation and my catalogue of the exhibition of Rosso’s prints and drawings at the National Gallery in 1987–1988. Franklin’s book shows four with two from the plates recut and with dark borders made by Villamena probably at the beginning of the seventeenth century. Of the six Labors and Adventures of Hercules (E.19–24) only one appears in the same publication. This reduction of the illustration of Rosso’s activity in Rome severely limits an appreciation of his remarkable inventiveness at a time when his activity as a painter all but ceased because of his criticisms of several artists of high achievement: Michelangelo, Raphael, Cellini and Antonio da Sangallo. It also reflects an attitude that the prints by Caraglio made from Rosso’s disegni di stampe and with the draughtsman’s oversight are not to be taken fully into account in a historical consideration of his art.

This becomes an equally serious problem with the disregard of the individual prints executed from drawings made late in Rosso’s Italian career and in the final decade of his activity in France. Three engravings dated 1574 and 1575 by the young Cherubino Alberti in Rome were made from lost drawings done soon after Rosso fled Rome in 1527. No original drawings survive for the extensive and complex work of the Gallery of Francis I but careful study clearly shows that all the sixteenth century prints related to this project were made from lost autograph drawings. Or they were based on copies of them, a large number of which are known. Some of these were made as disegni di stampe. There are also prints that preserve other lost drawings by Rosso and that greatly help in the reconstruction of the chronology of his French work. As I recognized long ago, the study of the prints is necessary in the attribution and the dating of Rosso’s French drawings.  A variety of prints also helped me realize that Rosso’s painting of the Virgin and Child with St. Anne and St. John the Baptist in Los Angeles was done in France (Fig.P.24a).


Only two existing works of architecture can most convincingly be associated with Rosso, both at the Royal Château at Fontainbleau: the ultimate design of the Gallery of Francis I, and the Exterior Staircase with its Portico in the Cour Ovale, of which only the Portico survives. The existing Tour de Jardin with its Egyptian Portal has been attributed to him, while the Chapel of St. Saturnin supporting the Chapelle Haute has been related to Rosso by its similarities to the Staircase and Portico across from them.

Only these four projects have entries in the Catalogue of Architecture. Many other architectural projects are partially known from texts, plans, elevations, documents and views. All of these have entries in the Catalogue of Lost Works. All but four of these were done in Paris and Fontainebleau, where, according to Vasari, Francis I appointed Rosso “capo generale sopra tutte le fabriche, pitture, ed altri ornamenti.” Here, by far, the majority were done, including the grand Staircase and Portico in the Cour Oval of 1531–1532 and the  Pavillon des Poêles of 1537–1538 with its rooms splendidly decorated with stuccoes and frescoes: the Salle Haute, the Galerie Basse, and the Grande Salle des Poêles where the Emperor Charles V was lodged in the final days of 1539.

There are three drawings that are largely architectural, all in the British Museum: the Design for a Chapel with an Altarpiece of the “Gathering of Manna” (Fig.D.37a), and the Design for an Altar (Fig.D.38a) done in Italy, and the French Design for a Tomb (Fig.D.81a). While the authenticity and date of these drawings are considered in the Catalogue of Drawings and that any were actually built is not known, they, with the lost works known from plans and views, suggest the extent to which Rosso was involved with architecture beyond its frequent appearance in his paintings and drawings.

Rejected Works

The rejected paintings, drawings, and prints have their own catalogues. Their major intent is to secure the elimination from his published oeuvre those works that hinder an understanding of his artistic intentions. Less important, but also of interest, is the observation of the limits of Rosso’s artistic ideas in the work of those artists who were interested in his inventions.