RD.25 Preaching of St. John the Baptist (?)

RD.25 Preaching of St. John the Baptist (?)

Oxford, Christ Church, no. 1148.


Red chalk, somewhat rubbed, and at the left edge a hand holding a staff gone over in ink; indented with a stylus in places, 26.3 x 15.2; four corners cut; laid down.  Damaged at the back of the figure of Saint John, and filled.  Inscribed in pencil on the mat below: Pontormo in a nineteenth century hand, and Rosso Fiorentino JCR [J. C. Robinson’s hand].

PROVENANCE: John Guise (see Lugt 2754).


Carroll, 1964 (1976), I, Bk. I, 27-34, II, Bk. II, 191-194, D. 5, Bk. III, Fig. 13, as Rosso, around 1516-1517.

Byam Shaw, 1972, 44-45, no. 63, Fig. 63, as Rosso, not much later than 1521, the truncated right arm of the figure in the foreground suggested by the Torso Belvedere.

Byam Shaw, 1976, I, 66, no. 124, Pl. 90, as Rosso, around 1517 (on my indication).

David Summers, “Contrapposto: Style and Meaning in Renaissance Art,” AB LIX, 1977, 337, n. 10, as Rosso, the left foreground figure with mutilated arm evidently quoting the Torso Belvedere in reverse.

Ward, 1982, 179, n. 20, as Rosso, the foreground figure at left inspired by the Belvedere Torso.

Darragon, 1983, 32-33, Fig. 8, as Rosso, around 1516-1517.

Wilmes, 1985, 85, seems to accept Rosso’s authorship.

Carroll, 1987, 58, n. 4, under no. 2, as not by Rosso.

Franklin, 1988, 324, 325, Fig. 86, as Rosso, in the second half of the 1510s, the man in the foreground with truncated arm copied by Bandinelli or someone in his shop in a sheet sold in London (Sotheby’s, October 30, 1980, lot 8, as Bandinelli).

Smith, in Petrioli Tofani and Smith, 1988, 53, under no. 23, as Rosso.

Franklin, 1994, 275, n. 50, to be placed with Bandinelli and his circle along with the (so-called) Skeletons [D.1] and the Old Testament Scene [RD.19].


Robinson’s attribution of this drawing to Rosso, accepted (in 1959) by Philip Pouncey, who brought the sheet to my attention, was also accepted by me in 1964, and subsequently by everyone else who has written of the drawing or mentioned it.  But by 1987 I no longer believed this attribution.

My questioning of Rosso’s authorship stems from several strange features: the appearance of a large hand and staff at the left, the cut-off right arm of the left nude in the foreground, and the placement of St. John’s right arm – if the emaciated nude at the right is St. John – which disappears behind the most distant figure in the center of the drawing, although the saint’s size indicates that he is much nearer to the foreground of the scene.  The first detail indicates that the drawing is cut at the left but the missing figure must have been standing in a position that would have made the more or less symmetrical composition of the scene as it now is quite asymmetrical.  The two nudes in the foreground are unusual, unless they imply a scene of baptism, but the mutilation of one of them is hardly called for by this subject.  The emaciated nude seems to have been conceived for some other composition and then inserted into this one.  In retrospect, the missing figure at the left and the two nudes in the foreground also indicate something of the piecemeal nature of the scene.  The subject of the drawing is also not clear.  While the emaciated figure would seem to be St. John, he holds or wears nothing that specifically requires this identification, and while he seems to be preaching, the nudes in the foreground suggest, as I have already said, the scene of St. John baptizing.  I am inclined to believe that the composition is in fact pieced together and cut and that the stylus marks on the drawing indicate the transfer of parts of the scene from another sheet or sheets.

These aspects of the Christ Church drawing are not to be found in Rosso’s authentic works, and not in the Disputation of the Angel of Death and the Devil of 1517 (Fig.D.1a), to which the Oxford drawing would seem, largely because of its emaciated old man, to be most closely related.  The line of figures in the Oxford drawing might also be related to the arrangement of the figures to the left in Rosso’s drawing of 1517.  But the figures in Rosso’s drawing are far less strictly aligned.  There is in Rosso’s drawing much more diversity both in the appearance and in the arrangement of the figures than in the Oxford drawing, and Rosso’s drawing of 1517 is clearer in its dramatic focus.

The one armed figure in the Christ Church drawing finds no companions in Rosso’s other works.  However, a figure with such an abruptly truncated arm can be found among Bandinelli’s drawings, in particular his Nude Man seated on a grassy bank in the Wald Collection (no. 65), a figure that Ward noted was also done after the Belvedere Torso, which again, according to Ward, Bandinelli could have known already upon his first visit to Rome in the spring of 1514.1  Ward found this drawing very different from the nude resembling the Belvedere Torso in the Oxford drawing – the left nude – the “hard chiaroscuro” of Bandinelli’s drawing creating “a study of mass and volume,” with the Christ Church drawing showing the bulk of the figure reduced “to an insubstantial and weightless silhouette.”  I see little difference between the two figures except that in the Wald drawing (which I know only from Ward’s illustration) the nude is isolated, while in the Oxford drawing he is seen in the context of other figures, which, so far as I see it, makes him look less silhouetted.  It seems to me quite possible that both are by the same artist.  Compositionally the Oxford drawing very much resembles the Council of the Gods, known from Agostino Veneziano’s engraving of 1516, the design of which Bartsch gave to Bandinelli (Fig.Veneziano, Gods).2

The pen drawing of four male nudes sold at Sotheby’s in 1980 (Fig.Bandinelli, Sotheby’s) shows, as Franklin pointed out, the same figure with his right arm cut off as appears in the Oxford drawing.3  But it is not copied from the Oxford drawing.  The nude is seen from a different angle such that the end of the stump of his right arm is visible, his head is raised up, and he has quite a different type of head.  Both figures would seem to go back to a common model, perhaps a wax or clay statuette made with the Belvedere Torso in mind.  The drawing was sold as Bandinelli’s.  It could be his, or, as Franklin indicated, by someone in his shop.

The line of figures at the left resembles the similar arrangement in the Old Testament Scene (Fig.RD.19, recto) and in the Clinton drawing (Fig.RD.18), where also the head at the far right recalls the head in reverse at the far left of the Oxford sheet.  In these correspondences might eventually be realized the discovery of who did these drawings, and when they were done.


1 Ward, 1982, 179, n. 20, 309-310, no. 230, Fig. 19.

2 Florence, Uffizi, 507ss.  Bartsch, XIV, 1813, 193-194, 241.  Carroll, 1964 (1976), II, Bk II, 535, Bk. III, Fig. 225, as after Bandinelli.

3 Catalogue of Old Master Drawings, Sotheby’s, London, October 30, 1980, 8, lot 8, Pl. VII, as pen and brown ink over traces of black chalk, 27.3 x 21; inscribed at the upper right of the recto: 15, and in ink on the verso: Collectione St maurice Soubert / et martini / Baccio Bandinellij.  I would like to thank Elizabeth Llewellyn for the photograph of this drawing.  The drawing was bought by Piero Scarpa, Venice.