The decoration of the Gallery of Francis I was the largest enterprise of Rosso’s career. There were, however, other decorative projects at Fontainebleau, all now destroyed, of which the Pavilion of Pomona, done probably before the gallery, can be known to some extent. A small amount of visual evidence survives or may survive related to other recorded decorative projects, such as the Small Gallery, which has already been mentioned, as well as the Salle Haute, which will be considered below, and the Galerie Hasse, which will be discussed in the following chapter.
To this material can be added other evidence, in the form of prints and drawings, that is related to the kind of work we know Rosso did at Fontainebleau but which cannot be identified with any recorded project at this place, or at any other of the king’s establishments. Some of this material significantly enlarges our conception of Rosso’s artistic genius in this particular field of secular endeavor which has its origins, ultimately, in the designs he made in Rome that were engraved by Caraglio. In France also this area of activity seems largely to have occupied Rosso as a designer rather than executor of the actual works themselves, although in France the works were paintings and stuccoes. Like Giulio Romano in Mantua, Rosso was the head of a large corps of assistants that carried out his many inventions. The scale and multitude of the tasks assigned to him necessitated this kind of procedure, as a similar situation did also for Guilio, and earlier for Raphael in Rome.
But there is a whole other realm of activity that was simultaneously Rosso’s in France: the realm of religious art. This activity formed a continuum with the very beginnings of his artistic career and with the major part of his activity in Italy. A few of his French religious works, done shortly after he arrived in France, have already been considered: the Judith, the Annunciation in the Albertina, the Sts. Peter and Paul, and the St. Jerome. To some extent it may be inappropriate to make too definite a distinction between Rosso’s religious and secular works. In the gallery there are at least two paintings which aspire to a kind of religious sentiment, the Sacrifice and the Death of Adonis, the latter actually conceived in terms of the Pietà. Conversely, Rosso’s lost painting of Judith, judging from Hoyvin’s engraving, was not especially inspired as a religious image. Nevertheless, there is a passion expressed in many of Rosso’s religious works from about 1536 on that gives them a special significance that his secular works in general do not quite have, including the Sacrifice and the Death of Adonis.This may be partly due to a culturally conditioned inclination to experience, for example, a picture of the Pietà more profoundly than one of the Death of Adonis. But this certainly is not the entire case for all of Rosso’s earlier religious works are not more deeply inspired than his secular ones. The special place that Rosso’s late religious works hold in the context of the works of his entire career seems determined by a renewed and heightened religious consciousness. To this may be related his role as a canon of Ste. Chapelle, which he assumed in 1532, and as a canon of Notre Dame, beginning in 1537. Nothing of his art from as early as 1532 or of the following few years indicates any particularly new religious dedication. But from 1536 on such evidence does exist and presents one of the most remarkable aspects of the art of the last years of his life.
There survive two oil paintings done by Rosso in France, the Pietà in the Louvre and the picture in Los Angeles. Four others are known to have been executed by him, and are now lost: the two early oil paintings that were at the ends of the Gallery of Francis I, the Judith, known from the engraving by Boyvin, and a St. Michael of which no visual record exists. He may also have executed the Vertumnus and Pomona fresco in the Pavilion of Pomona himself. A cartoon by him for a picture of Augustus and the Sibyl was found at the time of his death but whether or not this was ever begun as a painting is not known. Nor is it known that he executed a painting of Leda of which a cartoon by him is now in London. These five or six paintings and two cartoons—and there is some evidence of a few other pictures—do not constitute a very extensive oeuvre but it must be remembered that they are works that were done in addition to all that was designed by Rosso at Fontainebleau and executed by others under his direction. Nor is this small number of works executed by him in France so extraordinary given that in Italy he painted less that one major piece a year. Still there survive from his Italian years a certain number of finished compositional drawings, other than his disecni di stampe, that give us a considerably more extensive picture of the range of his artistic activity before 1530. We do not know why most of these drawings were made but their degree of finish gives some of them, at least, the appearance of having been done with a larger work in mind. We know he made designs for other artists who painted pictures from them indicating already in his Italian years an activity as inventor similar to that of his major occupation at Fontainebleau. A few of the Italian drawings could have been done with the expectation or hope that he himself would be commissioned to execute them as paintings. Only one compositional drawing not related to the Italian prints designed by him is known to have been made as a finished work of art itself, the Mars and Venus that was sent to Francis I from Venice. However, it is quite possible that other of his Italian compositional drawings—the Virtu Vanquishing Fortune, for example—were made as inventions on their own terms and for their own sake without any more finished end in sight. All of these possibilities must also exist in regard to his activity in France. Without a serious consideration of his French drawings and the prints made after compositions he made in France whole aspects and dimensions of his art would be lost. It is just possible that Rosso designed some of these works in France to be reproduced as prints though the making of prints from his designs seems only to have come about after—but almost immediately after—his death.1
Two secular works by Rosso that might have been created for the Gallery of Francis I around 1536 because of their subjects and because their style presents a richness of invention and narrative force beyond those of his earliest designs for this gallery are the Pandora and Her Box, a drawing in the Ecole des Beaux-Arts in Paris (D.67), and a Contest of Athena and Poseidon known from an etching by Fantuzzi (E.78, Fig.) and an engraving ascribed to Boyvin (E.13) both in reverse of a lost drawing known from a partial copy (D.66). Graphically the Pandora and Her Box, done in pen and ink and wash over black chalk, has something of the character of the copy of a study, in the Louvre (D.50C), for the early version of the Sacrifice, a copy, poor though it is, which preserves something of the character of Rosso’s own draughtsmanship as we know it from autograph drawings. The extraordinary dramatic energy of the Pandora recommends it, however, as a later work, more contemporary with the composition of the Sacrifice that was executed in the gallery. As the Panofskys pointed out, the appearance of the “crow” in the drawing dates it not before 1534, when the second edition of Alciati’s Emblemata, which makes reference to this bird, was published; or not before 1536, if Rosso knew only the third edition of this book published in Paris that year. Both the subject of the drawing and its style encouraged the Panofskys to suggest that it was “conceived and executed in connection with the Ignorance chassde fresco”—here called the Enlightenment of Francis I—”either as a design for one of the stucco cartouches, which are often related to the large pictures [in the Gallery of Francis 1] much as a footnote is to the main text, or, perhaps more probably, as a design for a section of the fresco itself…”2 This is an attractive suggestion though the possibility that the drawing was done in 1586 or even later does not favor the recognition of it as an early idea for the place now occupied by the Enlightenment of Francis I. Furthermore, the figures in the drawing are too large for a large fresco in the gallery. Nevertheless, the Pandora drawing belongs, as a conception, with the allegorical pictures in the gallery, and with the dramatic later ones rather than the more simple narrative scenes done at the beginning of the work on the decorations of this room.
Not only the inclusion of the bird, but also the description of Pandora’s container as a small box, going back to Erasmus of 1548 and, according to the Panofskys, “here making its first appearance in art”3 give some indication of the novelty of Rosso’s image and its dependence upon recent or relatively recent ideas about its subject. However, Alciati’s crow, the symbol of Hope, does not appear in Erasmus’s account of Pandora’s story, and Erasmus’s pyxis, rather than the traditional large jar of the story, is not an aspect of Alciati’s emblem, where a large barrel appears upon which Hope is seated. The close and rather unusual relationship of the pyxis and the bird in Rosso’s drawing, with the bird apparently hanging onto the rim of the box with its beak, comes, it would seem, from Hesiod’s rendering of Pandora’s story, though in Hesiod there is neither a crow nor a pyxis. But he writes: “…the woman [Pandora] took off the great lid of the jar with her hands and scattered all these [ills, hard toil, and heavy sickness] and her thought caused sorrow and mischief to men. Only Hope remained there in an unbreakable home within under the rim of the great jar, and did not fly out at the door; for ere that, the lid of the jar stopped her, by the will of Aegis-holding Zeus who gathers the clouds.”4 Given the small size of the container that Rosso chose to depict he could not, with any clarity, have represented Hope as a bird inside the rim of Pandora’s box; instead he showed it hanging by its bill from the rim of Pandora’s “box.” From a purely representational point of view Rosso’s use of Hesiod, Erasmus and Alciati to create this unprecedented image of Pandora gives again, as in the case of the gallery, some idea of the extent of his sources and their complex employment by him in France. The specialness of Rosso’s conception is furthermore indicated by the possible transformation of Alciati’s crow, symbolizing Hope, into a dove, indicating Peace, as suggested by Beguin. As this drawing seems to be the earliest representation of this subject there was no tradition for representing the ills that issued from the box. “Pandora’s action results, not in the release of figures small enough to have been confined in the box,” the Panofskys wrote, “but in a terrific explosion. Out of a blinding flash of light and power there emerges, gestures and attitudes still dominated by the centrifugal forces that have set them free, a cluster of life-sized human figures conceived, … not as the troubles and diseases of the pagan myth, but as the Seven Deadly Sins of Christian theology.”5 From left to right are Sloth, perhaps Luxury, Pride, Wrath or Cruelty, Despair, Envy, and Avarice. Running in from the right is Tribulation, who “symbolizes something like remorse.” Fantuzzi decided to clarify the scene by introducing seven snakes leaping out of the box in his etching of Rosso’s Pandora (E.79); the etcher also specified Envy as biting into a scaly snake while Rosso’s figure shows a snake, without scales, about to bite Envy’s breast but looking very much like an entrail that she bites, this double iconography having something of the character of the bird as crow and dove. Fantuzzi also eliminated the radiating lines that give Rosso’s drawing so much of its dramatic force. All of these changes, as well as other minor ones, point up the special meaning and poignancy of Rosso’s autograph image, the ragged but controlled draughtsmanship of which makes it so remarkably convincing. It should also be recognized that Fantuzzi’s changes, made probably less than a decade after the drawing was executed and only very shortly after Rosso’s death, bespeak of a need to simplify Rosso’s scene. The publication of this image as a print may have prompted this simplification for an audience quite different from the one that had access to Francis I’s court and courtiers.
The characterization of the vices in the drawing is gnarled and sardonic and yet also energetic and swift in feeling. In their midst stands Pandora, beautiful and innocent in her youth and semi-nudity. All of the figures are illuminated by a strong light that rakes across the scene from the right. Brilliant as the suggestion of force from the radiating lines in the drawing seems to be they produce no pictorial illumination on the forms. Through these lines the box and Pandora’s minimal action in the middle of the drawing gain in meaning as the source and cause of malevolence in this scene. But by contrast they also give poignancy to the small, still and vertical bird that hangs from the rim of the box. In a scene depicting evil so dramatically the image of Hope or Peace or both evokes a sense of quiet benevolence and carrying within itself the greatest significance in the context of this allegorical representation.
Looking back, however, to his much earlier Virtu Vanquishing Fortune, in Darmstadt, done in 1521–22, a drawing comparable to the Pandora in its symbolic intentions, the former apears more personally and more passionately vindictive. The realism of the earlier drawing, that shows a degree of precision recalling still the art of the Quattrocento, presents an intimacy that gives to the particular characterization of the theme of this drawing an almost obscene savagery. By comparison the depiction of the vices in the Pandora drawing verges on caricature. To some extent this is the result of the draughtsmanship of the drawing which is so appreciably decorative in its trailing lines, hooks, curlicues, dots, sequences of dashes and juxtaposed washes—the graphic elements of the dramatic and visionary aspects of the drawing. But this verging on caricature is also the factor by which the violence and horror of what is represented is made distinct from the appearance of direct experience. Hence the scene is turned into one that is more narratively bizarre than emotional in its effect. It might be surmised that only by presenting this particular theme in this particular way is the improbability of what is seen here made intellectually credible. In this respect the Pandora drawing is closely related to some of the scenes in the Gallery of Francis I whether or not the drawing was at any time intended to have its final realization as part of the decoration of this room.
While in the Pandora drawing Rosso presents a pagan theme Christianized in its interpretation, his Contest of Athena and Poseidon, known from a partial copy of a lost drawing (D.66) , from the reversed etching by Fantuzzi (E.78), and the reversed engraving by Boyvin or an associate (E.13), shows a subject derived more exclusively, it seems, from ancient and specifically Greek mythology. Even here, however, there is a kind of narrative agony presided over by a peaceful figure, Athena, crowned by a gracefully flying Victory that recalls the probably contemporary Pandora and Her Box. Although one of Rosso’s original drawings from which Fantuzzi worked is known only fragmentarily from a copy, Fantuzzi’s etching preserves something of the morphology and even something of the graphic vigor of it. In these respects the engraving is more removed from the different original drawing from which it was made but it gives us more of Rosso’s composition at the left which includes the full figure of Victory. While there is no proof that this scene was ever intended for the Gallery of Francis I such a connection is possible, but, as its style indicates, only at a rather late stage in the conception its decoration. The Panofskys pointed out that the subject of this composition “would have summed up the ex utroque Caesar ideal of Francis I,”6 suggesting, perhaps, some kind of relation to the Enlightenment of Francis I—to which they also related the Pandora drawing. Or maybe it was intended for one of the small horizontal scenes of the east wall, near to the Venus and Minerva on the north wall area immediately to the left. In any case, the Contest of Athena and Poseidon is intellectually and stylistically closely linked to what appears in the gallery.
In the center of the composition is a seated woman, bare to the waist and seen partly from the back but with one breast visible. She wears a crown in the form of a fortress which would seem to personify her as Athens. Four children are placed right next to her; two passionately hug her, a third lies asleep on his back beneath her right arm. This group has something of the appearance of a Caritas image and also resembles the group in the lower right corner of the gallery’s Scene of Sacrifice. At the right, in the reversed prints, is the nude figure of Poseidon, recalling the Quirinal Dioscuri, holding his trident (with only two prongs) in his right hand and facing right and upward with his left arm raised and his left hand behind the neck of a rearing horse derived from the one that Rosso had invented for his Saturn and Philyra in Rome some ten years earlier. To the right of Poseidon there are three reclining and kneeling male nudes, one of them with serpent’s tails for legs, one with his hand in an urn, and one, it seems, with water falling from his breast, all of which identify them with the seas and with Poseidon as the god of these regions. However, Poseidon’s trident, in Fantuzzi’s print, and in the partial copy of a lost drawing, does not bring forth water where it strikes the ground. In the later engraving this has been, as it were, “corrected” and an expanse of water is shown in the lower right corner of this print. This would seem to go against Rosso’s intentions, as shown in the etching and drawing, where instead of relating the version of the story in which Poseidon’s gift to the Athenians is sea-water the artist chose to depict the version narrating the creation of the horse. It is this animal, the “symbol of warlike passion,” set against the figure of Athena with the olive tree, that prompted the Panofskys to relate this composition to the concept of ex utroque Caesar. Just to the left of center Athena, clothed in a dress but wearing a plumed helmet and carrying a spear, grasps a branch of the small olive tree beside her. Above her to the right, set in a circle of clouds and above a flying male nude carrying a length of flowing drapery, are six gods and goddesses, among which can be identified Cronus with his scythe and Zeus, reclining alongside his thunderbolt, who gestures toward Athena to award her victory in this contest. Above Athena to the left flies Victory, with her bare breasts, extending a wreath over the goddess’ head and holding a palm frond in her other hand in Boyvin’s engraving. Behind Athena and above her armor stands a nude Hermes. He holds the caduceus in his left hand and a large book in his right. This latter attribute would seem to belong to Athena, a symbol of her knowledge and wisdom. Hermes is shown here as a kind of attendant to Athena but also, we might assume, as the messenger of the gods who will announce her victory throughout the world. The entire scene is set on somewhat hilly terrain and before the columns and piers of an imposing architecture.
Like the Pandora and Her Box, the Contest of Athena and Poseidon is composed somewhat in the mode of a relief but with a few details strongly foreshortened to create a kind of tension in relation to the planarity of the scene. The multiplicity of small and irregular forms, and their unusual and entwined relationships also, as in the Pandora drawing, create a rather bizarre drama. From, undoubtedly, several literary sources, one of which may have been Ovid’s Metamornhosis,7 Rosso constructed a narrative story line which is almost deflected by the number of strange elements that surround it. Furthermore, nothing, in a sense, is taken for granted: Athena and Poseidon have all their attributes, Athens is personified, and the victory of the goddess is shown not only by Zeus’ gesture but also by the appearance of Victory herself. This plethora of events and details establishes in the Contest of Athena and Poseidon a degree of distancing especially as there is little if any compositional cohesion to make all that is represented appear part of one narrative or dramatic impulse. Nor is there any clear center of interest but rather a kind of dispersion of it across and throughout the pictorial area. It is in this particular respect unlike the Pandora and Her Box which dramatically has such a clear center in the box that Pandora holds. But there too, a dispersion of dramatic force tends to almost to overpower the meaning of the bird that clings to Pandora’s vessel. In both works a duality of intentions is most likely related to what Rosso means by the dramas he presents as an integral part of his artistic vision. This is true of many of the scenes in the gallery. But such a mode of conception can already be found in his earliest works, such as the Assumption of the Virgin at SS. Annunziata and later, too, in his Italian career, in such a painting as the Christ in Glory in Citth di Castello. As in this latter painting, his French works with complex iconography tend compositionally toward a more finely articulated tension between concentration and dispersion than appears in his earlier Italian compositions. Such at least is true, or true with subjects of a certain kind, until the ambivalence of intentions reaches a point of the utmost dramatic force as in such works as the Scene of Sacrifice in the gallery and the Pandora and Her Box. Thereafter a kind of resolution begins which, in retrospect, we can see, introduces us to the art of the final phase of Rosso’s career.
It is possible that Rosso’s drawing for a painting of Francis I Adoring the Enthroned Virgin and Child (D.69) was done about the same time as the Contest of Athena and Poseidon. A winged Victory flies into crown the king in a manner close to what appears in that composition, and some of the poses in both scenes are similar. Here, however, the drawing may be more like the Scene of Sacrifice and the Death of Adonis designed for the Gallery of Francis I in the latter part of 1536. The drawing, known only from a copy, shows two young boys, who would appear to be the king’s sons, dressed exactly alike in fur lined coats and looking the same in all other respects as well although the foremost one could be recognized as slightly larger and hence older.
Like the decorations in the gallery the drawing celebrates Francis I who occupies the center of the scene. At the top of the composition above the king’s head stands a putto who supports an oval plaque bearing the flaming salamander surmounted by a crown, recalling its similar appearance and placement in relation to all the large scenes in the Gallery of Francis I. While Francis kneels—on pillows and before what appears to be a prie-dieu holding another pillow with tassels—with upraised hands in adoration before the enthroned Madonna and Child, who blesses the king (oddly with his left hand), it is the king, bare headed and in Roman armor, not the Virgin and Child, who is the center of the viewer’s attention. He is being crowned with a laurel wreath held by a flying Victory figure who carries in her left hand a palm branch. Behind the king stands Fame with two trumpets as in the Gallery of Francis I, her left arm around the trunk of a laurel tree that extends along the right edge of the picture, its leafy branches filling the upper corner. In the lower right corner would seem to be personifications of vanquished Vices bound into very contorted postures, thought by Beguin to be Heresy and Treason. Above them appears one of the king’s sons who looks beyond the right edge of the scene. The other son kneels at the bottom of the scene just left of center and looks down upon the Vices. At the far left St. Michael stands upon the trampled Devil. Behind and between the Virgin and the king appears the head and upper torso of an elderly bearded man wearing a crown. He seems to have a bare chest with a piece of drapery thrown only over his left shoulder. As he exhibits no other attributes it cannot be determined with certainty who he is. But the fact that he wears his crown gives him a status that even Francis I, without such a crown, does not seem to have. Without any royal insignias on his costume Francis appears as a Christian knight. The crowned figure could be an old French king whose role here is as a symbol of the monarchy. His age, beard, bare chest, and perhaps even the simple design of his crown may support this probability. Bdguin has suggested that he is Clovis I, the founder of the French monarchy, and this seems very likely.8
Francis I appears as the defender of the church, even as victorious in defense of it. The appearance of St. Michael would seem to indicate Francis’ relation to the most prestigious knightly Order of Saint Michael of which he was the head. In the Gallery of Francis I the king was shown wearing the order of St. Michael, and he may have had Rosso paint a now lost picture of this saint (L.76). But the image of the drawing does not suggest homage to St. Micheal but more an analogy between his defeat of the Devil and Francis I’s vanquishing of the Vices. The centrality of Francis I and the old king, and the placement of the emblem of the crowned Anglouldme-Valois flaming salamander above them—and above all else in the scene—suggest that with all due respect to the Virgin and her Son and to the Church that she symbolizes, it is to be seen that it is the king through whom this respect is paid, as acknowledged by Christ’s blessing. It is even possible to read Francis I’s gestures as not so much in adoration of the Virgin and Child as in recognition of their approval of him, comparable to the approval indicated by the actions of Victory and Fame, the implications of which may be largely secular.
The status of the king and the Church having been a continuous issue,9 no particular political or religious event need have prompt this image. But the appearance of two sons in the picture suggests a connection with dynastic interests. The king’s two eldest sons were held hostage for the king in Spain from March 1526 until their release in July 1530 when they were eleven and twelve years old. At the time of the eldest’s son’s—Francis—death on 10 August 1536 he was eighteen. His brother Henry was seventeen. Charles, the youngest son was fourteen. In the drawing the boys look very young so it is possible that they are meant to represent Francis and Henry at the time of their release, as Bdguin thought, in which case the picture would commemorate, in part, that event. But as the style of the drawing suggests a date long after the boys’ release it is possible that this commemoration was prompted by the death of the son Francis and the threat to Francis I’s lineage that it signaled. The Scene of Sacrifice and the Death of Adonis in the Gallery of Francis I were probably also composed in reaction to this tragic political and personal catastrophe. But the drawing shows none of the emotion and drama of those scenes but rather a ritual proclamation of sorts to convey the king’s devotion and his role with regard to his State and the Church to which his sons are heir. Thus the sons in the drawing could be Henry and Charles who were seventeen and fourteen at the time of the eldest’s son’s death.10 One wonders if the drawing was made for a picture that would have been placed in the Chappelle Haute at Fontainebleau, the chapel that may have been designed by Rosso (A.4) and built to replace the one that would, in the original plans for the enlargement of the chateau, have been adjacent to the Gallery of Francis I.11
However Rosso was advised of the king’s intentions, the image that he invented is very much in keeping with what he created to define the monarchy and Francis I as king in the Gallery of Francis I. In the largeness of its forms the work resembles the Cleobis and Biton and the Enlightenment of Francis I, but the complexity of some of the poses also relate it to the Death of Adonis and the Scene of Sacrifice. However, it does not share with them or any of the other large frescoes in the gallery their narrative intentions. The realism of the image in the drawing strains toward a more complicated symbolic expression, compacting the figures of the Vices into a very restricted area and similarly placing St. Michael and the Devil into their marginal space as though to place into one composition what in the gallery appears in the large frescoes with their framing compartments.
Vasari had said, speaking of Rosso during that part of his career in and around Arezzo, that hardly a day passed that Rosso did not draw from the nude model. While several nude studies survive from before his departure from Italy, and a large number are indicated in the inventory of Rosso’s possessions that were left behind in Arezzo, from the last ten years of his career only one nude male study survives, the Seated Male Nude of around 1536 in the British Museum (D.68). From a slightly later moment there also remains his Reclining Nude Woman (D.80). The Seated Male Nude resembles the large nudes that flank the Education of Achilles in the Gallery of Francis I which appear to have been done at the very end of Rosso activity there, late in 1536. But the glance and gesture of the figure in the London drawing seem to indicate that it was invented for a narrative context, which is true also of some of the nude drawings from his Italian years, including studies for which, as here, that context is not known. Seen independently of the composition in which it might have had a place, what is striking about the drawing is the extreme delicacy of its execution, especially in contrast to the grossness of the figure. A certain vulgarity of the model and the tenseness of his pose, apparent in the way he holds in his abdomen and in the locking of his right foot behind his left calf as he presses down with his right hand on the block on which he sits, are transformed into an image of great sensitivity by the lightness of Rosso’s touch and by the effect of the raking light that falls across the figure in the direction of his glance and gesture.
Given the lack of documents that relate to specific works of art that Rosso created in France and which have come down to us, and of documents related to the order in which the various parts of the decoration of the Gallery of Francis I were conceived and executed, the premise on which a chronology of his French career can be reconstructed is of the most fragile kind. In regard to stylistic evidence the terms of reference for a chronology are few though if seen as a whole, and given the fact that he was active for ten years in France, the works that can be placed in this decade clearly present a significant variety of artistic attitudes, some of which, we might assume, must bear a degree of similarity related to when they were done. After the Mars and Venus created in 1530 on his way, as it were, to France, only the two versions of the Scene of Sacrifice for the gallery give us any secure evidence of what we might look upon as an early artistic mode of his in France and a later one elaborated from the former. It is true that we do not actually know how much time separates these two inventions but it is not unreasonable to place them at least a few years apart. Another view would be to see them as approximately contemporary alternative inventions. But other visual evidence similar to that of the first Scene of Sacrifice and additional evidence similar to that of the second, encourages one to interpret their differences as the result of more than momentary changes of mind. This issue is brought up again here because the next works to be considered, datable, on the basis of style, not before the second Scene of Sacrifice, seem to indicate not only a slightly later period of conception but also a kind of alternative mode of invention to that suggested by the second Scene of Sacrifice, the Pandora and Her Box, the Contest of Athena and Poseidon, and the St. Francis Adoring the Virgin and Child.
The three possibly slightly later works are the Martyrdom of Sts. Marcus and Marcellinus, a red chalk drawing at Smith College in Northhampton (D.70), an Allegory on the Birth of Christ, known from an unlocated drawing formerly at Sotheby’s in London (D.72) and from three etchings (E. 81, E. 100, E.150), and a Pietà, known from three copies of a lost drawing (D.71A-C) and from an etching by Fantuzzi (E.80). All three are of religious subjects. This itself would not necessarily set them apart from the secular work which concerned Rosso to such an extent while he was in France. His earlier French religious works, the Judith, the Annunciation, the Sts. Peter and Paul, and the St. Jerome, do not, as artistic accomplishments, appear different from contemporary non-religious works, or from most of the scenes in the Gallery of Francis I. But the three later religious works do seem differently inspired even from the most richly invented and most dramatically realized scenes in the gallery, the Sacrifice, the Death of Adonis, and the Enlightenment of Francis I, or even such wild ones as the Combat of Laniths and Centaurs and the Allegorical Scene of Race and Madness in relief beneath it. Related though these three religious scenes are to the most ecstatic and dramatic scenes in the gallery, and especially to those which seem to date from a late moment in the conception of its designs, the three religious works move the spectator to another level of response. Although it is possible, as stated earlier, that the very subject of these works elicits in the spectator, still oriented to the ethos of Christianity, an easier sympathy, this cannot be altogether the reason for the greater seriousness that is experienced here. For such an earlier secular work as the Allegory on the Death of Laura is also seriously moving and some of Rosso’s later non-religious works are similarly significant in the effect they have although not necessarily to the same degree. It must, however, be recognized that in the gallery Rosso was not engaged simply in the creation of individual works of art but in a huge decorative scheme larger by far than any project he had ever undertaken. Initially Rosso, in regard to the scenes he was to design for this room, seems to have worked more or less as an illustrator of the recherché themes that were devised for its iconographical program. Perhaps there can be recognized here a degree of intimidation in the face of the enormous task that lay before him, an attitude that possibly may also account for the reticence of some of his earliest French works, but in that instance in response to a whole new career that was opening before him in a foreign country and under the eye of such a powerful patron as Francis I. While working on the gallery his confidence increased and he explored more fully the potential of his imagination to create more robust and dramatically focused compositions out of the thematic material that was his to deal with. Hence, one might conclude, the exciting appearance of the second Scene of Sacrifice as compared with the first. Nevertheless, one senses even in this composition, in the Pandora and Her Box and in the Contest of Athena and Poseidon, a commitment that is still that of a very highly talented and energetic illustrator, a kind of commitment that brings to mind perhaps more than anything else in Rosso’s earlier career the prints that he designed in Rome. The religious works apparently designed around 1536 or only slightly later bring instead more strongly to mind the S. Maria Nuova Altarpiece of 1518, and the altarpieces of 1521 at Volterra and from Villamagna.
Clearly, however, the kind of artistic sophistication shown in the French religious works is of a more evolved kind. Here, it is true, Rosso’s Roman, albeit secular, works come again to mind, but also his pictures in Borgo Sansepolcro and Citta di Castello. But the degree of suave complexity of the French works finds its most immediate source in the kind of pictorial inventions of his late compositions for the Gallery of Francis I, or those associated with them. What is new in the religious works is a compositional concentration and reciprocity of movements that force upon the spectator a more passionate identification with what is represented. This is, of course, a matter of style, but it would be wrong not to suggest that there is also felt here in that style a new issue, or renewed issue, of religious belief, or of faith in the more profound sense of religious conviction. Nothing in the gallery or any of his earlier French works quite gives us in the way of passionate significance what these later religious works offer.
The information on Rosso’s life is so limited that no biography of him pretending to completeness could be constructed from it. Vasari’s Life of the painter contains a few comments that suggest something about his character in relation to his art. There are, however, no comments by Vasari or by anyone else that give us any idea about Rosso’s faith and religious beliefs. It cannot be said that all of his religious works reflect a consistent religious awareness, even considering a range of expression within it, nor, for that matter, a consistent religious seriousness. Some works do not seem to express any special religious fervor at all. Some certainly do, and to a remarkable degree, such as the Volterra Deposition and the altarpiece from Villamagna. In some, the issue of expression appears to be largely artistic, as, especially, in the Moses defending the Daughters of Jethro, perhaps also in the Pietà in Borgo Sansepolcro, and in the early French Judith, known from Boyvin’s engraving. Of course, the variations of sentiment seen in Rosso’s works may not be dependent on any single factor, or lack of it, that one could call religious. One should, perhaps, instead recognize variations of artistic modes, some of which are more artistically convincing and hence, if of religious subjects, more religiously convincing, too. In other words, the special success of the French religious works by Rosso may mark a new level of artistic maturity which has its first realization in works of Christian subjects. Nevertheless, as this new level of artistic maturity may at first be indebted to a special attention that Rosso gave again to religious subjects, and because he may have been newly inspired in a religious sense what little we know of his religious life in France should be considered.
On 14 August 1532, less than two years after he arrived in France, Rosso was made a canon of Ste. Chapelle in Paris (DOC. 25). This office is probably related to his having been granted letters patent by Francis I in May of the same year and to the fact that he was the most valued painter of the king (DOC. 24). At this time Rosso may already have had a house in the enclosure of the palace area as we know later he did (DOC. 53), an enclosure which contained also the royal chapel of which he was made a canon. Three years later, on 20 June 1535, Rosso is mentioned in an Aretine ecclesiastical document, related to the S. Maria delle Lagrime commission he abandoned over five years earlier, as “magistro Rubeo magistri Gasparis pictoria clerico florentino” (see Preface to D.31–34). This designation as a cleric could refer back to the canonicate he had received in France although there is also the possibility that it recognizes him as a Florentine cleric from the time before he had left his native city. On 26 December 1537 Rosso was offered another canonicate in Paris, this time of the cathedral of Notre Dame (DOCS. 31–35, 37–41). To enter this office he had to take orders, first as an acolyte in the minor orders at the abbey of Ste. Genevieve in Paris, and then as a deacon of the same abbey. What is interesting is that while he is referred to as “clericum canonicum parisiensem” he is also, in the first of the documents related to this new position, mentioned as a “clericus florentinesis dyocesis Florentie,” again suggesting that he had been a cleric even before arriving in France. He regularly attended meetings of the chapter at Notre Dame, perhaps as often as three times a week,12 and also wore a clerical habit which, as one document tells (DOC. 35), he was excused from wearing when he was at work as a painter at the cathedral. He also worked on at least one architectural project for this chapter (L.62), and designed a cantonal baton for it (D.73).
Although none of this information tells us how Rosso felt or thought about religious matters it does seem to indicate a close connection with them. The religious works done by him from about 1535—excluding the design of the cantonal baton—seem to bear this out by revealing a kind of probing into, or rather a definition of, religious sentiments and ideas that is energetic in the manner of his earliest works until his departure from Florence for Rome. But his late religious works in France are much more complex, stylistically and intellectually. Although they seem to require the experience of having created the secular works in the Gallery of Francis I, the religious works still reveal a special significance through artistic powers of a higher level of sophistication reached, one might suspect, at least, also because of the special inspiration which their subjects now afforded Rosso.
The red chalk drawing at Smith College representing the Martyrdom of Sts. Marcus and Marcellinus (D.70) reminds one to some extent of the Enlightenment of Francis I and the Scene of Sacrifice in the gallery. The figures in all are large, tightly grouped in part, and energetic in the thrust of their bodies and gestures. The Pandora and Her Box also comes to mind. One might also point out the very specialness of the subject of the Smith College drawing for which no immediate visual precedents seem to exist. The whole frame of mind in which this drawing was made coincides to a large extent to what in other, but secular, works appears to be Rosso’s shortly after 1536 at the time of bringing to a close his activity on the decoration of the gallery. But whereas such a painting as the Scene of Sacrifice appears imbued with a new dramatic energy, that energy, as in the Pandora drawing, too, is ambivalently focused. It is not quite clear to what common end the represented activity or narration and the depicted emotion are directed. This is true as well of the Contest of Athena and Poseidon where the subject, however, lends itself more appropriately perhaps to an ambivalent interpretation. In these scenes the spectator is called upon to supply a degree of understanding to reconcile the diverse elements of them. In the Martyrdom drawing a resolution of drama and emotion takes place within the content of the diverse elements of the scene itself.
While this drawing is not unusually large, measuring 23.6 x 21.9 cm, the squaring of it indicates not only that it was meant to be made into a painting but, one suspects from the size of the squares, a very large picture, indeed. One can even imagine a picture larger than those in the gallery. Is one also to envision a fresco rather than a panel picture, and therefore, possibly, one to be executed by assistants rather than be Rosso himself? In any case the scene is conceived by him in heroic terms which, enlarged in size, would have been truly overpowering. The Hercules prints designed in Rome come to mind, but what is clever and entertaining in these small works has become, in the martyrdom drawing, grandly moving. Somewhat more closely related to the Smith College drawing are the Roman St. Roch drawings, especially the autograph one in the Lebel Collection (D.13) with its small subsidiary scenes in the background. But the French drawing is not merely more complex, it is also more dramatically and emotionally unified. Furthermore it is Michelangelesque in feeling, and throughout the entire scene rather than by what might be called anecdotal references to the art of that master as are found in the Gallery of Francis I. There is an aspect of genius in the Martyrdom of Sts. Marcus and Mercellinus that also identifies this work more poignantly with Michelangelo, with his Hanging of Haman, for example, and at the same time, after many years, with Rosso’s own most significant earlier work, the obliquely Michelangelesque Deposition in Volterra.
Graphically the Martyrdom drawing is very closely related to his Madonna della Misericordia done in Arezzo in 1529. In both of these drawings the contours are so broken and so finely delineated and the forms are so continuously faceted and so transparently shaded that the various components of these scenes, recognizable individually as they are, are subsumed by a resulting pictorial fabric of an almost seamless kind. This mode of draughtsmanship creates a chiaroscural texture, the fine variations of which both describe what is represented and at the same time create a continuous tonal palpitation experienced as feeling that embraces all that is described. A similar pictorial mode can be found also in Rosso’s Marriage of the Virgin and in his altarpieces in Borgo Sansepolcro and Citta di Castello. But there, as in the Madonna della Misericordia, it appears more atmospheric, as a special optical phenomenon that affects how much we see and do not see of what is depicted. True, it also provides an emotional dimension to these scenes, but rather as an overlay than as an integral part of their formal structure. In the Smith College drawing the chiaroscural patterns are larger and there is little sense that they create atmosphere. Almost everything in the drawing is equally clear or equally unclear. The patterns of light and dark build the composition’s formal structure which is consistent throughout in bringing about what is seen and what is continuously felt to be its emotional significance. Looking back at much of Rosso’s preceding art one is almost inclined to believe that his artistic ambitions have always been to achieve what now appears in the Martyrdom of Sts. Marcus and Marcellinus.
The subject of this drawing is an unusual one. In the Golden Legend the account of these twin saints appears at the beginning of the story of St. Sebastian and, in fact, occupies in the telling about half of the space devoted to the famous saint.13 For it was St. Sebastian, according to the Golden Legend, who exhorted Sts. Marcus and Marcellinus to their martyrdom. Most of what Rosso represents can be related to this source, including the small scene at the upper right showing St. Sebastian, dressed as a Roman soldier, preaching to and blessing members of the family of Nicostratus, in whose house the saints were imprisoned. If this was not his immediate source then he must have used one that was very closely dependent on it. For Rosso’s drawing not only reflects the facts that this account gives but also the emotional thrust of it. As their parents and wives try to dissuade them from sacrificing themselves, groaning and saying “Are your hearts made of iron, that you disdain your parents, repulse your wives, and deny your children?” to which St. Sebastian replied: “Brave soldiers of Christ, let not these sweet words and pleas rob you of the eternal crown.” Further along the story continues: “As for Marcellinus and Mark, they were attached to a gibbet, and there they chanted joyously: ‘Behold how good and pleasant it is for brethren to dwell together in unity!’ Then the prefect said to them: ‘Madmen, renounce your folly and save yourselves!’ But they replied: ‘Never have we been so happy together! And we beseech thee to leave us as we are until our souls are freed from the prison of our bodies!’ Whereupon the prefect had them run through with lances: and in this manner their martyrdom was accomplished.”
The element of joyful and transcendent happiness of the saints set against but also above the abject sorrow of their relatives is the primary issue of Rosso’s composition. The heaviness of sorrowful emotion of the thick-set collapsing figures in the lower part of the scene is changed to an attitude of sublime ecstasy in the slim, elongated and finely muscled bodies of the saints above, who turn with almost elegantly extended bodies and outstretched limbs to look at each other. They appear to suffer physically not at all. Their experience, as depicted by Rosso, is, like St. Sebastian’s words, an exhortation to the spectator to a new spiritual life, and to find in death a joy beyond the obligations of this world.
We do not know for whom this composition was made nor any special circumstances that might have prompted its creation. According to one tradition the bodies of Sts. Marcus and Marcellinus were entombed in the church of St. Medard in Soissons, to which town the body of St. Sebastian has also been taken.14 No evidence, however, connects Rosso with Soissons. The apparent total lack of representations of these saints prior to this moment does, however, suggest, whatever the ultimate destination of Rosso’s composition was to be, a very special choice and investigation in terms of its subject. About three decades later Veronese painted a scene of these saints being led to their martyrdom15 and at the end of the century Ambrosius Francken painted St. Sebastian exhorting them to die a Christian death.16 Both pictures were done as one of a set concerned with the life of St. Sebastian. Rosso’s drawing would also have been one of a group of compositions devoted to this saint forming a sequence not unlike that done by him in Rome and devoted to the life of St. Roch. Perhaps, as then, the possible later sequence was also related to an outbreak of the plague. At the time of Rosso’s French drawing themes of martyrdom—single, double or even multiple—were not common though they were not altogether unrepresented either. Pontormo and Perino had composed scenes of the Ten Thousand Martyrs in the early 1524s in Florence and Pontormo painted a picture of the same subject around 1529–1530. But even by around 1536–1538 such themes are rare and do not yet constitute a class of pictures as they will later in the century. Like Pontormo’s scenes especially, Rosso’s Martyrdom of Sts. Marcus and Marcellinus appears to reflect a new religious need and an exploration of new themes to heighten or define in a special way the meaning of religious conviction. In Rosso’s case such an exploration had taken place since the very beginning of his career, not always in the selection of novel subjects but in his interpretation of very usual themes as well, the meanings of which one would have supposed had already achieved a kind of final definition. In the first category are such works as the Moses Defending the Daughters of Jethro, the drawings he made for Maria delle Lagrime in Arezzo, and the Christ in Glory in Citta di Castello. In the second would be placed such works as the Deposition in Volterra, the Marriage of the Virgin of 1523 and the Dead Christ in Boston. Other works, of course, could also be listed. They all reflect an intellectual kind of investigation that is peculiarly Rosso’s and that constitutes one of the bases of his art, both secular and religious.
As in the case of certain details in the Gallery of Francis I the reflection of Michelangelo’s art is probably dependent on works by this artist that Antonio Mini brought to France in153217 and which, just a few years later, Rosso was able to assimilate into his own art. This seems also to have encouraged a retrospective glance to an even earlier time in Rosso’s own career when he had first experienced the full impact of Michelangelo’s style in Rome. As remarked earlier there appears in the Martyrdom drawing—in the two saints and in the inclusion of a small scene at the upper right—the recollection of the Haman fresco of the Sistine Ceiling. The group of women at the lower left may reflect a knowledge of Michelangelo’s Crucifixion and Deposition drawings, such as those in the British Museum18 and in Haarlem,19 specifically the group around the swooning Virgin in these scenes. The group around the swooning mother or wife in Rosso’s drawing is remarkably similar to that in the lower left corner of Daniele da Volterra’s Deposition in SS. Trinity in Rome. Done around 1543–1545 Daniele’s entire composition, with its large and robust figures filling so fully the plane and space of the picture suggest almost the same response to Michelangelo’s art as does Rosso’s drawing although Rosso’s French drawing is unlikely as a source for Daniele’s Roman painting. But these two works seem to have one other source in common, Rosso’s own Deposition of 1521 in Volterra.20 In Daniele’s picture this source is recognizable in the duality of the drama, in the scaffolding of cross and ladders, and in certain correspondences of placement of figures, poses, gestures and the disposition of a few passages of drapery. It is not, however, visible in the emotion that Daniele’s picture conveys. This Roman picture may reflect the use of Rosso’s image but Daniele transforms its appearance to such an extent that its sentiment is changed from a feeling of transcendent bliss set against, or above, poignant and introspective sorrow to one of more full-bodied drama and pathos. Quite clearly, and quite understandably, Rosso’s relationship to his own earlier work is of a different kind with a result, after fifteen years, that carries with it some of the same intuitions of feeling and meaning now more grandly articulated and more integrated. No rectangular grid, like that formed by the cross and ladders in the Volterra painting or by architecture in the Lebel St. Roch drawing, serves as a foil for the figures in the Smith College drawing. Nor any clear symmetry or large planar patterns that create the rather obvious and angular design of the Volterra Deposition. But certain elements of that painting are recalled in the Martyrdom scene: the weeping man at the right with his face buried in his hands, the woman attending a fainting woman at the lower left as well as the thrust of a woman’s head from the center of the composition to the left, and the high activity at the top of the composition formed of male figures. In spite of all the changes that have been wrought by Rosso in the definition and relationship of these similar episodes in the Martyrdom drawing, the sense that they make together is very much an extension of what, by comparison, appears now somewhat rawly adumbrated in the Volterra Deposition. Although the destination of the Martyrdom composition may have required its almost square format that format, unlike the high and narrow one of the earlier altarpiece, has brought about a more concentrated composition. That format was not new in the French drawing—one has only to remember some of Rosso’s Roman compositions and his painting in Borgo Sansepolcro—but given, in other respects, its relationships to the Deposition of 1521 that square format presents a kind of equilibrium of forces that the composition within it also reveals. Furthermore, without the bizarreness and compositional discontinuities of the Sansepolcro Pietà, as well as the eccentricities of details of the Christ in Glory, the Martyrdom of Sts. Marcus and Marcellinus provides an emotional experience, intense though it is, that is more normally accessible to the spectator. Rosso’s conception of that experience, strong as in the Volterra Deposition, is now both more flexible and more all-pervasive. The rhythms of the shifting bodies of the figures and the faceted, but not sharp-edged shading that defines all of them permeate the entire drawing so that a fervor is infused throughout the scene and is not only felt and expressed by its major protagonists. Consequently, the separate figures and episodes, including the vignette with St. Sebastian at the upper right, belong to one emotional vision in which the bereaved and collapsing figures below form the human and mundane basis out of which rises the glorious and transcendent state of the twin martyrs above. The desolation and privacy of the Volterra Deposition have been replaced by a more public drama and by a larger dimension of feeling that can gather a greater range of emotional sympathies from a more diversified audience.
Rosso’s approximately contemporary and somewhat damaged drawing of an Allegory on the Birth of Christ (D.72) presents an even more complex and denser composition, known also from a slightly enlarged and reversed etching by Fantuzzi (E.81) from which it can be seen that the drapery covering the Christ Child and the youth at the far left has been added to the drawing (the latter drapery from Master I.O.V’s etching of the scene (E.100). In format it is similar to the Martyrdom drawing. But while the emotion expressed is also very much alike the thematic nature of these two works is quite different. For the Martyrdom drawing is basically narrative; the other composition is a complex allegory and only alludes to narration.
The intellectual structure of this scene has some of the characteristics of Rosso’s Marriage of the Virgin where the centralized story is elaborated into a kind of sacra conversazione by the addition of two female saints in the foreground and a male saint at the right. In the French allegory, the central episode appears to be the First Bath of Christ, as pointed out by the Panofskys.21 And yet this is not precisely the case. For unlike in the Marriage of the Virgin, where the integrity of the marriage scene itself is maintained, in the later work the bath scene is not described merely as an episode of Christ’s life. For all the figures around Christ are not simply identifiable as those that would be associated with his first bath.” At first glance,” as the Panofskys put it, “the composition looks like a combination of four Infancy scenes: the Nativity, the Adoration of the Shepherds, the Mystic Marriage of St. Catherine, and the Holy Family with the Little St. John…. Unusual emphasis, however, is placed on the ‘First Bath’, which was always interpreted as an anticipation of the Baptism….” The old woman at the right could be Saint Anne except that she is shown nude to the waist. The young woman at the left could be the Virgin were it not for the pitcher she holds (not a shield, as the Panofskys thought) in the shape of a grotesque. Across from her the beautifully dressed young woman could be St. Catherine but for the fact that she, too, has bare breasts, more clearly seen in the prints. Behind Christ appears an old man with a staff who would be Joseph in an Infancy scene. Again, according to the Panofskys it seems “that Rosso cleverly reinterpreted the characters normally seen in the four Infancy scenes just mentioned so as to express Christianity’s eternal hope for the ultimate conversion of all mankind.” The woman at the lower left would be a personification of Judaism, her counterpart a representative of the Gentiles. The old woman would be a sibyl, the old man “a prophet foreseeing the Passion.”
Whether or not, for the moment, this proposal, tentatively made by the Panofskys, is altogether right, it nevertheless recognizes correctly this composition as a kind of image that must be read on several levels. No earlier religious work by Rosso is quite of this kind. The scenes that he designed in Arezzo for S. Maria delle Lagrime, unusual as they are, are rather straight-forward as allegories, even in the drawing of the Immaculate Conception where the figures of Apollo and Diana are introduced. There is, however, a point of contact between this French composition and Rosso’s Allegory of Death and Fame drawing of 1517 where pictorially reference is made to the image of the Pietà, although that allegory is not, strictly speaking, a religious one. In the Gallery of Francis I an allusion is once more made to the Pietà in the Death of Adonis, carrying thereby some of the value of the religious subject into a picture that is not only secular but pagan. It seems reasonable to assume that it was his experience of working with the thematic material of the decoration of the gallery that led Rosso to extend something of the complexity of its iconography into the realm of religious imagery as in his Francis I Adoring the Enthroned Virgin and Child and now again in his Allegory on the Birth of Christ. But the iconography of this allegory is denser than that of any single part of the decoration of the gallery and the allusions are much richer and more resonant. This is to a large extent due to the fact that it is a religious image and on one level what is presented in it appears to be familiar; the traditional aspects of this scene attract and hold the spectator’s attention so that he experiences a gradual recognition of the deeper significance of what he thinks he already knows and believes. The experience of this picture in France could well have been conceived by Rosso as an extension of a familiarity with certain Italian pictures that Francis I already owned: the St. Anne by Leonardo, the Holy Family in the Louvre by Andrea del Sarto and Raphael’s Madonna of Francis I. The grandness of all these pictures and the compactness, even what one might call centrality, of these compositions are also aspects of Rosso’s scene. But whereas these paintings are thematically lucid, Rosso’s is not; it only seems to be. With study his allegory becomes increasingly complex in terms of what is represented. And yet the scene is compositionally and dramatically so concentrated as to give a serious urgency to the complexity of its iconography. The thematic obliqueness of this scene is not a circumvention of serious thought, but rather the necessary consequence of a new way of defining the depth of one’s religious beliefs. The passion of this scene is comparable to that of Rosso’s Martyrdom drawing. In the latter work, however, the passion rises narratively to a climax in the outwardly stretching figures of the saints who seem to radiate the sense of a renewed life in their sacrifice. In the Allegory the passion experienced through the figures moves inward towards the small nude child whose cruciform pose suggests to us Christ’s ultimate sacrifice. The adoration of the figures who move in or look in from the distance and from the past, direct us to witness a central sacramental scene in the present that portends the future. A picture, narrative only by references to what is not actually represented, becomes through these references a very moving emblem of a religious state of mind that is timeless.
The Panofskys’ suggested interpretation that the scene expresses “Christianity’s eternal hope for the ultimate conversion of all mankind” is dependent upon a kind of prognostic reading of Rosso’s scene. But it is possible to interpret this image in terms of a revealed truth and its glorification. In the background of the scene is an alcove containing a bed, the curtains of which are drawn aside by a young male figure to give view to the bed itself,22 a detail suggesting scenes of the birth of the Virgin and of St. John the Baptist. However, placed on the central axis of the picture, on the same line as the figure reminiscent of Joseph and the figure of Christ as a child, one proceeding spatially forward from the other, the bed can also recall scenes of the Annunciation. Rosso’s own Annunciation drawing in the Albertina may contain a bed with its curtains tied back around a column. Are we not then to recognize here an allusion to the virgin birth and hence to the purity of Christ? The two women in the foreground of Rosso’s scenes, who may represent Judaism and the Gentiles, seem also to refer to the two women who gave Christ his first bath, suggesting the story of the believing and the doubting midwives.23 Only the water from the urn held by St. John and the Gentile woman is being poured into the basin in which Christ stands. The other woman’s pitcher, with its grotesque head, is held to her side, and St. John’s back is turned to it. As the Panofskys chose to see it, Christ is to be seen as drawing both women toward him; actually he only faces the Gentile woman and puts his left hand under her chin drawing her to him24 while his right hand with palm down on the other woman’s neck seems to keep her away. She also looks away and down. Her hand on Christ’s arm seems rather like a gesture to mitigate His refutation of her. There is, it is true, no forceful thrusting away of the woman at the left and the modesty of her appearance suggests humility on her part. Nevertheless, in the context of the accumulated historical references in the scene, in which Judaism would have its part, this figure, the only one that does not direct its attention to Christ, is not necessarily to be read as invited to convert to Christianity. In fact, only the Gentile woman in this scene is actually received by Christ.
Rather than expressing the idea of the ultimate conversion of all mankind, Rosso’s allegory seems to offer proof of Christ’s divinity and to present him as divine by the very presence of his own body. Behind the personification of Judaism an (originally nude) angel carries in, high on his shoulder, a large urn with one handle. He recalls the youths in the Scene of Sacrifice in the gallery who, according to the Panofskys, carry wine vessels which refer to the celebration of the dies natalis in classical antiquity. In the Allegory Christ’s birth may be referred to even though Christ is shown more as a young boy than as an infant, as normally he would appear in a scene of the Nativity or of his first bath. The second angel, who seems to be holding a bundle of drapery, perhaps to clothe the child, looks at “Joseph.” From the right background two male figures approach wearing hats, which the first one, who is nude (more clearly in Fantuzzi’s print), is about to remove. The figures suggest the shepherds in an Adoration of the Christ Child although the bare body of one would be an anomaly in this scene. If they wear Phrygian caps, as they appear to do, they may make reference to foreign peoples who would recognize Christ’s divinity. Next to them is a young man wearing an animal’s skin (again clearer in Fantuzzi’s etching) who points towards Christ and looks back at the two men wearing caps. Normally one would identify him as the Baptist, but this saint, as a boy, appears elsewhere in Rosso’s composition. The Panofskys identified these three figures as the even more primitive people ultimately destined to be “turned from darkness to light.” As such the third figure, looking like a shepherd, could be another allusion to St. John who pointed the way to Christ. The old man with cane or crutch identifiable as Joseph and as a Prophet by the Panofskys enlarges, by his pained expression and by his gesture, the allusion to the Crucifixion in Christ’s pose. The old seated woman, wearing a turban and nude to the waist, suggests St. Anne and a sibyl; she looks down calmly at Christ and supports his left arm with her right hand. Every one of these three figures prepares for or recognizes the advent and sacrifice of Christ.
In the very foreground of the scene the small nude body of the young St. John, whose face is almost entirely hidden, leans into the picture, and by his position and posture introduces the spectator to Christ. He may wear an ivy-crown.25 Even closer to the picture’s surface lies his cross with a ribbon curled around it. It is through the Baptist’s action of pouring water into the basin in which Christ stands that his first bath, which can indicate the humanity of the divine Child, gains in its meaning as anticipating his baptism, which, as the prototype of every baptism signifies the initiatio christiana. The lion’s head on his urn may refer to Solomon and his throne. Christ himself called his Passion a baptism. And by reference to the baptism by fire proclaimed by St. John the Baptist, Christ’s Baptism anticipated the Last Judgment. Through baptism the Christian was “freed from sin to participate in advance in eternal bliss.”26
The pose of Rosso’s Christ suggests not only the Crucifixion but, through his gesture to the Gentile woman, seems also to indicate a judgment that offers this eternal bliss. And yet this affirmative judgment is made only of the Gentile woman. Significant as the role of the personification of Judaism is in this allegory, she is not invited by Christ. In this respect Rosso’s scene gives an orthodox view of Christianity and is less ecumenical than the interpretation the Panofskys suggests.
The compounded complexity of the iconography of this scene and its apparent orthodoxy are matched by the style of Rosso’s imagery. The center of the composition is strongly pyramidal, with a symmetry created by the central foreground figures that is almost dogmatic. This configuration as well as the variations of poses and gestures within it are clearly dependent on High Renaissance models. One is reminded of Sarto’s Marriage of St. Catherine in Dresden, and in Joseph’s forward thrusting gesture, of the gestures of the Virgin and St. Catherine in Andrea’s painting. Yet there is something disjunctive about the relationships of Rosso’s figures that is quite unlike the curving and graceful rhythms that bring Sarto’s figures together even across greater spatial intervals. To some extent Rosso’s allegory recalls his Dei Altarpiece of 1522 where a resemblance of High Renaissance order is belied by a too obvious rigid arrangement of forms. Furthermore, Joseph’s gesture in Rosso’s allegory, and the movement, gestures and glances of the background figures are so varied and abrupt that they appear at first almost uncoordinated. It is to a large extent the mere closeness of these figures to each other and to the central group that brings about a compositional cohesion around the figure of Christ. At the same time the elaboration of details and the fluctuation of lights and darks throughout the scene weave a kind of consistent and rich compositional texture not unlike that of the Martyrdom of Sts. Marcus and Marcellinus. Everywhere there is expressed a sense of earnestness that makes one feel the seriousness that these figures, in their ambivalent ways, make together, and also a degree of sumptuousness that gives the effect of glory to what is depicted.
The narrative aspect of the Martyrdom drawing and the emblematic character of the Allegory on the Birth of Christ both make their appearance in a Pietà by Rosso done about the same time. Rosso’s lost work is known from three drawings (D.71A–C), one formerly on the market in Amsterdam, one in Edinburgh, the other in a private French collection , and from an etching by Fantuzzi in reverse of these drawings (E.80). All of these replicas of Rosso’s composition are of the same size and the draughtsmanship of the drawings certainly indicates that Rosso’s lost work was also a drawing. The pose of Christ is so similar to that of Adonis in Rosso’s Death of Adonis, in the Gallery of Francis I, that they must be approximately contemporary conceptions. The gesture of the Magdalen is also very similar to that of the weeping winged figure in the lower left corner of the fresco. But a compactness of the composition of the Pietà may indicate that it is a slightly later invention, done, probably, in 1537 or 1538.
This French Pietà recalls Rosso’s painting in Borgo Sansepolcro and, even more than the central motif of that painting, brings to mind Michelangelo’s sculptural group in St. Peter’s. Not that Rosso’s figures are individually like Michelangelo’s in his Pietà but there is in Rosso’s French Pietà an intimacy between the two major figures that suggests a strong memory of Michelangelo’s art once again rather than recourse only to Rosso’s own earlier image. What is significantly changed from that image of his is the position of the upper half of Christ’s body which, like Adonis’s at Fontainebleau, is tensely arched upward with the head bent toward the center of the scene. The emphasis on the twist of the figure and on its great buttock and thigh, and the way in which its far arm and hand come forward over the front leg suggest that Rosso had knowledge of Michelangelo’s Medici Chapel statues, especially the Night and the Day, and of his Leda, which came to France in 1532, the cartoon of it as well as the painting. But unlike Michelangelo’s Medici Chapel figures with their extraordinary physical tension or his Leda with its great languid weight, Rosso’s Christ, like his Adonis, is fashioned emblematically, to expose the figure broadly and fully to the spectator rather as a symbol than as a plausible representation of a corporeal presence. It is not clear how this body rests on the support beneath it, which is decorated with harpies and a blank shield and covered by a pillow and a long cloth. Nor is the position of the lower half of Mary’s body altogether clear. One of her bare feet seems to be visible next to one of the bare feet of the Magdalen, the position of which is equally difficult to understand. The Virgin, depicted as a mature woman and with large breasts, is seated behind Christ, but again in a manner that is not wholly comprehensible. She looks down at her son with her left hand placed around his right leg which is set against and perhaps to some extent upon one of the Virgin’s knees, but which one precisely is not clear. Although the difficulty in reading certain aspects of Rosso’s image may be due to some extent to the nature of the copies by which we know it this cannot be the only reason for its ambiguities. For insofar as the copies support each other they indicate that Rosso’s Pietà was conceived not so much in terms of plausible physical relationships that would give credence to the emotions and the emotional relationships that are described but rather in terms of large pictorial motifs that serve more as emblematic signs than as plausible evocations of real feelings. Hence the physically unclear but otherwise understandable relation of Christ’s body to the Virgin’s lap and to the altar beneath him. Like his Death of Adonis, the Pietà appears to have been created by an exploration of certain new artistic conceits to create a new kind of meaning for the religious subject that is represented.27 Basically, as already pointed out, this image goes back to Michelangelo’s early Pietà and to Rosso’s altarpiece in Borgo Sansepolcro. The French Pietà is, however, compositionally much more compact and reduced in the number of figures which are represented compared to his earlier altarpiece. But in another sense it is also more elaborate. The image turns around its center rather like a whirlpool and Rosso’s old forms are redesigned to conform to this centralizing scheme. St. John’s body seen largely from the back—and apparently bare in the drawings—is bent, along with the drapery that swirls along it, in a very regular arc toward the center of the scene. He clasps his hands in front of his face and looks down at the body of Christ with an agonized expression on his face. As for the lower part of the saint’s body, it is hardly accounted for at all. His bent left knee must be placed on the support upon which Christ is seated for the bottom of the saint’s left foot can be seen alongside Christ’s fallen arm. At the other side of the composition the body of Mary Magdalen is bent over in what must be read as a convulsed posture. It is equally broad and rectangular in its curves. She has her hands covering her face, but not straight-forwardly like John’s in the Volterra Deposition. Instead, the Magdalen’s hands move in from the sides of her body and the first two fingers of her right hand are spread apart so that her nose projects between them. This gesture, which at first seems absurd, tends to trivialize the feeling that is expressed by the large curves of the saint’s body. This lessening of the seriousness of the Magdalen’s appearance could not have been Rosso’s conscious intention. What, then, is meant by the gesture and how did its invention come about? It seems unlikely that it is meant as a gesture to signify the smell of Christ’s dead body. Instead, the placement of the figures may be merely a means of keeping the saint’s face largely visible at the same time that it allows for the use of a gesture, modified from its appearance in Rosso’s earlier painting of 1521 that expresses grief. The result may thus be pictorially understandable but the emotional effect of the gesture has been compromised for the sake of a clarity of representation that is, from an emotional point of view, of dubious value. In spite of this Rosso’s Pietà does exhibit elements that can be experienced as signifying real pathos, such as the bend of the Magdalen’s body and the pose, gesture and expression of St. John. Even the figure of the Virgin is convincing as a conception of shock and withdrawal in response to the presence of Christ’s dead body. Furthermore, the compactness of the composition of the Pietà and its rotating, centripetal rhythms compel a serious response from the spectator. For in spite of its occasional compositional ambiguities the Pietà has a hypnotic emotional power brought about by its artistic and emotional extravagances. Its high degree of artificiality may be read as a means to articulate a level of intense meaning, not by inventing new forms but by elaborating and condensing the terms of Rosso’s own earlier art, terms to which his imagination was by now firmly bound.
The Martyrdom drawing, the Allegory on the Birth of Christ, and the Pietà just discussed appear, in spite of their differences, to have been done about the same time in that period of maturity that is represented also by Rosso’s last works in the Gallery of Francis I. But the style of these three works create effects of a more personal and more passionate kind. Unusual as the subjects of two of them are all three present Christian themes to which the force of traditional belief would seem to have given a degree of artistic and emotional focus that is not evident in the secular paintings and stucco work at Fontainebleau. It must, of course, be acknowledged that to a very large extent the cultural framework that gave meaning to the decoration in the Gallery of Francis I has fallen away leaving this decoration to be appreciated, more or less, merely as a work of art. But the other circumstance, whereby the Christian content has not been so extensively lost, is probably not the only reason why the three religious works impress us as being more serious. It may also be suggested that these different groups of works reflect somewhat different commitments by Rosso himself as a result of the different contexts in which he created these works. Brilliant as the various creations in the gallery may be none of them achieves the level of feeling and dramatic concentration that appears in the Martyrdom drawing and in the Allegory on the Birth of Christ. Nor does the Death of Adonis, with its spread-out composition, quite effect the emotional response that is elicited by the densely composed Pietà. While the task to decorate the Gallery of Francis I presented Rosso with the grandest opportunity of his career, it was one, more than any other he had had, that forced him to devote his talents to the expression of ideas that were both foreign to his Italian origins and very new to him even as a naturalized Frenchman. One senses in the gallery’s decorations a willfulness to invent and to impress but at the same time a detachment from too serious personal involvement. In his religious works of the years between 1536 and 1538 the situation can be felt to be different, and different, too, from the somewhat guarded works, both religious and secular, of his earliest years in France. There begins to arise again in Rosso’s art and, it would seem, first in his religious works, that kind of very individual emotional seriousness that distinguished his early Italian works done before he went to Rome. There could not be a full return to that manner for in the time since then too much had happened, in Rome especially, and then again in France, to make Rosso’s art more sophisticated. Nevertheless, that sophistication was in turn capable of a clarification which produced an art of a more direct and a more passionate effect upon the spectator.
Vasari tells us that Rosso’s Pietà in the Louvre (P.23) was painted for the constable Anne de Montmorency and that, in the 1560’s at least, the picture was at Montmorency’s estate at tcouen [Rouen?]. While it was certainly painted for him, as indicated by the heraldic eaglets on the pillows beneath Christ, it is probably not very likely that it was painted for a place over a door in the chapel at tcouen [Rouen?] where it eventually was located. It is very possible that this picture was intended for the altar of this chapel before its final design was made in the 1540’s. The chapel was begun in 1538 after Montmorency was made constable on the 10th of February of that year. Perhaps only after that date did Montmorency feel he could request the services of the king’s first painter. The style of Rosso’s painting easily supports a date for it in 1538.
The painting is not very large but it has a grandness of conception and a formal concentration that indicate an artistic maturity well beyond that of Rosso’s last painting of this subject, the altarpiece in Borgo Sansepolcro. It is, of course, clear that Rosso referred back to that picture when he painted the Louvre Pietà and each figure in the latter has its counterpart in the other. But although the Louvre picture has only five figures and the limits of the painting are set very close upon them these few figures are far more broadly posed and are also more extensively inflected than any of the earlier ones. The figure of Christ is placed on a diagonal into the space of the picture and his limbs and torso are so arranged that the spectator’s attention rises and falls as it moves into the scene along the length of Christ’s body. The upper torso and chest are turned slightly to the right and hence are broadly seen, and they are fully illuminated so that Christ’s body takes on primary importance while his head is inclined backwards into shadow. It is true that the lower parts of his legs are even more brilliantly illuminated as are certain other forward elements in the picture. Here, as in some of Rosso’s Italian pictures, the intensity of the foreground light establishes the highest saliency of the picture’s forms from which point, or points, the other forms take their other positions optically in space. The dimmer light on Christ’s torso sets it in the center stratum of the painting and also in the center of the emotional context of this Pietà. In the Sansepolcro Pietà the body of Christ appears as though it is merely exhibited as a specimen corpse and the chest is abnormally swollen giving to this figure a bizarre aspect not found in the Louvre Pietà. Like so many elements in the earlier picture the gestures of the Virgin’s arms there are so discontinuously visible as to obscure their meaning. In the Louvre Pietà the Virgin’s extended arms are eloquent and evocative, not only of her grief but also as a kind of measure of the meaning of Christ’s extended body. How beautifully, then, the figures of the Magdalen and St. John fill the spaces between Christ’s legs and the edges of the painting: she is seen slightly from above and from the side but with her head turned forward; he seen partly from the side but with his body squarely from the back, his head, however, turned almost as severely in profile to the left. The relationships of parts here are not so angular as in the Sansepolcro Pietà and there is a tension in the forms—a tightness of their contours and surfaces—set close together and in a very shallow space that suggest Michelangelo. There is also a graveness about the Louvre painting that seems Michelangelesque in its inspiration. This gravity is without the intellectual complexity of the Allegory on the Birth of Christ and without the somewhat aesthetically overwrought manner of the Pietà drawing although the Louvre painting does share with these works a comparable seriousness of artistic and religious intentions. One senses here also something of the passion of the Martyrdom of Sts. Marcus and Marcellinus without, however, the multiplicity of its effects. In other words the Louvre Pietà can be appreciated as revealing a degree of synthesis or consolidation of the possibilities of expression that these other works explored. The result is a more severe image but one which at the same time possesses a degree of vitality brought about by the artistic experiments and experiences that seem immediately to have preceded it.
Tonally and coloristically the Pietà is similar to but also unlike the Sansepolcro picture and the Christ in Glory in Città di Castello. The conception of them in these terms goes back to the Dei altarpiece and especially to the Marriage of the Virgin. The use of a raking light across an otherwise very dark scene creates in those paintings vivid passages of sometimes pure color against a dark background suggesting Leonardo’s chiaroscuro. In the Sansepolcro and Città di Castello altarpieces the amount of darkness far exceeds what is illuminated, to such an extent, in fact, that the pictures are difficult to read. But color, even where the picture becomes very dark, maintains an expressive value, giving off a kind of ember-like illumination. This is also true of the Louvre Pietà. Here, however, even the atmosphere appears filled with color, a dusky lavender, in which everything is at least partly subsumed. A similar diffusion of lavender seems to appear in some of the Fontainebleau frescoes, especially the Enlightenment of Francis I and the Venus and Minerva, though none of these pictures are as dark as Rosso’s Pietà. But the somber and yet also vital tonality of this painting is one of its most moving effects. This is especially true as one’s attention enters the scene past the brilliant highlights on the Magdalen’s and St. John’s backs and on Christ’s knees. Furthermore, the highlighted richness of the stuffs of the Magdalen’s dress, and of St. John’s pink garment, muscular back and tightly curled hair, present a contrast to the shaded figure immediately behind them. What does not change is the small faceted description of forms that gives to the pictures a quality of brittle and yet also brilliant abstraction. This abstraction tempers the emotion of the scene by deflecting our attention from an unrelieved concentration on the drama that is represented. But the manner in which this abstraction is handled does not severely deform the poses and gestures of the figures nor mitigate to any great extent the plausibility of their eloquence. In these respects this Pietà differs from the composition of Rosso’s drawing of the same subject.
In that apparently somewhat earlier Pietà Christ is shown seated on a small altar, his body, however, placed on a cloth that covers a small pillow from which hangs a tassel. This unusual arrangement suggests the transformation of the sacrificial altar into a kind of throne, and hence may indicate the eventual triumph of Christ over death. In the Louvre painting, with the opening of a cave in the background, there is no altar and Christ’s body is placed directly upon a pillow, or rather, upon four pillows, which are set directly on the ground. The Virgin, too, must be seated on the ground, and the other figures are placed there as well. It is not unusual to have the Christ Child standing, seated or reclining, and sometimes asleep, on a pillow in pictures of the Madonna and Child, but it is not common at all to see the dead Christ placed on a cushion. As in pictures with the sleeping Child the pillows in Rosso’s painting could refer to Christ’s death as a sleep from which he will awake.28 Reading from Rosso’s other Pietà it is also possible to see the pillows as indicating Christ’s royal status. Having been removed from the cross but before being placed in the tomb, his body is gently lowered by the Magdalen and St. John not simply upon the ground but upon this more appropriate first resting place. The nature of this picture as a kind of enthronement is suggested not only by the sumptuousness of the entire picture, including the richness of the tasseled pillows, but also by the care with which Christ’s almost weightless body is handled. The body barely touches the pillow immediately beneath it; the surface of the pillow is not yet depressed by the mass of Christ’s dead form.
By no means conspicuous, the eaglets of Anne de Montmorency that decorate the pillows nevertheless closely identify this Pietà with Francis I’s constable. Half of the crown of the vault—that part toward the altar—of Montmorency’s chapel at tcouen is filled with a huge depiction of his coat-of-arms; the other half is filled with his wife’s escutcheon. His is composed of a cross, the long and short bars of which cross in the center, with four eaglets in each of the equal rectangular areas framed on two sides by the arms of the cross.29 Three or four pillows with eaglets are visible in Rosso’s Pietà, one or two immediately under Christ’s body, one on the far side of his right thigh, and one beneath his knees. The pattern on the pillow under Christ’s left thigh seems to be composed of four eaglets (with one hidden) in its foremost corner. If it is thereby implied that each pillow has four eaglets in a quadrant, then the position of Christ and the four pillows—an alternate fourth could be under Christ’s right thigh—would seem to constitute a kind of equivalent of Montmorency’s coat-of-arms. The use of the pillows bearing his armorial device as the resting place of Christ in his temporary death may be understood to imply Montmorency’s faith that guarantees the temporality also of his own eventual death. No earlier religious painting by Rosso makes this kind of identification with a living individual. But the scenes in the Gallery of Francis I present a somewhat comparable, but secular, emblematic analogy with Francis I, conferring on him both fame and immortality.
The eloquent grandeur of Rosso’s Pietà presents a clarification of Rosso’s art away from the complexities so evident in the Gallery of Francis I. As has already been pointed out certain parts of the decoration of this room presumably dating from around 1536 on indicate quite clearly a new enthusiasm for Michelangelo’s art. But whereas this interest is largely exhibited in the gallery in the largeness of some of the figures and in some of their complicated poses, providing, as it were, quite obvious Michelangelesque references, in the Louvre painting the situation is quite different. No single figure in the Pietà is conceived to indicate a correspondence to Michelangelo’s style. But there is a broad strength, concentration and a sureness in this composition that seriously recalls Michelangelo.
In the ways that the terms of Michelangelo’s art appear in the Louvre Pietà and are assimilated into the terms of Rosso’s style, this painting bears comparison with Rosso’s cartoon of Leda and the Swan in the London Royal Academy (D.74). But dependent as this cartoon is on Michelangelo’s lost painting of the same subject, Rosso’s version is not a mere copy of it. Unfortunately, we cannot know in all respects how it differs from Michelangelo’s painting, or from the lost cartoon of it, both of which arrived in France in 1532. Michelangelo’s own picture was already known to Rosso that year when he had a large frame made for it, and he also knew Del Bene’s painted copy made from Michelangelo’s cartoon. The exclusion of Castor and Pollux and the egg from the Royal Academy cartoon would seem to indicate that it was made from Michelangelo’s lost cartoon rather than from his painting which contained these additional elements, or, more likely, from Del Bene’s copy of it. Nevertheless, the Royal Academy cartoon should first be compared with a copy of the lost painting because Bos’ engraving of it is generally recognized as the most accurate record of Michelangelo’s lost composition. Except for the absence of the details mentioned above there is no reason to believe that stylistically Michelangelo’s lost cartoon presented a significantly different representation of his Leda and the Swan.
Bos’ reversed engraving of Michelangelo’s painting shows a most physical and robust image of Leda, resembling in these respects and in the specification of the details of the figure Michelangelo’s Night in the Medici Chapel. The engraving most probably overelaborates the particulars of Michelangelo’s painting but Bos’ reproduction is not so far removed from the appearance of Michelangelo’s Night as to indicate any serious misrepresentation of the picture he copied. The obvious physicalness, even carnality, of this figure characterizes also Rosso’s most evident Michelangelesque references in the Gallery of Francis I, such as the male nudes flanking the Education of Achilles and the figures surrounding the Death of Adonis, to the lower left of which is a large female nude that must be dependent upon Michelangelo’s Leda. The iconography of these figures, like that of the physically similar one in Rosso’s Enlightenment of Francis I, is certainly a factor that determines their appearance. It is, therefore, all the more remarkable that the Leda and the Swan in the Royal Academy, that is derived from Michelangelo’s image, has not this same degree of emphatic physicalness.
It may be possible to account partly for the different appearance of the London cartoon by supposing that the lost cartoon on which it was based was itself less physically explicit than Michelangelo’s lost painting, and this, then, would also have been true of Del Bene’s painting. Michelangelo’s drawing in the Casa Buonarroti30 for the head of his Leda suggests this possibility. And the severely damaged painted copy in the National Gallery in London, done apparently after Michelangelo’s last cartoon rather than from his painting, likewise seems to indicate that Michelangelo’s cartoon presented a somewhat more tempered physicalness. Nevertheless, the London cartoon differs also from this painting in certain fundamental respects that would seem to indicate that the attitude of the artist of the cartoon was not that of a mere copyist. It is here—in what is not merely copied—that the hand and sensibility of Rosso are revealed, and in ways that relate this cartoon to his Pietà in the Louvre. It may well be that the very making of this cartoon partly determined the kind of grand eloquence that characterizes Rosso’s painting.
Unlike Michelangelo’s Leda there is a lightness of mass in Rosso’s figure created by the generalized smoothness of its surface and by the actual and apparent elongation of its forms. The length of the left leg of Rosso’s Leda from foot to knee forms an almost unbroken arc along its carefully strengthened contour. The knee is higher and more pointed than is that of Michelangelo’s figure and the descent of the thigh is therefore felt to be swifter in Rosso’s cartoon. From the breast to the shoulder and then to the left elbow the alignment of forms in Rosso’s cartoon is more continuous than it appears to be in Bos’ engraving and in the painting in the National Gallery. The whole impression that Rosso’s figure makes is of a pointed elegance and of a tapering and swelling of forms that is more evocative of love than of sex, as appears to have been the case with Michelangelo’s more robust image. A greater degree of abstraction of Rosso’s figure, visible throughout it and especially in the head, which resembles the Magdalen’s in the Louvre painting, removes Rosso’s Leda also from the physical immediacy that must have been so forceful an aspect of Michelangelo’s nude. While the power of Michelangelo’s original figure has been reduced it has been replaced by a more ingratiating loveliness that is not unlike the beauty of the Louvre Pietà.
Throughout the Royal Academy cartoon there is evidence of the care with which Rosso defined the forms and contours of his figure of Leda. Pentimenti are visible everywhere. The contours of the right arm and leg, the most foreshortened elements in the drawing, have been quite clearly drawn and re-drawn in the search for the correct disposition of these limbs. Even more evident is the re-drawing of the breast to extend it forward. Although the cartoon unquestionably adheres closely to Michelangelo’s model, the Pentimenti of Rosso’s drawing do not simply adjust his image to conform more faithfully to that model. They also feel for a different definition. The right arm, for example, is changed away from a first description of it closer to what appears in Bos’ engraving and in the National Gallery painting. Following from these changes others have been made to relate to the former so that in the very center of the drawing the precise relationships of Leda’s right arm, her breast and the neck and head of the swan are quite different from those described by Michelangelo. Consequently Leda’s far shoulder is not visible at all in Rosso’s cartoon. This is not to say that Rosso has improved on Michelangelo’s composition for the London cartoon is in fact less formally clear in places, especially in the area of the swan’s head and Leda’s right shoulder. But it is more personally Rosso’s. However it came about that he embarked on this copy of Michelangelo’s picture, Rosso did not submit himself to mere imitation. His version of the Leda has the aspect both of an intense investigation of Michelangelo’s invention to reproduce its likeness and of a sensitive and individual interpretation of it. Understood as such, the creation of this cartoon may have played a significant role in the clarification and new integration of Rosso’s style that resulted in the Louvre Pietà and ushered in the very remarkable last phase of his artistic career.
However, still within the time that preceded this last phase can be placed another composition, the style of which is very similar to that of the Louvre Pietà. It is an image of the Holy Family framed by figures and ornament similar to those employed in the Gallery of Francis I. This composition is known from three drawings in the British Museum, in Los Angeles, and in the Bibliotheque Nationale (D.75A–C), from a reversed anonymous etching with a few important changes introduced by the etcher (E.153), and from a small painting that was once on the art market in Vienna and is now in Milan.
The drawings must copy quite accurately a lost drawing by Rosso, with the drawing in Los Angeles being the more complete and faithful of the three (although the sketchy scene in the medallion below may be an addition by the copyist). It is reasonable to assume that the frame in Rosso’s drawing was intended to be seen and ultimately to be executed largely as sculpture. Hence, it is most likely that the painting now in Milan was made from a drawing rather than from a lost painting by Rosso. It may be supposed that this composition, because of the nature of its frame, was envisioned as a fresco surrounded by stuccowork for a particular location. No external information, nor anything in the composition itself, allows us to know for sure what place it was invented for, although the image of the Trinity above suggests that it could have been made for the chapel of the Trinitarians at Fontainebleau.31 The large size and rather simple poses and gestures of Joseph and Mary, as well as the handling of the drapery and the drawing of details of the central composition all identify it stylistically with Rosso’s Pietà in the Louvre. Unaccustomed as we are to seeing such a frame as surrounds this Holy Family used for a religious image, the frame appears, at first, somewhat incongruous. But the elements of which it is composed—the sacred lamps, the angels, and even the rich garlands of fruit and vegetables—can be recognized as not inappropriate to the scene they enclose. The three-faced head symbolizing the Trinity in the center of the frame at the top and the rays of light that radiate from it and into the scene of the Holy Family beneath it join the frame to the central image. Nevertheless, a sense of disjunction persists. The invention of the frame seems to belong to a realm of creative endeavor, and one of an earlier moment, that has not quite the same clarity or seriousness of purpose as the attitude that brought forth the scene of the Holy Family. In spite of the possibility of seeing it as thematically appropriate, the frame still appears borrowed from another context and to have been only minimally adapted to serve the religious image that it surrounds.
Iconographically, the Holy Family can be interpreted as a counterpart of the Louvre Pietà. The Christ Child is nude and reclining on the ground, asleep with his back and head resting against a bundle of wheat that is covered with a cloth. Sleep is a metaphor for death, the wheat a reference to the Eucharist, and the cloth a sign of Christ’s special status. But the sleeping child is unusual in Rosso’s painting in the context of its otherwise traditional subject which shows the Virgin kneeling on the ground adoring Him and St. Joseph seated on the ground behind Christ and looking down upon Him. Joseph may also be pointing at the Child. The manner in which Rosso refers to Christ’s death and his placement of Joseph and the Virgin on the ground beside the Child make this composition more than incidentally related to the Louvre Pietà. Both of these images are also emotionally moving in the same grand and ritualistic reverend way.
It is within this period, beginning when the last designs for the Gallery of Francis I were made and preceding what can be recognized stylistically as a quite distinct last phase of his artistic activity, that we can place the initial work of two lost projects, the decoration of the Salle Haute of the Pavilion des Poles and the designing of the choir screen of the choir of the canons of Notre Dame in the cathedral of Paris. For the former no documentation exists that specifies precisely when Rosso conceived it but a drawing, possibly another, several prints and Vasari`s description, and one later comment by Pere Dan, may give us a glimpse of this decoration. For the second there is a considerable number of documents but no visual evidence at all. Nevertheless, some idea of this choir screen designed by Rosso can be had from the records that survive for it. Both projects were completed only after his death.
It seems that the construction of the Pavilion des Poles, at the southwest corner of the large courtyard in front of the Gallery of Francis I and immediately north of the edge of the lake that bordered this courtyard, was begun in 1537 and certainly largely completed by the end of 1539 when Charles V was housed there. It is most likely that some of its rooms were decorated by this time though the documents indicate that a considerable amount of work was done well after Rosso died in November of 1540. No earlier documents or sources actually connect Rosso to the decoration of the Pavillion des Poles. But a long description by Vasari in the 1568 edition of his Lives has been related to the decoration of a room at the very top of this pavilion, referred to in the documents as the “grande salle haute” or simply the “salle haute”. After discussing the Gallery of Francis I, Vasari wrote that Rosso “then decorated another room called the pavilion, because it is above the first floor and above all the other rooms and has the form of a pavilion; this room he decorated from the floor to the “archibanchi” with various and beautiful ornaments in stucco and [with] evenly spaced full round figures, with putti, festoons, and various kinds of animals; and in each division of the walls [he painted] a seated figure in fresco, in such great number that there are seen all the ancient and pagan gods and goddesses: and at the top, above the windows, is a frieze with rich stucco ornament, but without paintings” (L.69). From the exterior views of this room in Du Cerceau’s prints and in one of his drawings the Salle Haute appears as a loggia open on three sides above a low enclosing wall, with three arches on the west and east and five on the south giving views over the gardens and woods that surrounded the chateau. There may be a winged putto’s head above the center of each arch. The north side is closed in Du Cerceau’s view from that direction; it is probable that such was the case when the Pavilion des Poles was constructed as a more or less isolated structure for there would have been no special advantage in having a view from the Salle Haute to the north across the roofs of nearby buildings (although another print by Du Cerceau indicates that probably later a window was opened at the far east end of the north wall when the Cour de la Fontaine was completed). It is possible, however, that the interior face of the north wall was articulated like the others, but with blind arches, to continue the appearance of a loggia. Vasari’s description of the decoration of this wide room suggests a consistent disposition of elements all around without any special design given to a long back wall.
As Vasari never saw the Salle Haute his description of it cannot be wholly relied upon. His informant, however, does seem to have given him an account of a particular room, the architectural character of which resembles what Du Cerceau’s designs show as being the loggia at the upper level of the Pavilion des Poles. With the exception of the north wall, whatever its architectural arrangement may have been, there could not have been any large wall areas in the Salle Haute. Its ceiling was probably flat. Vasari mentions a freize above the windows but no decoration above that which there would certainly have been had the room been vaulted. His description suggests that the room was to a large extent decorated from the floor to the ceiling with stucco reliefs, garlands and almost full-rounded figures, and that only the “spartimenti de’ piani,” by which he seems to mean the vertical wall areas of the piers between the arches, were painted with seated gods and goddesses. There could have been as many as twenty of these figures, the very number that Rosso designed, and Caraglio engraved, in Rome, or only twelve if none appeared on the angled corner piers. These must have been framed in stucco, like the pictures in the gallery, and it is possible that the stucco ornament above and below had areas of painted decoration associated with them. There was wood paneling with salamanders around the bottom of this loggia.
Although the Pavilion des Poles has been destroyed a drawing of Apollo in the Louvre (D.76), an engraving made from it (E.151), and unique impressions of three etchings of Rosso’s designs would appear to be related to the painted gods and goddesses that Vasari said decorated the Salle Haute. A second autograph drawing of a Female Head in Profile in Turin (D.77) may have been made one of the deities. The Louvre drawing shows Apollo, nude and seated in the clouds upon a bundle of drapery, holding a lyre in his left hand and the flayed skin of Marsyas in the other. At his feet is a long canister which is probably a quiver. He is set within a format defined by a half circle above and below, and by straight sides set slightly in from the circumferences of the circles. This frame is not reproduced in the engraving. But an etching of the same figure (E.60), based on another more detailed and probably slightly later drawing the upper and lower circular areas now rectangular instead (best seen in the better preserved lower part of the print) and the indented sides shown in perspective as cut away from a slab. (The flayed skin has here been replaced by a length of fur [a tail?] or feathers which is probably the result of a misreading by the etcher of Rosso’s lost drawing.) This also appears in an etching of Diana by the same printmaker (E.61) that was based on another drawing by Rosso for the decoration of the Salle Haute. Thus it would seem that the gods and goddesses were intended either to be painted on raised slabs on the piers of this room, or were designed to give this illusion. (Alternately the slabs at the sides could be read as raised instead of the central area but the prints do not really indicate this.) Diana, nude with drapery flying around her, has just shot an arrow from the bow that she holds in her right hand (perhaps indicating that the print is in reverse of Rosso’s lost drawing although the related etching of Apollo is not). She, too, is set upon clouds. The drawing in Turin could almost be a study for the profile head of Diana, but may rather be for another lost figure.
The third etching (E.152) shows Venus, fully clothed and seated upon a bank of clouds, reaching down to nude Cupid, who stands at her feet with a quiver hanging down his back. She holds Paris’ golden ball in her left hand which is raised to the level of her waist.
In addition to the seated gods and goddesses painted on the piers, of which three are known from prints, a drawing, and the head of another possibly from the drawing in Turin, an etching by Fantuzzi (E.88) might be related to the richly ornate stucco frieze that Vasari mentioned was situated above the windows. The etching, in reverse of the lost drawing from which it was made, shows what must be a section of a band of ornament of a series of large and small round areas, or of a sequence of large ovals and smaller round areas, surrounded by strapwork, within and upon which are seated and reclining winged putti and a young nude woman with a crescent moon above her forehead. There also appear in the frieze satyrs, masks, a female head, and a lion’s head together with garlands of fruits and vegetables. A small satyr crouching below appears to have his arms tied behind his back with a length of rope that is attached to a hole in an adjacent curved slab. The details of this ornament would have been appropriate to a series of gods and goddesses below even if the frieze showed the figure of Diana again. The circular and oval areas would probably have contained stucco narrative scenes (which would not have been included in the lost drawing, the blank areas then filled with landscapes by Fantuzzi.
With so few pieces of visual evidence it may be somewhat presumptuous to draw conclusions about the stylistic character of the decoration of the Salle Haute. But the Louvre drawing and the etchings present a style that can be assessed to some extent and seen in relation to Rosso’s other work. The seated figures of Apollo and Diana bear some resemblance to Europa and Phylira that flank the Royal Elephant in the Gallery of Francis I. These figures have similar elongated proportions and postures with shoulders seen turned toward the front against heads in profile and the limbs extended laterally emphasizing the length of thigh and leg. It may be possible, however, to recognize in the Diana and Apollo, set within the close confines of their frames, more carefully articulated and grander figures. Although physically unlike the robust Michelangelesque nudes that flank the Education of Achilles, they do share with them a largeness of effect and imposing presence also tightly set within specially shaped frames. The same is true of the figure of Venus which is quite unlike any figure in the Gallery of Francis I. Even compared with the large stucco statues in the gallery, even if the actual plasticity of them presents quite different compositions, the Apollo, Diana, and Venus as more finely shaped figures. While this may not be so obvious in the Venus because this figure, unlike Apollo and Diana, is so abundantly covered with drapery, nevertheless even she has about her a kind of decorous luxury that seems different from anything in this gallery. One might speak here of a kind of controlled opulence that balances the measured elegance of the other nude god and goddess. In both these respects these figures bring to mind Rosso’s Pietà in the Louvre. Even the psychological seriousness of this picture seems to find its secular equivalent in these representations of Apollo, Diana, and Venus with Cupid. There is some reason, therefore, to believe that the conception of the decoration of the Salle Haute dates from a moment, perhaps in 1537 or 1538, after the designs for the Gallery of Francis I were completed and just at the time that the construction of the Pavilion des Poles was begun. The execution of the decoration of the Salle Haute seems not to have been completed at the time of Rosso’s death. In February of 1542, Scibec de Carpi was paid for woodwork in the room, an indication, perhaps, that its decoration was then largely finished. If this is true then we might assume that Rosso’s designs of the stuccoes and frescoes in the Salle Haute may have been carried out to some extent still under his direction.
Were it not for the fact that so much of Rosso’s work at Fontainebleau has been lost it would not be quite so necessary to gain whatever picture we can of the decoration of the Salle Haute. It is true that the decoration of the Gallery of Francis I was a grander project and was Rosso’s most important French commission. And yet alone it does not give us an indication of the full possibilities of Rosso’s capabilities as an inventor of grand decorative schemes. What little knowledge we have of the Salle Haute does not suggest any significant change from the kind of decoration that he used in the gallery except that the former apparently had no large narrative paintings in it, although it may have had small stucco scenes in the frieze. But the decoration of the Salle Haute seems to have been less complex, and thereby it may also have been less perplexing, visually and intellectually. The regular sequence of its painted gods and goddesses would have been more easily comprehended than the welter of esoteric subjects that surround one in the gallery. Nor would there seem to have been in the Salle Haute that kind of alternation of stucco and painting that makes each of the wall areas in the gallery, in spite of the common tripartite division of all of them, so unlike the wall areas that adjoin it. It would seem that the architecture of the Salle Haute did not allow for the expanses of invention that were possible in the gallery. But it may also be said that the broader wall areas in the gallery did not necessarily require the extraordinary richness of their decoration although the intent of the monarchical program of the gallery would have prompted and possibly required it. In turn the decoration of the Salle Haute was very probably more controlled by a regularly ordered scheme of design and subject matter than needed to have been the case in this room built largely for the pleasure it provided. But details such as Apollo holding the flayed skin of Marsyas, Diana shooting an arrow, and Venus holding the anxious looking Cupid would have lent emotional poignancy to that pleasure. While we will never know for sure it is likely that the stuccoes and frescoes of the Salle Haute presented a finer and grander accomplishment of the kind of decoration that appears in the Gallery of Francis I.
There are a few other lost works by Rosso, some of which have already been briefly mentioned, that should be more fully discussed here in order to give evidence of the extent and diversity of Rosso’s artistic activity in France. No visual material survives for any of them so it is not possible to be precise about when they were done. Nevertheless, documents indicate that some at least were begun in the period under consideration. The others, on the basis of a posthumous document, for one, and of Vasari’s comments could have been begun in this period, or later, but quite probably not before.
Just one month after he received his canonicate in the Chapter of the Cathedral of Notre Dame, Rosso was commissioned by the canons, on 27 October 1537, to make a design for a bronze or copper “cloture” in their church (L.62). His design was for the replacement or completion of a “cloture” or choir screen placed at the east end of the choir of the canons. The choir occupied three bays of the nave of the cathedral east of the transept, and was enclosed on the north, south and west sides by high stalls and stone screens, with an entrance in the center of the west side. The east side was also enclosed by a stone screen but this had been ordered taken down by Francis I in December 1518 to provide space for a ceremony celebrating a treaty with the English. Between 1519 and 1521 a new screen was begun by a caster, entirely made of bronze or copper, and provisionally installed in the church. New funds from the king became available in 1534 but it was only three years later that the canons decided to renew work on this choir screen.
Whether or not Rosso was to incorporate into his design the work cast and installed more than a decade earlier cannot be determined. His initial contract merely specifies that he, too, was to design a bronze or copper screen. On 7 December 1537 he was charged with overseeing the execution of this project implying, at least, that he had already made a design of his own by this time. However, five months later Rosso seems to have changed his mind for on 14 May 1538 he made a contract with the woodcarver Scibec de Carpi for the execution of the “cloture.” In August a contract was made with Gilles Jourdain for the casting in bronze or copper of parts of this project. And in December the canons were charged to look for some fine black marble for the screen. The payments to Scibec and his long occupation on this work clearly indicate that Rosso’s design was now largely conceived in wood with only parts of it to be executed in bronze or copper and black marble. This seems to suggest that Rosso was not now planning to use the earlier and incomplete screen, though it could have been abandoned even before this moment. If it was used by Rosso initially and later, we still do not know if his first project entirely in bronze or copper was of a wholly different design from the later one employing several materials. Still the change to wood with only parts in bronze or copper and black marble does suggest a different kind of design.
From a declaration made by Scibec after Rosso’s death and from several other documents the following account can be given of the designing and execution of this screen. At the time of the first contract with Scibec, Rosso furnished him with a drawing from which the woodcarver executed a large part of the screen but not the portal. At this time he had not yet received the parts in metal and black marble which he was to assemble with the wood members of the screen to complete Rosso’s design. The remarks by Scibec concerning these details might suggest that it was the portal that was to contain the metal and marble parts. On 22 October 1539, that is almost a year and a half after the first contract was made with Scibec, a new project for the “cloture” was accepted by the canons. This date is probably to be related to the second drawing that Scibec declared he received from Rosso, a drawing detailing a project requiring twice as much work or more than the first one. This Scibec executed, with the exception of the marble and cast parts and the final touches and varnishing of the wood. On 12 January 1540 the canons received another design from Rosso and decided to ask Scibec and Joudain to execute it. Scibec described the third drawing he received from Rosso as indicating a change of the columns and of the door of the choir screen; Scibec also declared that this was a much more costly project. It was not completed when Rosso died on 14 November 1540. In February of the following year the Chapter of Notre Dame decided that Jourdain should pursue the casting of the bronze or copper parts of the screen. And on 11 January 1542 the canons agreed to have Scibec’s woodwork transported into the choir to see if it conformed to Rosso’s design. Twelve days later Scibec and Jourdain were pressed to finish the work and in March Scibec promised to complete the woodwork, supply the founder with the molds—which would seem, therefore, to have been made from wood forms carved by Scibec—and to make in wood painted black those parts that originally were to be executed in black marble. After the screen was finally set up in Notre Dame in the first half of 1543, it was gilt, the bronze possibly entirely, the wood in part. Bronze or copper angels were planned for some part of the screen and may well have been executed instead of the wood candelabra which the canons thought might be used instead. The angels were most probably at the top of the screen. The screen was made to be taken down temporarily when necessary and reassembled. It was in fact taken down for the funeral of Francis I in 1547, and put back up again in 1552. Shortly after 1615 it seems to have been removed and never put up again.
It is, unfortunately, impossible from the written evidence to have almost any visual conception of what Rosso’s “cloture” looked like. From the very beginning it must have spanned the entire breadth of the nave of Notre Dame and therefore must always have been a project of considerable size though probably not a very massive one if it was meant to be easily dismantled, stored, and reassembled. As a choir screen it would have been an open structure to allow the canons to see mass offered at the high altar of the cathedral placed just two bays farther east from the screen. Rosso’s second project for Scibec was more elaborate than the first but it was not necessarily any higher. It was probably no higher than the choir stalls, or at least not much higher, if it matched in its size the enclosure at the west end of the choir. The third project changed the columns and the door—obviously a central door like that at the west—and was much more costly. This door was probably slightly higher than the screen like the door at the west. It is likely that the partial gilding of the screen and the inclusion of bronze or copper angels (also gilt?) or wooden candelabra were part of Rosso’s final design, and possibly of his earlier ones also. As the structure of the screen was basically of wood—otherwise Scibec’s work could probably not have been even temporarily installed in January 1542 to see if it conformed to Rosso’s idea—the bronze and black wood parts must have been attached to or set into or upon the woodwork and not placed actually to support the basic weight of the screen. Furthermore, if the molds (or models?) for the castor were made by Scibec and the black marble parts were substituted with wood carved by him they were most probably architectural and decorative parts of the screen rather than figured reliefs or statues. It is possible that the central door was flanked by columns. Given that it was the doorway that was first not executed, along with the metal and marble parts, and then quite late changed by Rosso, before all the metal parts were cast and the marble parts carved at all, it is possible that it was the portal that was especially elaborated with these materials.
Whatever the specific details were of its design Rosso’s “cloture” was undoubtedly a large work of a kind probably as much in the nature of church furniture as of architecture. But it could also have had a monumental aspect, especially around the portal. The architectural and decorative vocabulary of this screen could have resembled to some extent that of the earlier Desian for an Altar in the British Museum (D.38) but without its elaborate use of sculpture, but because it was a more open structure it may also have borne some resemblance to the Desian for a Cantoral Baton (D.73) that Rosso designed for the Chapter of Notre Dame about the same time. In any case the lost “cloture” gives us another piece of evidence of Rosso’s activity as an architect or architectural designer for which he was praised by Vasari and, according to him, employed by Francis I at whose expense the “cloture” was made.
The Design for a Cantoral Baton for Notre Dame in a private collection was made probably in January or February of 1538, and executed by a goldsmith and gilder in sliver gilt by April of that year. Although details of the the tempietto at the top of the baton relate it to Rosso’s Design for an Altar done in Arezzo in 1529, the later architectural conception, while less extensive, is more sophisticated in the finer articulation of its parts. Whereas the earlier design shows in several places a rather awkward abutment of forms the tempietto of the cantoral baton shows no unresolved conjunctions. The columns and their arrangement as supports of small buttresses recall the lantern of the Medici Chapel at S. Lorenzo, making one wonder if Rosso was again here influenced by drawings that Antonio Mini had brought to France in 1532. Rosso added a pilaster along the inner face of the column-buttress ensemble, and while Michelangelo’s lantern is an eight-sided closed structure, Rosso’s very small tempietto—apparently of six sides—is open, and supports only a series of open arches carrying a fleur de lis. Within this little structure and on a base decorated with cherub’s heads and wings is placed a statuette of the Virgin, standing with the nude Christ Child in her right arm and a book propped with her left hand against her thigh. The Virgin was the patron of the cathedral and of the Chapter of Notre Dame, of which Rosso had become a canon only three months before he designed the cantoral baton. The breasts of the Virgin, with clearly marked nipples, appear uncovered, but it is likely that a few pen lines above her belt indicate that this is not actually the case. As with the architecture, the statuette of the Virgin and Child appears as a more clearly conceived group than the similar statue of Charity at the top of the Design for an Altar visible in Alberti’s engraving of it (E.4).
On 19 December 1537 Rosso was commissioned to make a design of some stonework for the repair of the vaults in the region of the “altaris ardentium” at the end of the chevet of Notre Dame (L.63). What specifically this project was cannot be determined from the document that gives us this information. It could, however, be related to another lost work, a certain “ymaginus supra voltas” of Notre Dame which was left unfinished at Rosso’s death, and for which survived a cartoon or drawing (L.64 and L.65). From a document of 7 February 1538 (DOC. 35) in which Rosso is granted the privilege of wearing lay clothes while occupied with working on paintings in the cathedral, we might conclude that he was in fact executing a picture in Notre Dame at that time, that is, just two months after he had been commissioned to repair some vaults in the cathedral. In the second edition of the Lives Vasari reported that after Rosso’s death there were among his possessions two cartoons, one of Leda, the other representing “la Sibilla Tiburtina, the mostra a Ottaviano Imperadore la Vergine gloriosa, con Christo nato in collo. Et in questo fece it Re Francesco, la reins, la guardia e it popolo, con Canto numero di figure, a st ben fatte, the si pub dire con verith, the questa fusse una delle belle case the mai facesse it Rosso…” (L.67). In the first edition of the Lives Vasari mentioned only one cartoon, without stating its subject, and says it was “per fare una tavola alla Congregazione del capitolo, done era canonico.” (L.66). This must be a reference to Rosso’s canonicate at Notre Dame for just a few lines earlier he made reference to Rosso’s other canonicate at Ste. Chapelle. One might have assumed that Rosso’s “ymaginus supra voltas” was a wall painting but Vasari spoke in 1550 of the lost cartoon as for a panel painting. It is, however, very possible that Vasari was mistaken here. The situation is not clear and the documents and Vasari’s comments may be referring to more than one work. Nevertheless, it is likely that Rosso began working on a picture, probably a large one, of Augustus and Tiburtine Sibyl very late in 1537 or in 1538 and that it was planned for Notre Dame, the scene of a celestial vision an appropriate one for a vault. In any case, containing as it did portraits of Francis I and the Queen it must have been an important painting destined for an important place to identify Francis I, his queen, his court and his countrymen with Augustus and his vision. Its intent may have been similar, in part, to Rosso’s Francis I Adoring the Virgin and Child which shows the king with his two sons.
Vasari also reported in 1568: “Lavore di sua mano it Rosso…un san Michele, the & Cosa rara…” (L.76). No other notice of this painting—and not merely a cartoon, it would seem—has been found. Given, however, the importance of the Order of St. Michael, of which Francis I was a member, Rosso’s lost painting was very probably a significant work, and very possibly painted for the king. There is no evidence as to when this picture was executed.
In the summer of 1537, in late June or early July, Cellini arrived in Paris seeking to serve Francis I. According to the sculptor’s account he set out to find Rosso, to whom he had lent money in Rome and protected against Raphael’s pupils, who had wanted to kill him for speaking ill of Raphael’s works, and against Antonio da San Gallo the Younger, of whom Rosso had also spoken ill.32 Cellini expected to be repaid by Rosso and to gain his assistance in obtaining royal employment. His story continues:
“When Rosso sets eyes on me, his countenance changed suddenly, and he exclaimed: `Benvenuto, you have taken this long journey at great charges to your loss; especially at this present time, when all men’s thoughts are occupied with war, and not with the bagatelles of our profession.’ I replied that I had brought money enough to take me back to Rome as I had come to Paris, and that this was not the proper return for the pains I had endured for him, and that now I began to believe what Maestro Antonio da San Gallo said of him. When he tried to turn the matter into jest on this exposure of his baseness, I showed him a letter of exchange for five hundred crowns upon Ricciardo del Bene. Then the rascal was ashamed, and wanted to detain me almost by force; but I laughed at him, and took my leave…
“Afterwards I sought audience of the King, through the introduction of his treasurer, Messer Giuliano Buonaccorti. I met, however, with considerable delays, owing, as I did not then know, to the strenuous exertions Rosso made against my admission to his Majesty. When Messer Giuliano became aware of this he took me down at once to Fontana Bilio, and brought me into the presence of the King, who granted me a whole hour of very gracious audience.”33
This episode of 1537 was remembered and recalled by Cellini over twenty years later but it still conveys the emotion of a recent experience. If this were the only such detail we had of Rosso’s personal life we might attribute the temperament it described more to Cellini’s egotism than to Rosso’s own personality. But as we have other evidence of Rosso’s contrariness, Cellini’s story impresses one as basically true. It seems to indicate defensiveness on Rosso’s part in regard to his privileged position in France, and also in regard to his own personal success and wealth. Only when Cellini proved that he had sufficient money of his own did Rosso feel shame and become friendly, though apparently with a certain insistence that was not exactly cordial or convincing. For Cellini took his leave and went to lodge in the house of Squazzella, another Florentine painter resident in Paris, “at so much per week.” This story could be very easily passed over were it not for the fact that it bears some relation to Vasari’s account of Rosso’s death slightly more than three years later. According to Vasari Rosso’s death was a suicide which resulted from an event also involving a friend, money and shame. Cellini was again in Paris at the end of October 1544, just a few weeks before Rosso died, but he made no mention in his autobiography of having seen Rosso then. But years later when Cellini recalled a slightly later moment of this trip to France he praised Rosso highly as he wrote of Primaticcio, “an Italian and a Bolognese”: “He was… an excellent master of design, and had collected round him a troop of workers formed in the school of Rosso, our Florentine painter who was undoubtedly an artist of extraordinary merit; his [Primaticcio’s] own best qualities indeed, were derived from the admirable manner of Rosso, who by this time had died.”34 In spite of his unfavorable memories Cellini still found it possible to recognize the excellence of Rosso’s art, although in this instance partly, no doubt, to point up the superiority of a Florentine artist over a Bolognese one.
1 Rosso died 14 November 1540. The earliest dated print after a work of his is Fantuzzi’s etching of 1542 of the Sacrifice (E.77). His other prints, including a significant number after Rosso, all seem to have been done at Fontainebleau from around 1542 to around 1545. The Parisian engraver Pierre Milan may also have begun reproducing Rosso’s designs in the early 1540s, but perhaps already in the 1530s. There is evidence of a printmaker at Fontainebleau already in 1535, and one print by Ldon Davent (Master L.D.) is dated 1540 (see Zerner, 1965, XXIII, XXXIIIXXXIV, XXXV–XXXVIII). These details suggest, at least, the possibility that Rosso considered making drawings for prints in France as earlier he had made them in Rome. One might suspect, given the precise nature of most of his drawings and the kind of prints that Caraglio made from Rosso’s very detailed drawings that Rosso was interested in engraving rather than etching. Zerner (1569, XXXVIII–XXXIX), speaking of the engravings of Domenico del Barbiere, Ldon Davent (Master L.D.), and Pierre Milan, expressed the opinion that Rosso himself may have encouraged engraving in France. It has been thought that Barbiere’s Fame, after Rosso (E.5), was done before Rosso died. Davis, 1988, 14–15, thought that printmaking at Fontainebleau did not begin until after Primaticcio’s return from Italy following Rosso’s death, and that it was he who probably inherited Rosso’s drawings, supplying them to the Fontainebleau printmakers, especially the engravers. The unsystematic reproduction of Rosso’s drawings seems rather to suggest that his drawings were scattered before Primaticcio got back. The engravings seem to have been made in Paris.
2 Panofsky, 1965, 53.
3 Panofsky, 1965, 34.
4 See Panofsky, 1965, 4–5, n.4.
5 Panofsky, 1965, 34–36.
6 Panofsky, 1958, 176, n. 112.
7 Ovid-Miller, 1926, I, 292–295, Book VI, lines 70–82, relating Poseidon’s gift of sea-water, but also indicating the presence of the gods and of Victory that Rosso shows.
8 Bdguin, 1989, 289. She also proposed dean d’Angouldme, but he was not a king, and St. Louis, which is possible but given other aspects of the drawing less likely, I think, than Clovis I. Bdguin thought it unlikely that it represents Charlemagne. See Seward, 1973, 146, who states, on the authority of the Librarian at Blois, that in 1518 among “the books which the King commonly carries with him” were the chronicles of Clovis and the Kinds of France.
9 See Knecht, 1982, 51–65, 274–277.
10 Bdguin, 1989, 828, 18, identified the two boys as Francis and Henry, comparinging their appearance here to that in a miniature datable to 1534 which, according to Bdguin, shows the King with courtiers, and his two elder sons. But there are three identically dressed youths in the miniature which must be all three sons. This strengthens the probability that with only two sons, also identically dressed, in the drawing that it was done after the death of the eldest.
11 Bdguin, 1989, 829, suggested that the painting was done for the king, or for Ste. Chapelle or for Notre Dame in Paris, of which Rosso had been made a canon in 1532 and 1537 respectively. Rosso did plan a work for Notre Dame (see L.63–67) but there is no indication that its subject was that of this drawing and some suggestion that it was of Augustus and the Tiburtine Sibyl.
12 See Roy, 1929, 152.
13 For their story and the passages quoted below, see The Golden Legend of Jacobus de VoraQine, translated and adopted by Granger Ryan and Hermut Ripperger, London–New York–Toronto, 1941, I, 105—108.
14 Biblioteca Sanctorum, Rome, VIII, 1966, col. 743, and XI, 1968, col. 794.
15 In S. Sebastiano, Venice (see Terisio Pignatti, Le uitture di Paolo Veronese nella chiesa di S. Sebastiano in Venezia, Milan, 1966, 93, and Figs. 51–63).
16 In the Koninklijk Museum voor Schone Kunsten, Antwerp (see David Freedberg, “The Representation of Martyrdom During the Early Counter-Reformation in Antwerp,” HM, CXVIII, 1976, 128–131,and Fig. 6.
17 Tolnay, III, 1948, 190–191.
18 1860-6-16-3; see Wilde, 1953, 64–65, no. 32, and Pls. LIV andLVI; Berenson, 1938, no. 2485, Fig. 746, as Sebastiano delPiombo; Hirst, 1988, 48–50, Pls. 88–89. as Michelangelo.
19 Teyler Museum, no. 19 recto; Berenson, 1938, no. 2480 recto, Fig. 747, as Sebastiano del Piombino; Hirst, 1988, 48–50, Pl. 91, as Michelangelo. Although the attribution of this drawing and the one in the British Museum (see preceding note) to Michelangelo is not universally recognized their compositions would, nevertheless, seem to indicated one that Rosso may have known in France from an original drawing or drawings by Michelangelo.
20 See Freedberg, 1971, 329–330, 503, ns. 47–48; 1975, 478–479, 702, ns. 47–48.
21 Panofsky, 1958, 125, 167–168, n.28.
22 Lynette Bosch suggested to me that this figure is a reference to Gabriel.
23 On the midwives and the first bath, see Schiller, 1971, 63–65.
24 On the chin-chuck motif, see Steinberg, 1970, 280–283.
25 See D.72 under COPIES, and on the identification of such acrown as composed of ivy rather than vine leaves, see John Shearman, “The exhibition for Andrea del Sarto’s fifth centenary,” BM, CXXIX, 1987, 550, regarding Santo’s St. John the Baptist in Worchester.
26 On the first bath and the baptism, see Schiller, 1971, 64, 65, 128.
27 On the relation of the Pietà theme to that of the Death of Adonis, see Steinberg, 1970, 238–239.
28 See Goffen, Rona, “Icon and Vision. Giovanni Bellini’s Half Length Madonnas,” AB, LVII, 1975?, 452.
29 See Hoffmann, 1970, Figs. 19–20.
30 No. 7F; see Barocchi, 1962, no. 122, Fig. 184.
31 The representation of the Trinity in this image prompts one to identify it with the Chapel of the Holy Trinity at Fontainebleau. But this chapel dates from after Rosso’s time. Nevertheless, it is possible that Rosso’s design was intended for the earlier chapel of the Trinitarians at Fontainebleau. It is possible that another decoration utilizing stucco and painting for a religious site, in Paris or at Fontainebleau, is indicated by an anonymous print of a cartouche with cherubs framing a representation of the Assumption of the Magdalen (E.159, Fig. ).
32 On these issues, see Chapter V.
33 Cellini-Ferrero, 1971, 292–294, translation by J.A. Symonds, The Life of Benvenuto Cellini Written by Himself, New York, 1949, 186–188.
34 Cellini-Ferrero, 1971, 424; Symonds translation (see preceding note), 289–290.