RE.13, 1-12, Twelve Pairs of Masked Figures

RE.13,1 Boyvin?, Pair of Masked Figures, II

Twelve Pairs of Masked Figures, Bust-Length in Profile, in Two Sets, Male and Female

Engravings by René Boyvin?, 15.6-16.2 x 27.7-28.3 S (New York).

Two States:

I. Unnumbered.

II. Each set numbered 1-6 in the upper left corner.

Fig.RE.13,1 (New York)
Fig.RE.13,2 (Vienna)
Fig.RE.13,3 (Vienna)
Fig.RE.13,4 (Vienna)
Fig.RE.13,5 (Vienna)
Fig.RE.13,6 (Vienna)
Fig.RE.13,7 (Vienna)
Fig.RE.13,8 (New York)
Fig.RE.13,9 (Vienna)
Fig.RE.13,10 (Vienna)
Fig.RE.13,11 (Vienna)
Fig.RE.13,12 (Vienna)

Robert-Dumesnil, VIII, 1850, 49-53, 78-83 (male), 84-89 (female).  Le Blanc, 1854-1890, I, 508, 188-199.  Destailleur, 1895, 278, no. 1155.  Levron, 1941, 76, nos. 210-221, Pls. XVII-XVIII, Figs. 23-29.

COLLECTIONS: Amsterdam (De Jong and de Groot, 1988, 283, 629.1-2 [nos. 1 and 3 of the male series], Fig. 629.2, and 630.1-2 [nos. 2 and 3 of the female set], as Boyvin after Rosso).  London, 1913-1-31, 1 to 12.  New York, 55.594.3-9 (Robert-Dumesnil, 78, 79, 81, 83, 85, 87, 89, State II).  Paris, Ed 3, in-folio, with some individual sheets in Ba 12, and Supp.n.rel.  Vienna, F.I.3, pp.30-32, nos. 74-85 (male heads), pp.33-35, nos. 91-102 (female heads), all cut into sheets with a single head.


Kusenberg, 1931, 105, 162, 203, n. 263, Pl. LIX, 1 (Robert-Dumesnil, 78-79, Paris).

Linzeler, 1932, 179-182.

Barocchi, 1950, 252, Figs. 228-229 (Robert-Dumesnil, 80 left, Paris, and reverse copy of Robert-Dumesnil, 85 left), as Boyvin after Rosso.

Chastel, 1959 (1978, I, 252 and Figs. 102-103), as Boyvin or Milan after Rosso.

Hayward, 1963, I, 242, as Boyvin after Rosso.

Shearman, 1967, 153, Fig. 86 (reverse copy of Robert-Dumesnil, 83 left, and Robert-Dumesnil, 86 left), 203-204, n. 86, as Boyvin after Rosso, for pageants at Fontainebleau.

Zerner, 1969, under Milan no. 3, as probably by Milan after Rosso.

Fagiolo dell’Arco, 1970, 509, Figs. 326-329, as made for a festival of Francis I’s at Fontainebleau.

Thirion, 1971, 46, Figs. 45-46 (Robert-Dumesnil, 79 left, 80 right, Paris), 47 and n. 107, as Milan after Rosso.

Zerner, in EdF, 1972, 333, no. 439, 334, ill. (Robert-Dumesnil, 80), as Anonymous but perhaps by Milan, after Rosso.

Borea, 1980, 263, nos. 681-682, as Anonymous after Rosso.

Byrne, 1981, 46, no. 38, with ill. (Robert-Dumesnil, 87, New York).

Christopher D. Comer, “A Note on the Late Sixteenth Century School of Lorraine: Three Drawings by Médard Chuppin,” Master Drawings, XXII, 3, 1984, 300, and Fig. 2, mentioned one of the set (Paris, Ba 12) as after Rosso.

Carroll, 1987, 215, n. 3, under no. 68, as after Rosso.

E. Hevers, in Zauber der Medusa, 1987, 243-244, no. V, 17, Figs. (London, 1913-1-31-7-8), as Boyvin after Rosso.

Brugerolles and Guillet, 1994, 108-121, under no. 37 (Amsterdam and Paris), with the drawings in the Ensba, Paris (see below), as Milan after Thiry.

Acton, in French Renaissance, 1994, 312-315, nos. 76-79, Figs. (Paris), as workshop of Boyvin, after Thiry, made in the 1550s or 1560s.

Béguin, 1995, 192-193, as by Milan, and thought there was nothing to say against the attribution of their invention to Thiry.

Fifteen of the drawings, in reverse of the prints for which they would seem to have been made, are in the Ensba, Paris, Masson 1296, nos. 4 (R-D, 82 left; Fig.Paris, Masson 1296, 4), 5 (R-D., 78 left; Fig.Paris, Masson 1296, 5), 6 (R-D., 81 left; Fig.Paris, Masson 1296, 6), 7 (R-D., 79 right; Fig.Paris, Masson 1296, 7), 8 (R-D., 80 left; Fig.Paris, Masson 1296, 8), 9 (R-D., 79 left; Fig.Paris, Masson 1296, 9), 10 (R-D., 88 left; Fig.Paris, Masson 1296, 10), 11 (R-D., 86 left, with indentations in collar and diamond on chest; Fig.Paris, Masson 1296, 11), 17 (R-D., 80 right; Fig.Paris, Masson 1296, 17), 18 (R-D., 78 right; Fig.Paris, Masson 1296, 18), 19 (R-D., 83 right, with a slightly different shape of hat behind the front plume; Fig.Paris, Masson 1296, 19), 20 (R-D., 81 right; Fig.Paris, Masson 1296, 20), 21 (R-D., 84 right, with single lines on, and no ruffle inside of, the collar; Fig.Paris, Masson 1296, 21), 22 (R-D., 86 right; Fig.Paris, Masson 1296, 22), 23 (R-D., 89 right; Fig.Paris, Masson 1296, 23).  Pen and ink over traces of black chalk, gone over with a stylus, 14.9-15.9 x 10.8-11.7.  The draughtsmanship of all of the drawings is identical, although nos. 11, 21, and 22 have pen lines that are somewhat feathery.  These drawings are bound in a volume, on the inside of the front cover of which is written in pencil: Boyvin, René, Diverses Coiffures d’Hommes et de Femms pour ballets d’apres Le Rosso. Recueil de 20 dessins + 1 dessin ajouté (costume, attribué à Boyvin).  On the first page is noted: Vente Destailleurs 26, 27 mai 1893 No.16, and: 4e Vente A. Bandeley [?], 31 Mai 1920 No.4.  Masson, 1927, 30, no. 173, as Boyvin.  Kusenberg, 1931, 150-151, as by Boyvin.  Brugerolles and Guillet, 1994, 108-121, no. 37, for the fullest consideration of these drawings, as by Thiry.  Acton, in French Renaissance, 1994, 314, as preparatory drawings, which could have been made in the 1540s, for the prints.  Béguin, 1995, 192-193, states that there is nothing against the attribution of the drawings to Thiry.  For the five other profile masks of women, see Adhémar, 1938, 69, no. 33, as attributable to Jean Rabel.1  There is also a full-figure costume drawing.2  The draughtsmanship of the fifteen drawings that served as models for the set of twelve pairs of masked figures reflects Rosso’s but in a way that reminds one of Thiry’s graphic manner, as discussed by Brugerolles and Guillet.

Ever since Robert-Dumesnil attributed the design of these masks to Rosso they have been thought to be his inventions, except by Fagiolo dell’Arco and Byrne, who did not comment on their authorship, and more recently by Brugerolles and Guillet, who gave their invention to Thiry.  Robert-Dumesnil thought they were made for ballets, and all subsequent authors have considered them as masks designed for pageants and masquerades of the kind that are known to have been held at Fontainebleau for the visit of Charles V late in 1539.  Chastel stated that “Il n’y a aucune raison de douter qu’ils aient donné lieu à de véritables costumes de bal ou de fétes.”

Vasari (1568, II, 271; Vasari-Milanesi, V, 170) stated that in France Rosso “…fece disegni…per abigliamenti…di mascherate…”  He also recorded (1568, II, 308; Vasari-Milanesi, V, 433) that Boyvin engraved after Rosso “…alcune maschere fatte per lo Re Franceso, simile alle parche,…”  Two such prints are known, both inscribed with Rosso’s name, the Three Fates, Costume Designs (Fig.E.104), now known to be by Milan rather than Boyvin and engraved sometime before 31 October 1545, the other an etching of Hercules, draped, wearing a lion skin, and holding an olive branch (Fig.E.160), which may have been designed for the festivities of Charles V’s visit to Fontainebleau.  No documents connect Rosso with the designing of such costumes, although payments are recorded to others for the actual making of “masques” in 1533, 1537 and 1538 (Laborde, II, 1880, 214, 234, 237-238, 242-243, 396).  But the two prints inscribed with his name certainly indicate his involvement in designing costumes and most probably for the king’s entertainment, as Vasari said.

But what differentiates the Three Fates and the Hercules from the twelve pairs of masked figures is that the latter are only bust-length.  Furthermore, while the full-length figures are clearly identifiable as the Three Fates and Hercules by the details of their costumes, the profile heads are not recognizable as any special figures.  One might expect the masks to be designed for some particular planned occasion with a thematic structure and one might also expect the masks to be accompanied by full costumes, which any kind of masquerade or pageant would require.  This at any rate is how the masked and costumed figures are shown in the two prints inscribed with Rosso’s name.  But these twenty-four bust-length images could have been made for a different purpose, such as the one indicated in the record of the following payment of the years 1540-1550 (Laborde, I, 1877, 195):

“A Jean le Roux, dit Picard, et Dominique Florentin, imagers, pour avoir fait vingt-deux tableaux, façon de grotesse, dedans les compartimens faits de pierres cristallines, dedans lesquels y a des masques faits de petits cailloux de diverses couleurs, aussy pour avoir fait la figure d’un chien, en façon de grotesse, de petits cailloux de diverses couleurs.”3

What seems to be indicated in this document is a kind of decorative scheme with a series of masks made of small stones that could have ornamented a garden pavilion or grotto.  The engraved masks could be dependent upon drawings for such a decoration, although not necessarily this documented one, or they could have been made to serve as models for any such future scheme.  Brugerolles and Guillet thought that while their origins in masks made for such schemes is not verified, the abstract style of the masks supports the supposition.  Acton thought their subsequent influence on costume design seems to suggest the contrary, confusing, I think, influence with original intention.  The masks could also have been made simply as fantastical images to be engraved.

But if one looks at these twenty-four masks in relation to those in Rosso’s engraved Three Fates one sees a different kind of invention.  In the latter engraving the faces are rather simply covered, as also in the female bust-length images, and what appears above is rather richly conceived but with a certain clear order in the number and in the composition of its parts that contrasts with the almost confusing piling up of a superabundance of motifs in complex interrelations upon the heads in the printed series.  The degree of extravagance in the bust-length figures is not characteristic of Rosso’s art even in such works as the Petrarch drawing at Christ Church (Fig.D.47a) and the decoration of the Gallery of Francis I, where plenitude of invention is a major artistic factor.  In Rosso’s art there is always a certain spacing of details that gives each of them a discrete value.  This is not true in the bust-length images.  For example, the headdress in Robert-Dumesnil, 82 left (Fig.RE.13,5), is partly composed of the head of a lion-like animal, the open mouth of which holds within it the back of the head of the male figure.  This is similar to what appears in the Hercules print inscribed to Rosso.  But in that print the lion’s head is the basic unit of the headdress, only elaborated by a plume on top, and is, of course, one of the details that identifies this figure as Hercules.  In the other print the lion’s head covers part of another hat with a huge frontispiece and plume, and the lion’s head itself has a band and bead on top and what appears to be a lanky mane entwined with ribbons behind.  It might be argued that the headdress need not have a clear iconography because it was never intended to serve the purpose of a real mask for a specific entertainment.  Nevertheless, its stylistic extravagance still remains uncharacteristic of Rosso.  A certain unusual caricatural quality also appears in the image, in the lion’s biting of the hat and in his gnarled brow.  This is true of some of the other male masks as well, such as RE.13, Robert-Dumesnil, 83 left (Fig.RE.13,6), with a large, snarling dog (?) ridden by a nude child crouching on the figure’s head.  The female heads are composed of somewhat less diverse elements but the piling of motif upon motif gives a similar superabundant, albeit feminine, effect, quite unlike the headdresses in the Three Fates.

In the flamboyant use of elements that can be found in Rosso’s art, the style of the twenty-four masks recalls that of Thiry’s Story of Jason designs, engraved by Boyvin in 1563 (Fig.RE.15, 26), with their plethora of motifs and frequent somewhat caricatural details.  It is therefore likely that these masks were designed by him.  The drawings in the Ensba, Paris, that seem to have served as the models for these engraved masks could also be his, as supported by Brugerolles and Guillet.

Although traditionally ascribed to Boyvin, Zerner suggested that the prints may be by Milan, an attribution accepted by Thirion, Brugerolles and Guillet, and Béguin.  Before 26 October 1549, Milan is known to have engraved “trois masques sur deux lames,” “Une tête à deux visages,” and “Deux masques” (Metman 1941, 204, 206, and Grodecki, 1986, 222, no. 868).  This does not prove that the twelve plates of twenty-four bust-length masks are by him but merely indicates that he had engraved such subjects.  However, his “trois masques” could have been of full costumed figures.


1 No. 14 (Fig.Female Mask, facing left), as well as the other four (nos. 12, 13, 24, 25), show pen and ink with shading in red and black chalk and a draughtsmanship that is more regular and with more extensive modelling.  The print after no. 14 (Vienna, H.B.IV, p.87, no. 91; Fig.Rabel, Female Mask) follows the drawing closely, adding marks only to make more precise certain forms and details.  There is no surviving drawing for the inscribed print (Vienna, H.B.IV, p.87, no. 92; Fig.Rabel, Inscribed Female Mask).

2 Fig.Standing Man in Costume.  Masson 1296, no. 26.  Pen and ink and wash, 27.1 x 16.1, the paper with many worm holes.  LITERATURE: Masson, 1927, 30, no. 173, as Boyvin.  Kusenberg, 1931, 151, no. 49, as from Rosso’s shop, and in the manner of Boyvin, with reference to a costume print by him [RE.12], the design of which Kusenberg gave to Rosso.  Kusenberg thought Masson 1296, no. 26, may be a copy of a lost print by Boyvin.  Brugerolles and Guillet, 1994, 108, Fig., as by another artist from the other drawings in this group.  The drawing, showing a male figure wearing a helmet and carrying a torch, presents a costume of a sequence of puffs and a full cape that in its simplicity reveals nothing of the complex invention of Rosso’s costume designs known from two prints (Fig.E.104) and (Fig.E.160).

3 It seems to be the contents of this document that Claude Lauriol (EdF, 1972, 482) had in mind when he mentioned payments to Rosso and Domenico del Barbiere for mosaics of small stones in the grotto of the Jardin des Pins.  But the “Jean le Roux, dit Picard” of the document is almost certainly not Rosso Fiorentino, who never elsewhere is called by this name.