The reconstruction of the last period of Rosso’s activity in France is largely a matter of conjecture based primarily upon the evidence of a certain number of works that present a style clearly his but that in several ways is different from that of all his other works. Not a single one of the supposed late works that survives is securely documented, nor do the works themselves suggest any sequence that might allow for a chronological arrangement of them. Consequently, what can be thought of as the work of the last two or three years of his life must be viewed as constituting a kind of comprehensive activity producing an art in various modes that is grander than before, and, one is inclined to say, in certain respects more wise. The sensibility and intuitions they reflect seem more fully and deeply considered than before, and to such an extent that one is encouraged to recognize at the end of Rosso’s career the phenomenon of what may be called—although he never became very old by modern standards—a “late style.” This late style contains much, in its clarity and rigor, of what was so essential in the art of his early years before he set out for Rome. But the conflict of feelings that so often marked earlier art with its own special significance tends now to be resolved into more comprehensive, if not necessarily more singular, statements.
The surviving works of his last years are almost evenly divided between those of mythological and those of Christian subjects. But no difference of temperament seems to separate these two classes of works. This is not altogether new in Rosso’s art, but neither is it exactly the same as it was earlier. The secular works are now less narrative and partake more of the symbolic or ritualistic character of his finest religious creations, including his latest ones. The new impression that the mythological works make also lead one to acknowledge Rosso’s late style as being more than merely a culmination of all that went before. Some of his last works of art seem also to bear witness to Rosso’s own knowledge that they were his final creations.
Rosso’s late Three Fates, showing the figures nude, is known from an uninscribed engraving attributed to Pierre Milan (E.145). A seventeenth century reference suggests that it may be related to a lost painting. There is no doubt from what is presented in Milan’s fine print that this image is Rosso’s invention and it is very likely that the engraving is a highly faithful reproduction, even in its details, of the lost original work, though Milan probably worked from a lost drawing rather than a painting. The figures’ gestures suggest that the print is in the same direction as Rosso’s lost work.
So far as we know the subject of the Three Fates occupied Rosso only once before when he designed, in France, a series of three costumes for the Fates that are reproduced in another engraving by Milan (E.104). These fully clothed figures have almost nothing in common with the later image. Quite clearly the differences of these two works are dependent on the fact that the first was made for translation into costumes for use in some kind of pageant, while the other carries its meaning within its own pictorial terms. Their only real similarity is that while Lachesis, in both, draws out a single thread, Atropos rips apart a whole skein of wool. Besides being nude all three later Fates are shown young while the costumed figures represent different ages. This is one of the most remarkable aspects of Rosso’s later Three Fates that gives it its special significance.
Being young and nude as well as slender and graceful, these three figures have also something of the aspect of the Three Graces. They are not unlike the Graces in Rosso’s own Mars and Venus drawing of 1530 (D.42), though they resemble even more the figure of Venus in this drawing who also wears a band across her back and under her breasts as do two of the later Fates. The figures in the engraving are also very much elongated and although the proportions of two of them present a canon of proportions that can be found elsewhere in Rosso’s art, as in the Mars and Venus, in the Nymph of Fontainebleau, and in the Saturn and Philyra at the right of the Royal Elephant in the Gallery of Francis I, the central figure of Atropos is lengthened beyond that of any other figure by Rosso, including the elongated figure of Christ in the Louvre Pietá. Although it is possible that the proportions of Atropos and something of the grace of the poses of all three Fates may be dependent upon Primaticcio’s art1 this need not be the case and probably is not. For both of these factors are sufficiently well presented in Rosso’s own earlier works to explain their appearance in this scene provided one realizes the extent to which they are employed in the Three Fates as related to Rosso’s more developed conceptual intentions late in his career.
The grace of Rosso’s figures, with an expansiveness in Atropos and a torsion in the other two Fates that makes all three quite unlike Primaticcio’s figures, almost certainly is meant to remind us of the Three Graces,2 and as Vasselin has suggested Rosso’s image may be dependent on Raphael’s Three Graces in the Farnesina, possibly through Marcantonio’s engraving.3 Neither the grace, the nudity, nor the sensuousness of Rosso’s figures are necessarily attributes of the Fates. As to the elongation of Atropos, it makes her cruciform shape not only dominate the picture, allowing also her terrifying gesture to be spread over the other two figures, but it makes possible as well the appearance of her vulva in the very center of the picture. The positions of her legs, with one brought very far down, made possible because she is placed so high up in the scene, and the other raised, expose the center of her sexuality as seems not required in the depiction of this or any one of the Fates. However, if these three Fates are to be seen with reference to the Graces, the attendants of Venus, then the sexuality of Rosso’s figures has its just place here. One may wonder if the other details in the picture do not also refer, if only obliquely, to subjects beyond the usual realm of the Fates themselves, Atropos’ turban and veil, for example, which may suggest Old Age and give her a sibylline aspect. Clothos sits, precariously, upon a basket of flowers; is she meant therefore to be seen also as Flora, or Spring, or Youth, or as signifying abundance and freshness? Lachesis wears a crown and her seat or throne resembles a chariot pulled by lions; are these attributed possibly a reference to Cybele? Alongside the throne is a bundle of fruit, suggesting Maturity. The sky appears darkening, in sympathy, it would seem, with Atropos’ fateful gesture. Her face, turned away from the light, is in shadow. Such multiple associations appear throughout Rosso’s art, especially in the works he produced in France, and they seem appropriate here in relation to his conception of the meaning of the Three Fates.4
In spite of its eroticism which makes so seductive the inevitable threat of the Three Fates, Rosso’s image is remarkably dispassionate. It is far removed from the blatant physicalness of Rosso’s erotic Pluto and Proserpina designed in Rome (E.46). But the Three Fates does not have that kind of distancing by abstraction that characterizes the Moses defending the Daughters of Jethro, the composition of which is also centered on the genitals of its main protagonist. The fine elegance of Rosso’s Fates removes them from the merely plausible and hence from what is commonly understandable. It is the pictorial equivalent of a kind of meaning that lies beyond a rational mode of comprehension. In this respect the figure of Atropos especially recalls the slender saints in the Villamagna altarpiece of 1521. Rosso’s Fates, however, exhibit a grace that these earlier stark saints do not. The irrationality of Rosso’s women is conveyed to us as graceful and alluring. But also as threatening.
The Three Fates, done late in Rosso’s life, bears a certain relation to his much earlier and Florentine Virtu Vanquishing Fortune, in Darmstadt. That drawing also deals with fate in the sense that it is Fortune’s apparently arbitrary behavior that determines man’s destiny. The recondite fact that Fortune carried the fortune that she distributed in her breasts led Rosso to a most extraordinary depiction of his subject. Rosso’s choice to show Virtu conquering Fortune by ripping off her breast is probably the most idiosyncratic artistic decision of his entire career. The degree of cruelty this drawing exhibits, considering that this subject could have been depicted otherwise, reflects an almost totally exasperated temperament. It is also possible that Rosso’s abnormal interpretation of this theme indicates a fierce sexual vindictiveness. Stylistically the drawing is sharp and brittle, and perhaps even petulant in its expression. But the Virtu Vanquishing Fortune is also bizarre, and so savage and final in its meaning, that, while it interests one, at the same time it repels one as almost too obscenely personal. The Three Fates offers a different level and a different range of significance. Its sexuality is frank but also compelling because the figures are so grand and so eloquent in their postures and gestures. This eloquence insinuates their sexuality into their identity as the Fates and then leads us to experience the tragic consequences indicated by Atropos’s gesture. We are in fact invited into the scene that leads us to this end by Lachesis’s glance toward us. But this experience through Rosso’s art does not appear motivated here by such private concerns as seems to have been the case with the Virtu Vanauishina Fortune. Rosso’s late style has transformed what must have been very individual intuitions about fate and sex into more than idiosyncratic and personal significance. The depersonalization of it by the high artificiality of Rosso’s art makes that meaning all the more universal and hence deeply startling and terrifying.
Rosso’s Cephalus and Procris known from an engraving by Boyvin or from his shop (E.14), again presents a rather extraordinary representation of its ancient theme. It is possible that these figures reflect a lost panel painting by Rosso inventoried at Fontainebleau at the end of the seventeenth century (L.78), although the format of the engraving, with the figures separated into two niches, would have been unusual. Or the two figures could have been part of a lost architectural decoration. It is also possible that they were originally meant to be engraved like the twenty Gods in Niches that were made in Rome in 1526, which are almost exactly the same size. If this is true then the inscriptions under them may be part of Rosso’s original intentions. Under the figure of Cephalus is inscribed: “Coniuae transfixa Cephalus cruciatur acerbae”; under Procris: “Procris sum Cephali coniunx, heu munere fiffor.” The engraving may be reversed if the arrow piercing Procris was meant to be shown striking her heart.
While the format of these two figures revives that of the Gods in Niches, the intentions and the effect of the Cephalus and Procris are altogether different. The wit and mock heroics of the earlier figures in niches have been replaced by concentrated emotional and dramatic seriousness, in keeping with the tragic story of Cephialus’s accidental killing of his beloved wife with his infallible javelin, as told in Ovid’s Metamorphosis (VII, 661–865). The later figures have larger bodies and their postures and gestures are grander and more eloquent. Cephalus is turned away from us, while Procris is seen largely from the front with her head turned toward Cephalus. The two figures fill and overlap their niches differently and the illusion they create of human form receding into and projecting from their niches is formally as inventive as the arrangement of the figures in the Roman prints. But in the earlier engravings the effect of the different postures and gestures is entertaining; it amuses the spectator to see such clever diversity in the compositions of twenty figures placed in identical settings. Although these engravings appear in a sequence that forms pairs god and goddesses the figures of each pair, if related at all in their postures, are only casually so. There is no narrative connection between them. It is therefore surprising to see the same use of niches, each with a single figure, employed for a pair of figures the meaning of which depends upon their dramatic and psychological relationship. Even if this format was required by a scheme of architectural decoration, it is unusual to fill niches with narratively related figures, and with figures such as Cephalus and Procris specifically whose meaning depends on each other. The dying Procris is normally seen as a reclining figure. By placing her upright and showing her still very much alive, with Cephalus’s weapon in her breast, Rosso’s depiction of the tragedy is given a startling actuality. At the same time, the separation of the two figures, each in his own niche, gives them a certain degree of dramatic and psychological independence. Cephalus’s bulging muscles, the arc of his back, his lowered head and closed eyes, and his extended wringing hands give him the aspect of heroic grief. Procris’s erect posture, out-flung arms, emphatic glance, and open mouth indicate not so much her reaction to having been shot as her recognition that her assailant is her beloved husband, whom she had spied upon because she falsely suspected him of infidelity. The moment of their story represented by each figure is slightly different, for Procris is shown at the moment that she has been struck by Cephalus’s arrow, while Cephalus grieves over a loss that is not yet quite final. Representing them in this manner, Rosso has given both the nature of their story together and their individual psychological reactions to it at different moments, when they were most telling and most significant for each in regard to the full meaning of the story. This would not have been possible had the two figures been joined in a single spatial setting requiring the depiction of a single moment and event in the story of Cephalus and Procris. Shown in two separate niches the two figures narrate their tragic story as well as symbolize its emotional significance in regard to each figure alone.
The style of the Cephalus and Procris is similar to that of another mythological composition by Rosso representing Pandora Adorned by Aphrodite and the Hours, known from a good copy of a lost drawing formerly in the Cantey Collection in Fort Worth and at the time of this writing on the market in Dallas (D.781). Large in form and broad in their movements and gestures the figures narrate their story simply and clearly and with a certain robustness. Their actions remind one of those of the figures in the Contest of Athena and Poseidon though the Pandora scene is dramatically more focused and its figures are more cohesively articulated. While the Dallas drawing is a copy it certainly preserves rather well the character of the draughtsmanship of the lost original; the handling of the drawing is similar to that of the probably only slightly earlier Apollo in the Louvre (D.76). But the contours in the Pandora drawing are more rounded, there is also a broader use of light and shadow to define form and establish compositional relationships. Its draughtsmanship is not the ragged and somewhat more ornamental type of the Pandora and Her Box in the ecole des Beaux-Arts (D.67) which also differs from the later drawings in several other respects, including the planarity of its composition. Pandora Adorned by Aphrodite, like the Apollo drawing in the Louvre, has substituted a much more sober compositional and graphic manner for the spontaneous brilliance of the earlier drawing.
To recapitulate, the Pandora and Her Box drawing, according to the Panofskys, is the earliest known representation of this subject. It is also extraordinary and unlike all subsequent representations of this scene in showing the evils escaping from the box, in the form of life-sized human figures. These are specifically identifiable as the Seven Deadly Sins with the addition of Tribulation, the figure with the two hammers at the far right. The Christian and allegorical or emblematic characteristics of the drawing are enhanced by the bird that clings to the rim of the box, symbolizing Hope, that was, it seems, partly derived from Alciati’s Emblemata.
The later drawing depicts an entirely different episode of the Pandora story, one that not only does not seem to have been represented again until the third decade of the seventeenth century by Callot, but that also is not emblematic in character. The Pandora Adorned by Aphrodite and the Hours is derived quite directly from an ancient account of the story as the earlier drawing is not, and the later drawing is primarily narrative in its appearance. It illustrates that part of the story, as told in Hesiod’s Work and Days, when after her creation by Hephaestus, she is given gifts by the various gods. In this case Venus and the Hours are shown though some of the gifts Pandora is receiving are, in Hesiod’s accounts, bestowed by others: “…Aphrodite…shed grace upon her head and cruel longing and cares that weary the limbs …Athene girdled and clothed her, and the divine Graces and queenly Persuasion put necklaces of gold upon her, and the rich-haired Hours crowned her head with spring flowers. And Pallas Athene bedecked her form with all manner of finery…”5 Aphrodite, with Cupid running between her legs, embraces Pandora’s head, perhaps shedding grace upon it, but also, it would seem from Pandora’s expression, shedding cruel longing and cares upon her as well. One of the Hours descends with a garment; a second puts a bracelet on Pandora’s arm while the third crowns her with a very simple band. This, as in Boyvin’s engraving of Rosso’s Contest of Athena and Poseidon (E.78) where the same schematization is recorded for what is a laurel crown in Fantuzzi’s etching, must be the outline for the crown of spring flowers mentioned by Hesiod. The reclining old man, whose hair is conceived very much like that of Rosso’s Cephalus, could possibly be Hephaestus though he has more the appearance of a river god or a geographical personification, like the figures at the lower right of the Contest of Athena and Poseidon prints. The old men and the deer as well as the clouds—and the peaks of a mountain at the left?—could be meant to indicate the upper regions of Olympus.
The small vessel that Pandora holds under her arm and which is not a detail of Hesiod’s story though it is necessary in Rosso’s scene to identify the central figure as Pandora is altogether unlike the receptacle in the École des Beaux-Arts drawing. It is, however, similar to a box decorating the frieze of Rosso’s Aretine Design for a Chanel in the British Museum (D.37). Not only the very different styles of the two Pandora drawings but also the different designs of the box in each indicate that they were not meant to be seen or used together. The band of the crown held by one of the Hours in the Dallas drawing reveals that this drawing, or rather Rosso’s lost original, was a preliminary drawing which in this detail, at least, would be elaborated in some final state. Similar schematic details appear in other drawings by Rosso, for the Allegory of the Virgin planned for S. Maria delle Lagrime in Arezzo (D.33) and for the first version of the Scene of Sacrifice in the Gallery of Francis I (D.50). In both of these cases the final work was to be a fresco. The Pandora Adorned by Aphrodite could also have been designed for a wall painting, in which case it is possible that this scene was one of a series, or at least was part of a decorative ensemble. Although it would seem likely that it was planned for a series narrating the story of Pandora, this need not have been the case. It could also have been inserted into some other iconographical scheme.
During the last three years of his life, Rosso may have been involved in the decoration of two other rooms in the Pavilion des Poles which no longer exist. One is the Galerie Basse (L.70) which projected at ground level on the south side of this pavilion and was immediately adjacent to the lake in front of it. It was a vaulted rectangular structure that ran the entire length of the pavilion and supported a long open terrace which, according to Du Cerceau’s views of the chateau, had a small enclosed cabinet later added at the east end. The gallery was five bays long; it was one broader bay wide. Six pilasters of engaged columns set possibly on high plinths divided the bays on the south facade. The three center bays were open with large arches rising from the level of the bases of the columns; the lower part of these bays was closed up to the same level. A small door was placed in the center of the end bays of the south facade with a round window or round decorative motif above each. There seems to have been a door in the center of the east wall, and there may have been one in the west wall, too. Otherwise the east facade—there is no view of the original west facade which was soon blocked by the east end of the ground level of the Long Gallery, which became known as the Gallery of Ulysses (L.72) does not seem to have had any exterior architectural articulation. Vasari briefly mentions the decoration of the interior of this “bassa galleria,” but gives no details; he says only that it was decorated by Primaticcio. Dan says that the decoration was partly by Rosso and partly by Primaticcio, and he gives a short description of the room as “estant composde de vingt colonnes caneldes avec leur bases et chapiteaux; le tout qui porte les arcades, et cintres de ladite terrase … LA [in the gallery] est un lambry avec les Chiffres et Devise de Frangois I. Ma ce qui s’y voyait de plus remarquable, c’estoient plusieurs Tableaux & frais, les uns du sieur Rousse, et les autres du sieur saint Martin [Primaticcio]; ensemble leurs bordures de stuc, et quelques figures de relief qui servoient d’ornements, que les iniures du temps ont presque enti&rememt ruinds.” Read with Du Cerceau’s plan and the Morgan plan of this gallery the columns must have been paired flanking the three arches of the south wall and three blind arches across from them on the north side, with a single column in each corner of the room. These columns supported arches with spandrels, each of the resulting five bays having a flat ceiling. Dimier identified twelve seated figures by Primaticcio, known from eleven original drawings and twelve etchings by Ldon Davent (Master L.D.), as showing the figures that would have appeared in the spandrels, probably of the three center bays. They represent Juno, Venus, Minerva, and the Nine Muses. The wood paneling by Scibec de Carpi that covered the lower parts of the wall of this gallery was paid for in February 1542. Dimier supposed that the decoration was therefore probably begun in 1539. Rosso could have begun designs for it the year before even as the decorations of the Salle Haute were being executed. As Charles V was housed in the Pavilion des Poles on December 24, 1539 it is possible that the decoration of the gallery was begun in anticipation of his visit. Some of the decoration may well have been done by that time. Primaticcio was away from France from around 13 February 1540 until shortly after 31 October of the following year. Almost immediately thereafter the wood paneling was completed.
Unfortunately there are no specific indications whatsoever of what Rosso may have designed for this room. But it is just possible that Rosso’s Pandora Adorned by Aphrodite and the Hours had a place in the Galerie Basse. The date of the drawing appears to coincide with the time Rosso’s work on the decoration of the Galerie Basse and Primaticcio’s figures of Juno, Venus, Minerva and the Nine Muses would have been compatible with the subject of Rosso’s drawing and, one would suppose, with the other parts of a mythological program to which it would have belonged.
Another room that Rosso may have had a hand in decorating is the “grande salle” of the Pavillon des Poles, which seems to have been behind the terrace supported by the Galerie Hasse. It was apparently a large room of the dimensions of the Salle Haute above although the Grand Salle (L.71) was probably not open but closed by rectangular windows, three in the south wall above the open arches of the Galerie Basse, one in the center of the west wall, and possibly one in the east wall, too. The exterior was articulated with pilasters. It probably had a door or two doors leading to the terrace in front of it, and its ceiling seems to have been flat. As the only wholly enclosed room in the Pavillon des Poles, except at the level of the pitched roof, it is likely that this is the room in which Charles V stayed in December of 1539. It may, therefore, have been decorated by that time, but nothing is known of its decoration. Around 1554 it was subdivided into two rooms which then received their own new decorations.
Probably in 1539 it was decided to begin work on the tapestries woven at Fontainebleau of the decorations in the Gallery of Francis I (see under P.22). A payment for the purchase of threads needed for their manufacture was made on 16 February 1544, although documents related to the making of the cartoons for them and for the weaving of the tapestries date not before the very beginning of 1541, a few months after Rosso’s death. By mid-1547 tapestries related to six of the seven walls of the south side of the gallery had been woven. These six tapestries in Vienna—The Danae, The Death of Adonis, The Battle of Centaurs and Lapiths, Cleobis and Biton, The Loss of Perpetual Love, and The Unity of the State—are probably all that were made by the time of the king’s death in 1547, but it may be assumed that the entire decoration of the gallery was originally to be re-created. They were probably meant to be used by Francis I during his travels, possibly in a tent especially constructed to display them. Reproducing the grandest artistic achievement of his reign, in celebration of it and the king’s person, the tapestries would have formed the setting for state occasions anywhere in his realm.
Although no documents connect Rosso’s name with this enterprise, it is most likely that it was begun under his direction. Around 1534 he appears to have designed a set of tapestries illustrating poems by Petrarch (D.47), albeit not for the king. But a royal tapestry workshop seems to have been established at Fontainebleau also around 1534 so that the possibility presented itself early on that Rosso would later become involved with the making of tapestries for the king. It may even strike one as meaningful that this workshop was created just at the time that the execution of decorations of the Gallery of Francis I were beginning, suggesting that the making of the tapestries related to the gallery decorations may have been envisioned near the start of that project.
While the weaving of the tapestries may have been begun only after Rosso’s death in November 1540, the making of the cartoons was probably begun at least a year earlier. They were not made from the actual decorations in the gallery but largely, it would seem, from the abundant number of preparatory drawings that were made for the frescoes and stuccoes. No evidence suggests that any cartoons made for the frescoes in the gallery served as cartoons for the tapestries. There would not have been cartoons for the sculpture. Everything was reassembled to re-create the illusion of the decorations in the gallery, including the shadows cast by the stuccoes and the perspective of the beams of the room. In the process details were added or changed, or reintroduced from plans made for the gallery and then not carried out there quite as intended. The monster in the Loss of Perpetual Love has become slightly different, altering to some extent the implied meaning of the scene, and in other frescoes such as the Death of the Adonis and the Danae, the many additional details make for quite a different overall decorative effect. In two tapestries, stucco reliefs were translated into “paintings,” and the color of the frescoes was not closely followed. So while the tapestries were meant to reproduce the decorations of the gallery they were not to be facsimiles of them. Exactly how each change came about cannot be determined. Many were undoubtedly introduced after Rosso’s death. Some may have come about because of lack of understanding. But hung far from the gallery no one would have recognized these differences. The sumptuousness and illusion of the tapestries would have made them appear wholly convincing as portable recreations of Francis’s splendid gallery at Fontainebleau.
In addition to informing us in general that Rosso was responsible for “per abigliamenti…di mascherate, di trifoni, e tutte l’altre cose che ni possono immaginare, a con si strane e bizzarre fantasia, che non & possible far miglio” (L.55-60), Vasari also tells us specifically that he “Face, quando Carlo quinto Imperadore ands, 11anno 1540, sotto la fede del Re Francesco, in Francia, havendo seco non piu che dodici uomini, a Fontanableo la met& di tutti gli ornamenti che face it Re fare per honorare un tanto Imperadore: E l’altra met& face Francesco Primaticcio bolognese. Ma le cose che, face it Rosso, d’Archi, di colossi, a altre cose simili, furono, per quanto si disse allora, le pia stupende che da altri insino allora fussero state fatte mai” (L.73). Other occasions of this kind, as well as “mascherate,” were undoubtedly designed by Rosso for Francis I though the entry of Charles V into Fontainebleau is the only one that is mentioned in the sources. The apparently earlier engraved designs of Rosso’s costumes for the Three Fates (E.104)6 document Rosso’s participation in such events that required costumed figures. Much earlier Rosso had designed a triumphal arch for the entry of Leo X into Florence (L.4). All of these works of art composed of cloth, clay, piaster and paint have disappeared. A few prints and perhaps a drawing or two that might be related to events of this kind are all the visual evidence that survives for what must have required many designs and plans. Of Charles V’s entry into Fontainebleau on 24 December—not in 1544 as Vasari states—we have three other sixteenth century references to supplement Vasari’s three sentences, one in the contemporary Cronique de Roi Francois Premier, two lines in a poem by Rene Macd, and a paragraph in a description of Charles’s visit published in Lille in 1533. More extensive is Père Dan’s description of 1642 which he claimed was dependent upon “de divers mdmoires de ce temps-1A.”
Charles V, coming from Pithiviers, approached Fontainebleau from the southwest. After being met by “a great number of princes, lords and the nobility, in gorgeous robes,” according to Dan, he entered the forest of Bière and “was greeted by a troop of people dressed up as woodland gods and goddesses who, at the sound of hautboys, gathered and ran forward to perform a rustic dance, which was not the less agreeable for their strange costumes and the order and movements they maintained.” The emperor approached the chateau by way of the Allele de la Chaussde that led to the Porte Dorde. “At the gate [porte],” which may have been at the beginning of this avenue or may have been the Porte Dorde itself at the other end of it, “was a triumphal arch decorated with trophies and adorned with paintings, representing the king and emperor dressed in classical garb and accompanied by Peace and Concord, to let the emperor see with what benevolence and frankness the king received him. Here, there was another concert of music, after having listened to a number of airs, he was taken into the chateau, to the sound of trumpets and drums; and entering the small gallery, he met the king… and from there he was conducted to the Pavillon des Poeles, where he was to lodge.”7 The “petite Galerie” was what Dan called the Gallery of Francis I (to distinguish it from the “grand Galerie,” that is, the Gallery of Ulysses which had not been built at the time of the emperor’s visit). Dan says supper was served in the “Salle du Bal,” but as there does not seem to have been a ballroom in the chateau in 1539 it is possible that this meal was actually taken in the Small Gallery, which was replaced by the Salle du Bal, or even possibly in the Gallery of Francis I, beneath which were the kitchens in which the banquet would have been prepared.
According to the Cronique, outside the south windows of the gallery, on the edge of the lake, could be seen a large gilt column from channels half-way up the sides of which ran streams of wine and water and from the top of which flames leaped up, “nuict et jour.” The description published in Lille, referring to the column as a tree, stated that it bore the motto: “Qui[pot] capere capiat” from Matthew XIX, 12.8 Mace, remarked on the “feu merveilleur en l’eau.” Given that the emperor’s device, which was displayed in several places at Fontainebleau, was a pair of columns with the motto: Plus oultre—which will come up again in regard to another work made as a present for Charles V, the single column with its motto erected by Francis I in honor of Charles V’s visit must have been a kind of response to it. Fortitude may by indicated by the column, of a spiritual kind, indicated by the flames, like those of the fiery altar in the Scene of Sacrifice in the Gallery of Francis I. The flowing wine and water suggest Abundance, with perhaps an allusion to the Wedding Supper at Cana and the marriage of the king to the emperor’s sister.9 With Christ’s words: “He that can take it, let him take it” referring to the Kingdom of Heaven mentioned in the preceding sentence preceding in Matthew, the column was a grand beneficent gesture of hospitality to the king’s former enemy indicating their common and joined Christian virtues and ambitions. It may also have been a means to alter the political message of Charles V’s device. It is not known who designed this column but if Vasari’s general remark about the Fontainebleau decorations is believed, it was either Rosso or Primaticcio. The conception of the column sounds like one that Rosso may have been assigned to realize as a monument.
No mention is made in the Cronique or by Dan of more than one triumphal arch, nor of the colossal statues that Vasari says Rosso designed for this occasion. The Lille account of 1539 mentions several triumphal arches at the entrance to the chateau, and notes that the entranceway itself was covered with boxwood branches forming squares and lozenges. It is very likely that the decorations made especially for Charles V’s stay at Fontainebleau were even more extensive than is specifically accounted for by these sources.
Nor is any mention made by any of these sources of a representation of Hercules among the various paintings and statues that were created for this occasion. It is possible, however, that a large etching, inscribed “Rous. Floren. Inuen” and showing the figure costumed as this ancient hero (E.160), gives a design that Rosso made for the entry of Charles V or for some other event that was planned for Charles V’s five-day stay at Fontainebleau. Dan mentioned only dancers costumed as woodland gods and goddesses. That a figure of Hercules could have had a role in these festivities is suggested by the fact that the king had a large silver statue of Hercules made, on a design by Rosso, as a gift for the emperor which was given to him in Paris where he went on 1 January. This figure, discussed below, held two columns, which bore Charles V’s motto “Plus oultre,” and wore a sash inscribed “Altera alterius robur.” The columns were designed to hold real flaming torches, suggesting again that the large column erected at Fontainebleau had a related symbolic function. As the decorations made for the emperor’s entry into Paris were not designed by Rosso the possibility exists that his costume design for a figure of Hercules was intended for use at Fontainebleau.
Rosso’s design shows Hercules holding a tall branch with leafy twigs at the top of it—held in his left hand probably indicating that the print reverses Rosso’s image—and the bottom touching the ground, looping somewhat like a tall scepter. This branch is a substitute for Hercules’s usual olive wood club, exchanging a symbol of power and combat for one of peace, for the leaves of this branch can be recognized as those of the olive tree. Although Rosso’s Hercules wears his familiar lion skin—with its head beautifully surrounding the hero’s own head, its legs hanging in front of his chest and legs, and the tail hanging down blind—the figure is not dressed as a fighter. His body is entirely covered with rather loose-fitting garments. Calm in his pose and serious in his demeanor, the figure looks like a peaceful guard or royal attendant. On the only triumphal arch erected at Fontainebleau, about which we have some information, there were paintings of the king and the emperor with personifications of Peace and Concord. These may well have been the basic themes of the Fontainebleau decoration, as they were immediately thereafter of the festivities in Paris. In this context a peaceful image of Hercules with allusion to Charles V would easily have found its place at Franis I’s chateau.
Rosso’s Hercules costume, composed of puffs, cut panels, tassels and fringes, has much in common with the costumes he designed for the Three Fates (E.104). But the Hercules costume is made of fewer parts, and it is less complex and more elegantly sumptuous. The whole figure is much more eloquent. The panels are broader, and the material is draped more fully and tied more loosely than are the comparable puffs and folds of the Fates. Furthermore, the representation of the Hercules figures is not strictly frontal; his body is slightly turned to the side and appears more easily related to the head in profile. The Hercules is almost certainly a later work by Rosso and a date for it at the end of 1539 is reasonable. It has a graveness that is an aspect of those works that can be brought together as the creations of the last few years of Rosso’s life. If it was designed for the festivities that honored Charles V at Fontainebleau, and its style gives some evidence of how grand and even moving certain aspects of them must have been, and fantastical, too. Who but Rosso would have perched that huge crown of buoyant feathers on top of Hercules’s lionized head? These feathers would not only have heightened the figure and reduced the ferocious appearance of his head covering but also, when the actor wearing the costume walked, would have made him appear more dramatic by fluttering above his head.
A composition by Rosso showing Hercules asleep accompanied by a standing woman is known from a very damaged autograph drawing in the Louvre (D.79) and from an engraving, in reverse but of the same dimensions, attributed to Boyvin (E.17). Its subject suggests that it is may also related to Charles V’s visit to Fontainebleau in December of 1539.10 Stylistically Rosso’s scene, as reproduced in the much more legible print, recalls those parts of the gallery that seem to have been designed toward the end of Rosso’s work on it. The figure of Hercules is related to the reclining nude in the oval at the right above the Danae in the Gallery of Francis I. Although in general the decoration of this wall seems to be earlier in date, the Michelangelesque oval compositions above the Danae may not have been invented before late 1535. The largeness of the figures in Rosso’s drawing and the clarity of the composition indicate that it was invented late in his career. There is a compactness and a narrative simplicity about the Hercules scene that is related to the kind of clarification of Rosso’s art that also characterizes the Three Fates. Nude (E.105), though in that work other aspects of his style are also brought into focus. The Hercules scene is robust and dense rather than graceful and elegant. Its forms are rather blunt, and the postures of the figures are somewhat angular in the case of the woman, and convoluted in the figure of Hercules. There are also resemblances of a similar kind to the Ceohalus and Procris (E.14) and the Pandora Adorned by Aphrodite (D.78).
That Rosso’s scene depicts Hercules is clear as he is shown with his club and his lion skin, the head of which seems actually to be looking up. He is seated on a bundle of drapery or a couch, beneath which appears an animal, possibly a dog. The identification of the young woman is not so certain. At the very end of the nineteenth century Herbet named her Dejanira, but neither her appearance nor her role in this scene immediately suggests that she is this mythological figure, the second wife of Hercules. She is also not immediately recognizable as any other woman or goddess or personification associated with the innumerable ancient myths of Hercules. Rosso’s figure, nude above the waist, wears a bonnet and a skirt which falls to her knees. Behind her on the ground is a large urn with a handle, and a strong light falls from above her back. Wind blows a large piece of drapery, which may be the upper part of her dress, on the far side of her shoulder, another piece of drapery is blown in the same direction between her legs. Hercules’s posture, with one arm over his head and the other hanging limp, would appear to indicate that he is asleep, as this same pose clearly does of the figure in the oval above the Danae in the gallery.11 The woman approaches Hercules and may be waking him. The scene also contains two masks, one held by the woman, the other on the ground beneath Hercules’s foot. Because the woman is not wearing the mask she holds, it is possible that she represents Virtue. The urn beside her, as a symbol of abundance, and the light, apparently from the sun, could support this identification. Although her shoulders, arms and breasts are bare, which may provide sufficient nudity to give her also the character of Truth. Her bonnet suggests modesty. Nothing in her behavior indicates lasciviousness. The placement of Hercules’s foot upon a mask may indicate contempt for falsehood or worldliness, in which case he, too, would represent Virtue.12 Thus the scene possibly shows the Dream of Hercules,13 but without the usual appearance of the second female figure signifying Pleasure (Voluptas) to indicate the choice he would not make. Instead, the deceitfulness of that alternative is suggested by the masks in the scene, that Virtue does not wear and that Hercules puts under his foot. It is also possible that the woman is pointing at Hercules’s hidden genitals, away from which Hercules turns his head. Here could be another indication of Pleasure that Hercules would not chose. However, lacking an actual personification of Pleasure, the scene may imply a certain inevitability in the hero’s choice, which would be inappropriately flattering to Charles V if this scene was in fact exhibited during his visit to Fontainebleau as part of the theme of its decorations of Peace and Concord.14
On 30 December Charles V left Fontainebleau for Corbeil and on New Year’s Day, 1540, he entered Paris, where he stayed until 7 January. Rosso’s only recorded activity related to this occasion is the designing of a large silver Hercules which was presented to the emperor on 4 January (L.74). Although this statue is lost, and was possibly destroyed as early as 1554, it was, for a short while, at least, a subject of considerable interest. The appearance of this work is known from the requirements for it stated in the commission of 30 November 1539, from a contemporary poem by Rend Mach, from two contemporary descriptions, and from two references in Cellini’s writings, one in his autobiography, the other in his treatise on goldsmith’s work. From the commission we know that Rosso was to design a silver statue of Hercules wearing a gilt lion’s skin. He was to hold in his arms two columns as though planting them forcibly on the ground. The columns were to be designed to hold torches. On the columns would appear the motto of the emperor, Plus oultre, and a sash worn by Hercules would bear the inscription: Altera alterius robur. At the feet of the hero was to be an eagle with two heads. Rosso was required to provide the design and the molds from which the actual statue was to be made by the caster and goldsmith Pierre de Brimbal, called Chevrier. Cellini says the statue was made of silver over bronze and was around three and a half braccia high. Macd also says it was of silver with the lion’s skin gilt and that the statue was “sept pieds” in height. It is described elsewhere as sip: “pieds” high. It was, therefore, probably life-size. Macd’s brief description, based, it would seem, on the appearance of the finished statue, states that the columns were being planted as markers in the sea which was shown rough, bubbling, and foamy. He does not speak of the torches or the eagle, and though he mentions the motto “Plus oultre” on the columns, he says nothing of the sash and its inscription. Macd’s omissions may well be due to the poetic form of his presentation which did not allow for the inclusion of all the details of this statue. These columns, with the inscription “Plus oultre,” are an emblem of Charles V and are sometimes depicted standing in the sea,15 indicating the sea at the Straits of Gibraltar where Hercules placed them.
Cellini makes no reference to Rosso in his comments on this statue. He is not concerned with its conception but only with its execution as far inferior to that of the equally large silver statue of Jupiter that he made entirely himself for Francis I. Cellini says that the king thought the Hercules was the ugliest statue he had ever seen because the Parisian craftsmen who made it did not have the proper techniques for executing it well, though they charged two-thousand ducats for their “porco lavoro.” In discussing his own Jupiter, Cellini implies that Rosso’s statue was first cast in bronze and then sheathed in silver which was beaten onto the surface of the cast forms. The parts of the body were all cast separately, covered with silver, and then fastened or riveted together with silver wire rather than joined properly, according to Cellini, by soldering. Cellini’s basic complaint seems to be that the seams of the statue were conspicuous when they should not have been visible at all. It. appears that his own lost statue of Jupiter was seamless in appearance.
The silver Hercules is the only French work by Rosso for which we have the specific instructions to him as to what was to be made, and about which we can have some idea of the actual circumstances of its commission. Although, unfortunately, this work is lost what we know about it gives us a degree of understanding about Rosso’s relationship to his royal patron in regard to the works of art that were required that is not obtainable from any other source. The king ordered that Anne de Montmorency, his constable, meet with the alderman of Paris to plan Charles V’s entry into Paris and to consider what presents the city should offer him. This meeting was held in Paris on 8 November 1539, at which time the alderman requested money from the king to fulfill his intentions. Shortly thereafter the king himself met with one of the aldermen to review and give his opinions of the plans that the city was making for the emperor’s visit. “After greeting the king on behalf of the city, the alderman showed him the sketch of the eagles which were to be put at the two ends of the sideboard which would be presented to the emperor. These eagles and sideboard the king did not find good, saying that on a previous occasion the emperor had told him that he detested the tapestries of his own country of Flanders, for they always represented some banquet, pots, cups or grapes, which are things to do with eating; furthermore a sideboard would be to give later to the first ambassador. It would be appropriate to give the emperor something for himself [destinae pour luy], which would remain with him as a souvenir. After hearing a number of suggestions, the King decided on a statue of Hercules,” that had been proposed as described above. “The King commanded Seigneur de Boissy to write Master Roux, his painter, living at Fontainebleau, to make the design and molds for it, according to his wishes.” From this account we do not learn who exactly invented the conception of this statue, but the king himself approved of it and, it would seem, considered it as having something of a personal nature about it. Although this gift was meant to be a present from the city of Paris, it was Francis I who decided what it would be and it was he, apparently, who paid for it, to some extent at least. How personal the statue itself was will be discussed below. But in regard to the decoration of a theatre which was to be erected for Charles V’s visit to Paris, there is recorded Francis I’s opinion “that since on one of these designs there was a salamander, which might indicate his own person, he wished the salamander removed and replaced by the double-headed eagle, the symbol of the Hapsburgs….” Furthermore, the king wanted only the emperor’s armorial bearings on the canopy which would be carried over Chrales V, “as everything was entirely designed for that prince.”16
The “conceit” for the emblematic image of Hercules from which Rosso had to design his statue is probably not unlike others that were made for him to be given artistic form. Unfortunately, as this statue is lost, we cannot know how he transformed the verbal directions that were given into a statue that conveyed Rosso’s own conception of this “conceit” in visual terms—aided, however, by clear inscriptions that were part of the original verbal conception. Nor can we make any attempt to judge how well the king’s intentions were carried out, according to Rosso’s view of them. However, Macd’s description of the statue suggests that the original verbal conception of the statue was, on a primary level, carried out by Rosso.
We do not know from any of the sources what the “conceit” of the statue was meant to convey. Silence on this subject in the conversations that are recorded seem to indicate that is was taken for granted that the symbolic language of the statue, including that of its inscriptions, would be understandable to the artist, and certainly to Charles V, as it was to Francis I and to those, of course, who devised the program. By the middle of the sixteenth century the use of Hercules as a symbol of a reigning prince was already well established.17 For Charles V it also had a very special meaning as this hero was related to the emperor’s most celebrated and personal emblem, the Columns of Hercules inscribed with the motto: Plus oultre. This device had been invented for Charles V in 1516 by his physician Luigi Marliano.18 Initially this device, associated with the Columns of Hercules, indicated ambitions to move beyond the outermost limits of the world geographically but also metaphorically in a spiritual sense.19 There may also have been in them the suggestion of prudence and moral restraint. Given the responsibilities that would be his, the columns and the motto indicate that Charles V would be inspired to meet his challenges with unprecedented powers and virtue, related to those of Hercules who, because of them, was received into Olympus. However, already by the mid-1530s this device began to carry more specifically political meaning, in regard to the actual New World beyond the Atlantic over which Charles also reigned, but with reference also to Charles’s dominion in the Old World. Thus, as a symbol of limitless ambition it gave rise, in the 1520s or 1530s, to the motto Non plus ultra as a kind of reproach to that ambition.
In Rosso’s statue Hercules was shown planting the columns “par force” in the sea suggesting the active fixing of a territorial marker—Charles’s emblem did not actually show Hercules or an event—on both sides of which Charles ruled. This would, of course, be a reference to Charles V’s political power, but it is also a reference that one might suppose Francis I would not have wished to emphasize given his own political ambitions. The commission of the statue required that the columns be made to hold torches, a detail that might have been introduced to make the statue more spectacular or make it practical as a source of light, but which certainly was meant to be understood symbolically as well.20 For the festivities at Fontainebleau there had also been, as already mentioned, a large column, with flames at its top, and with wine and water pouring from openings in its sides, the symbolism of this monument related to a biblical passage inviting mutual spiritual endeavor. The flames added to Hercules’s columns would seem to give them also the quality of a spiritual, rather than political, force, thereby redefining Charles’s device in a manner congenial to Francis I. Several decades later Charles IX adopted as his emblem two columns—but without flames—entertwined with a ribbon inscribed: Pietate et Iustitia. These columns were depicted turning around each other. At his entry into Paris in 1571 the triumphal cart of the city of Paris showed two straight columns, encircled by the inscribed ribbon, that supported an entablature upon which was an equestrian statue of the king dressed as a Roman emperor. It has been suggested that this device of Charles IX makes a direct reference to that of the Emperor Charles V. At the same time the reference to a Roman emperor on the triumphal cart undoubtedly bears some relation to the contemporary glorification of Charles IX, in Ronsard’s La Franciade, as a new Augustus.21 Antoine Caron’s only slightly later painting of Augustus and the Sibyl, in the Louvre,22 shows a pair of huge Solomonic columns on top of which is a small crown. On a swag hung from the bottom rim of the capitals of these columns stands the imperial eagle. From this swag and between the columns hangs an oval plaque bearing the inscription: PIETAS AUGUSTI. It is thought that this painting by Caron may be dependent on the lost cartoon of the same subject by Rosso that Vasari described (L.67), though without any mention of columns. Already by 1539 Charles V was referred to as both “Cesar tousjours auguste”23 and Hercules, while in 1574 he was called the “Hercules Auguste”.24 The possibility, therefore, exists that in 1539 these symbolic references could already have been associated and that the columns carried by Hercules in Rosso’s statue bore the meaning of piety and justice with reference to the Pietas Augusti of Augustus himself, or to the Pietas Augusta if this more general Roman virtue was intended. Ripa records the use of a flame in the personifications of both piety and justice. When, in 1531, Queen Eleanor, the sister of Charles V, was given two candlesticks by the city of Paris, the governor of the city explained their significance as “pour la lumiere…pour estre la principalle raison de la paix…”25 This meaning, too, of Peace could have its place in the symbolism of Hercules’s flaming columns.
If Charles V’s emblem had, from the very beginning of its use, partly, at least, a moral significance then no contradiction need by recognized in seeing the now flaming columns in Rosso’s statue as something other than territorial markers signifying political ambition. As one column had to bear the word Plus and the other column the word Oultre, it is understandable that they could not also be made to bear the words Pietate and Iustitia. Without these words, however, we cannot, perhaps, be too insistent that the columns symbolize these concepts. Yet, it may be necessary not to be too vague about what the columns mean if they are also to be somehow related to the inscription that appeared on Hercules’s sash: Altera alterius robur.
This inscription has been interpreted, only once it seems, as a device “exaltant l’appui que se devaient les deux puissants souverains…,” that is, Francis I and Charles V.26 This is not a very likely explanation. For one thing the eagle placed at Hercules’s feet clearly indicated that this figure was to stand for the emperor. Secondly, a single column is not a symbol used for either of these rulers, and that single flaming column erected at Fontainebleau does not appear to have stood for the king or the emperor. Furthermore, one must seriously doubt that Francis I would have been so impolitic, in spite of what he may have wished, to authorize a gift “of personal nature” to Charles V that implied a division of, or obligation to Francis I for, his, Charles V’s, political power. The syntax of the motto indicates a comparison and implies that alone the phrase would read: Altera columna alterius robor, which may be translated as: one column [is] the strength (or support) of the other, with robor referring here to the symbolic meaning of the columns in terms of a quality or qualities of the mind, or to a virtue or virtues.27 Hercules himself was considered the virtuous hero whose labors brought him immortality among the gods. In Rosso’s statue Hercules was shown planting his flaming columns firmly in the sea establishing thereby his moral authority by the strength of his virtues, each of which supported the other. It was with reference to these virtues that Charles V would go even farther. Again Francis I seems to have dramatically transformed Charles’s political device into one of spiritual import, perhaps reinterpreting “Plus oultre,” by the addition of the flames and of another motto related to the columns, as an exhortation to continue carrying the Christian faith beyond its former territorial limits.
It is not imperative that the two columns were recognized as standing for specific virtues as long as they were understood, through the flames rising from them, that they indicated the realm of the spirit rather than that of the territorial world. Nor is it necessary to believe that the symbolism of the statue was so precisely determined as to allow for only one interpretation, or even to allow for one interpretation that was intellectually entirely satisfying. Some ambiguity may have been intended, or, if only recognized after the “conceit” was sculpted, may not have been recognized as altogether unfortunate. One would like to know something about the origins of the “conceit” of this statue and whose suggestion the alderman was bringing to the king when the latter decided upon this one. Taking Charles V’s personal emblem and transforming it into a dramatic work of art was no minor accomplishment. As the verbal “conceit” itself already seems visually conceived it is possible that the alderman had themselves consulted with artists before they decided what to propose to the king, and that the statue of Hercules was originally Rosso’s idea.28 For the “conceit” is both forceful and ambivalent as a conception, suggesting the handling of symbolism that appears in some of Rosso’s other French works. We have, unfortunately, no idea of how much the emperor appreciated the statue. But he did not take it away with him but gave it to Jean Hennin, the Duke of Boussut, who kept it at his chateau where it seems to have been destroyed, along with the chateau, on the orders of Henry II in 1554.
Rosso’s Reclining Nude Woman in the British Museum (D.80) brings to mind once again his interest in Michelangelo’s art that appeared with renewed force during the latter part of his work on the decorations of the Gallery of Francis I. This red chalk drawing, done, as is usual with Rosso, over very slight traces of black chalk, has something of the character of Rosso’s very Michelangelesque Seated Male Nude, also in the British Museum (D.68), which can be related to the heroic painted nudes that flank the Education of Achilles in the gallery. But the Reclining Nude Woman is executed in quite a different manner. While she can also be related to the sleeping woman in the fresco of the Loss of Perpetual Youth in the gallery, the entire conception of the red chalk figure, including the manner in which she is drawn, suggests that she is a later creation, even later than the Seated Male Nude. The largeness of the woman, and her voluptuousness, revive the conception of Rosso’s figures of Eve in S. Maria della Pace in Rome and in the Edinburgh drawing for one of them and most especially the appearance of Proserpina in his late Roman Pluto and Proserpina, engraved by Caraglio. But the female figure, as in the Edinburgh drawing, is, in the British Museum drawing, presented as a different kind of experience. The pose of the reclining woman goes back to Michelangelo’s Dawn but as an inspired recollection, not as a model to be reproduced. Nor does Rosso’s figure suggest a sculptural image. It appears more than any other figure by Rosso as one that has been seen, and seen not analytically but as an emotionally moving experience and as one deeply sexual in its meaning. The handling of the drawing that records the lights and shadows of the figure as the means by which it is seen by us—as somewhat different from other graphic means that would make her plastically more completely understandable—suggests such drawings as the Madonna della Misericordia, in the Louvre (D.35) and the Martyrdom of Sts. Marcus and Marcellinus, at Smith College (D.70). The use of light and shade in these drawings gives them a visual immediacy that is emotional in its intention. These drawings have something of the quality of a vision, actual but impalpable experiences of what is represented. As whole compositions they are not, of course, dependent on direct observation and the description of single figures, even when they suggest certain subtleties of light and shade that might have been observed in nature, are rendered with a system of chiaroscuro that relates each figure to the compositions as whole artistic inventions. This system, however, unlike that used, for example, by Leonardo, tends both to dissolve the corporealness of the figures and to transform the actual effects of light and shade into ones that are seen as intentionally more artistic and visionary than realistic. The Reclining Nude Woman is not part of a many-figured composition and there is no evidence that is was made as a study for one. But she is quite unlike any other single-figured drawing by Rosso including those very few that were made for paintings. The drawing evokes the sensation of actually seeing the woman that is represents, and does do as though she were suddenly come upon outdoors with the light of the early morning or late evening raking across her body. Except for the slight suggestion of water and the low stump at her side there are no other landscape details. But the figure itself suggests an extended terrain over which the sun sets or rises, an aspect of the effect of this figure that is heightened by her anonymity caused by the hiding of her face behind her breast. As the definition of her extremities is ragged and incomplete it is her body, open to us and both brightly illuminated and seductively shadowed in part, that compels our attention. Nevertheless, though she is seen as remarkably physical in one sense, the looseness of the draughtsmanship of the drawing and the revelatory quality of the light across her body gives us the experience of a visual discovery, and an immediately sexually stimulating one as well. But the eroticism of the drawing is not like that of the nude Three Fates, Nude where it has been placed within a symbolic context that gives it a threatening aspect. By that context, however, the eroticism in the print has a larger than personal significance. In the British Museum drawing that kind of significance has been furnished by the implications of a real and natural context of which the figure is a part. The figure presents an image of love that seems almost unaffected by the complications of culture.
Nevertheless, this in not wholly the case. The very fact that Rosso’s figure recalls Michelangelo indicates, first of all, to what extent it is a part of the historical milieu to which Rosso belongs. Furthermore, though we do not know why the drawing was made, who it represents, and whether or not it was intended for a larger composition, it does elicit mythological references. She could be a sleeping nymph, for example. But unlike any other single-figured drawing by Rosso, which cannot be related to any composition, the Sleeping Nude Woman seems self-sufficient as an invention. Perhaps Rosso had no other end in mind for this drawing, and it is, as a drawing, even as so “unfinished” a drawing, the intended and accomplished work of art. Or, also possible, a study for a painting of this figure alone. The drawing could represent a sleeping Venus with reference to her birth from the sea, although as depicted here it would be an unusual representation of this subject.
Another of Rosso’s late works is a red chalk drawing, in the J. Paul Getty Museum (D.81), that was used as the immediate model for the reversed engraving by Hoyvin that bears Rosso’s name as well as the inscription: Peregrinus Empedocles (E.15). The figure is conceived with an emphatic plasticity reminiscent of some of Rosso’s Roman works. But it has neither the lumbering physicalness of some of the Roman figures nor the precious posturing of others. There is a naturalness about the late figure and an ease in its pose that complements and makes believable his largeness, his broad gestures, and his expression, putting aside the complicated inventiveness of much of his earlier work. Although Hoyvin’s engraving done after Rosso’s death indicates by its inscription that the figure represented is the pre-Socratic philosopher Empedocles, the drawing as well as the print give evidence that this is not all that is represented here. Dressed as a pilgrim and with his skirt hitched up high on one leg, the figure brings St. Roch to mind. In fact, in the drawing there is a small oval in red chalk on the figure’s left thigh that is St. Roch’s pest mark. This mark does not appear in Boyvin’s engraving where, however, a pilgrim’s staff has been added stuck in the ground at the side of the figure. A smaller pest mark in almost the same location appears in Gaspare Osello’s 1563 copy of Boyvin’s print (E.146). Also added to the figure in this print are three pilgrim’s badges pinned on his cloak, and a seated dog alongside the figure. In this print the figure is certainly St. Roch, and the inscription identifying his as Empedocles has been removed. There remain, however, Boyvin’s rays of the sure and fire.
Rosso’s drawing is not inscribed with the name of the figure. Because of the costume and especially the hitch-up skirt, the artist would have meant the viewer to recognize first of all the familiar St. Roch, although he does not have a halo. But Rosso intended also that he be recognized as someone else. Instead of the fire in Boyvin’s print, the drawing shows a shining moon. It seems that Empedocles was the first to affirm that the moon owed its light to the sun. Hence, in this drawing the comparison through the figure’s gestures between the light above and that radiating from the moon. The position of the sun is shown by the figure’s cast shadow, and by the small, pale diagram at the lower left alongside the figure, indicating that the light falls in the direction of the low placed shining moon. The figure’s gestures and expression may suggest the moment that the relationship of the light of the sun and of the moon was recognized by Empedocles. Boyvin specified the meaning of the image by elaborating the sky with clouds and by actually showing rays of light descending from above, but he replaced the moon with fire. This replacement still provides a comparison that indicates Empedocles who spoke of fire “in upward Zeal to reach its kindred Fire in heaven.”29 Who prescribed this change in the iconography of the image cannot be determined. It is possible that the substitution of the moon by fire and the introduction of the rays above the figure’s head were thought to signify Empedocles more clearly for the supposedly widely distributed print. The inscription on the print made this identification certain. “Peregrinus” in this inscription, indicating his being “foreign,” can be read, along with his costume, to indicate his wanderings, as an “immortal god,” from one city to another as told by Diogenes Laertius.30 In this respect his life parallels St. Roch’s, who traveled extensively in Italy and in France. Both also were famous healers.
Rosso could have meant to indicate Empedocles only and used the iconography of St. Roch, including his peat mark, as the most available substitute for the ancient philosopher for whom no visual source was known. Yet there are details of his appearance in the ancient literature that could have given Rosso the material for a different representation of the philosopher. It is, therefore, very likely that Rosso intended us to see both Empedocles and St. Roch in his image in somewhat the same manner that he meant us to see the Three Graces in his Three Fates. However, the situation is slightly different in these two works. For while the Three Fates can be seen as gaining meaning because of an allusion that is made in them to the Three Graces, Rosso’s three figures are indisputably, because of what they hold and what they do, the Three Fates, first and foremost. The single male figure conflates such disparate factors that, although the parallels between the lives of the ancient philosopher and the Christian saint make understandable why they have been associated, the image, like an optical illusion, can be experienced only as St. Roche on the one hand, and then as Empedocles on the other. The one cannot be seen in terms of the other because what is given of both is of equal value. The appearance of the figure strongly indicates that it is the saint, but what it does in comparing the moon with the light from above has no meaning in regard to the St. Roch and indicates only the philosopher.
Whether or not Rosso meant us to see Empedocles and St. Roch in terms of the resolution of one in the other, the drawing itself does not make this possible. The mind cannot appreciate here a saintly ancient philosopher or a philosophic Christian saint. There is a tension in Rosso’s St. Roch–Empedocles that is fundamentally not the consequence of its visual style but of the ambivalence created by its double subject. The artistic style of the drawing presents its double subject very explicitly, but the image remains ambiguous. One may conclude that this was Rosso’s intent. But if Rosso meant for us to see ancient and modern symbols of godliness deeply joined this has not come about but in a partial manner. Perhaps the program of the drawing could not be more integrated by any artist with the realistic terms of the visual arts of the sixteenth century. Rosso may have attempted the impossible here. Nevertheless, it is a measure of his artistic and intellectual ambition that he made this attempt to bring together the pagan past and the Christian present in such a noble image.31
The religious works of Rosso’s last years, other than the St. Roch–Emnedocles which attempts not only to bridge the distance between the ancient and modern worlds but also that between the secular and religious ones, are perhaps as a group less obviously unusual upon first sight than his late works with ancient subjects. But longer consideration shows this not to be true and in several individual instances; it becomes clear that Rosso’s handling of Christian subjects at the very end of his career continues to be as extraordinary as it was at times earlier. He was, however, also capable late in his life of a certain range of relatively uneccentric expression comparable to that of some of his late secular works, such as the Hercules with an Olive Branch, and the Reclining Nude Woman. Even the St. Roch–Emnedocles, insofar as it is a secular work, presents a relatively normal appearance of what is represented. This is no less true of its appearance when it is considered in terms of the religious aspect of its subject matter. Given the vicissitudes of Rosso’s career, this element of normalcy in some of his late works may seem itself a strange turn in his art. It does, however, have its own history in his work, and one that is not always to be interpreted as a repression of a more bizarre attitude he might have taken, as can be thought to have been the case with the Dei altarpiece of 1522. The frescoes of 1524 in the Cesi Chapel seem to indicate an aspiration toward the grand directions of the figures on the Sistine Ceiling. And the Challenge of the Pierides, also designed in Rome, has about it a Raphaelesque simplicity. Therefore, the reappearance of an uncomplicated manner in some of his works late in his career is not without its precedents, and it does not indicate, as his more unusual work shows, any withdrawal from a continuing exploration of the eccentric aspects of his imagination.
One of Rosso’s late religious works is a Christ Standing in a Niche known from an anonymous engraving that has been attributed to Boyvin (E.156). This print was used by Cherubino Alberti to fill the vertical central area in the lower part of his engraving (E.4) made from Rosso’s Design for an Altar in the British Museum (D.38). That this area in Rosso’s drawing was not originally occupied by this figure is clearly indicated by the cross overlapping the edge of the niche in both prints but of which there is no indication whatsoever in the drawing. The niche in the engraving ascribed to Boyvin has a horizontal division about the level of Christ’s shoulders; above the series of moldings creating this division is a shell in the half-domed area of the niche. Neither of these appears in Alberti’s print. Rosso’s Christ, wearing a cloth wrapped around the hips, stands supporting a large cross with his right arm. With his left hand he indicates a chalice placed at the edge of the base of the niche. He has a halo and the wounds in his limbs and in his side are visible. The appearance of the wound in his left side indicates that the image has been reversed. Alberti’s print returns it to the right direction.
Rosso’s Christ in a Niche is a simple image and although its format recalls his Gods in Niches of 1526 and the Cephalus and Procris done in France, there is in it none of the remarkable inventiveness of those works. This traditional image32 has its drama, not the result of any unusual characteristics of the figure itself nor of a startling relationship between it and the niche but of certain subtly used illusionistic and perspective devices. Christ is seen from below, from the level of the platform of the niche, so that the cornice behind Christ’s shoulders appears to curve downward. The cross is carefully drawn in perspective from this low point of view giving it a force that complements the effect of its diagonal position. From the upper left falls a strong light that highlights the anatomy, and creates a special brightness; it also casts a dark shadow on the inner right side of the niche. The depth of the niche and the extension of Christ’s body from it are subtly joined by the continuation of the curve of the horizontal cornice in the line of Christ’s arm bent around the cross.
The figure of Christ is not compelling in the sense that the grand image of St. Roch—Emoedocles is. It is, instead, a rather reticent figure, reminiscent of Rosso’s Marriage of the Virgin of 1523 where a very different subject, but one also not inherently dramatic, is given a special significance by the splendor and subtlety of all that is associated with it. In terms of its subject the Christ in a Niche is left unencumbered by complex iconographical attributes or implications, and is psychologically simple, quite, and uncomplicated.
The Design for a Tomb in the British Museum (D.82)is the latest of several compositions by Rosso that employ architecture and sculpture such as the Aretine Design for a Chapel (D.37) and Design for an Altar (D.38). There are also, of course, pictures by him that include architecture, and there is the rich association of actual architectural elements and sculpture in the Gallery of Francis I. Certain motifs in the Design for a Tomb correspond to ones in the gallery. The putti recall those in stucco that appear around the Death of Adonis and the Education of Achilles, and similar volutes are found above the Twins of Catania and beneath the Loss of Perpetual Youth. But in most respects the Design for a Tomb does not recall the decorations in the gallery. Nor does it look like the architecture in any of Rosso’s other drawings and paintings. It has a simplicity and a compactness and density in its combination of architectural blocks and sculpture that replace the complexity of details in Rosso’s other architectural inventions.
So simple is this sepulchral monument that it seems hardly to be architectural at all. Three rectangular blocks roughly proportioned 3:2:1, and with very plain moldings, are placed one on top of the other. The front faces of these blocks are filled with reliefs; the bottom has a large framed, illegible inscription as well. The steps are filled with fully carved figures and volutes, the latter holding bean pods within them, while at the top are seated two small youths supporting a blank shield between them. The whole monument is set upon a high and completely unornamented base. Aside from this base the architectural blocks of this tomb are basically forms to receive and support sculpture, the carved volutes, and the shield. The only extensive planar area is filled with the inscription which, along with the coat-of-arms placed on the shield above, would have identified the man for whom the tomb was designed.
Although the Design for a Tomb does not readily bring to mind the decorations in the Gallery of Francis I, there is one fundamental correspondence between them. As in the gallery, especially in such a wall area as that with the Twins of Catania, space is almost entirely displaced by forms. The decoration surrounding the Twins of Catania—except that along the bottom—is entirely composed of sculptural and architectural elements with only a minimum of space between them, as in the Design for a Tomb. Here, however, the motifs are almost all sculptural. And these motifs are fewer in number and kind and larger in size than is generally the case in the gallery. In this respect the tomb more clearly resembles the stucco decoration with very large figures that flanks the Venus and Minerva. But here the large figures are set off by the niches behind them and the simple piers at their sides, and the reliefs behind their legs are richly framed by moldings and large slabs of strapwork. The composition of the tomb goes significantly beyond these decorations in the gallery in the greater importance of its sculpture, in the reduction of the setting for it and in the almost complete elimination of any space between its parts.
While executed in pen and ink and wash the draughtsmanship of the Design for a Tomb closely resembles that of the red chalk Reclining Nude Woman. In both the handling of their respective media defines forms boldly and broadly at the same time that they describe a special brightness upon them. Contours are both firm and ragged and maintain the importance of the forms over any flatness of shape that outlines, in general, could produce and do in other drawings by Rosso. The Michelangelesque aspect of the Reclining Nude Woman is also felt in the Design for a Tomb in its emphasis on forms and the largeness of them. Only in the seated figures on top of the tomb is Michelangelo’s art specifically recalled but the density and robustness of Rosso’s entire conception seems inspired by a sense of grandness that Rosso knew to be essentially Michelangelesque. What is, however, actually described is just as essentially Rosso’s and conveys even in its simplicity that kind of idiosyncrasy of expression that is found throughout his art.
Iconographically the tomb is neither complex nor unusual, although its program suggests a degree of intensity that complements the stylistic and graphic boldness of the drawing. In the center of the tomb, at what would probably be above eye level had the tomb actually been constructed, appears the image of the deceased person in high relief. He reclines with his head supported by his raised left arm and is asleep. He is richly clothed and wears a hat. The figure all but completely fills the area he occupies, and what space is left is taken by a curtain. There may be a pillow behind his head and left arm. Above this level of the tomb is a relief of the Entombment showing Christ’s nude body being carried to the left. The deceased below reclines to the right. The Entombment is small and composed of only five figures placed closely together. The compactness of its design and the passion of the figures remind one both of antique sculpture, especially the pose of the figure of Christ, and of Donatello’s reliefs, the wailing woman with outstretched arms in particular. One of the seated youths at the top of the monument looks down; the one on the left looks across to the other. On either side of the reclining sleeping man is a mourning putto with an inverted flaming torch, an ancient symbol of death.33 The putti with very convoluted postures flanking the inscription are probably meant to express a kind of sorrowful agony. The one on the left seems to swing a censer. There is some unidentifiable object behind the other putto. Similarly unclear is what is placed at the very top of the tomb above the blank shield.
In its parts and as a whole the symbolism of the tomb is, for Rosso, remarkably uncomplicated. The references to death and sleep—to the death of the man whose tomb it is and to Christ’s—and the use of both antique and Christian motifs are easily understandable. What is impressive is the simplicity of this iconography and its stylistic clarity almost entirely without ornament.
This is not the first design for a tomb that Rosso invented. The other, for which a payment is known, was done in 1531 (L.48). Unfortunately, there is no visual record of it. One would expect, given the date, that it may have resembled to some extent the Arentine Design for an Altar, itself dependent upon Michelangelo’s early designs for the Tomb of Julius II, but only slightly. The Design for a Tomb intends a quite different effect, and a far less contrived and perhaps also a somewhat less subtle one. There is even an awkwardness about the Design for a Tomb that, if not intentional, at least seems to indicate an abandonment of the carefully worked out intricacies that appear not only in the Altar and the Design for a Canntoral Baton, but also throughout the decorations of the Gallery of Francis I. This decrease in complexity, while it does not tell us all there is to know about Rosso’s late art, does seem to be an aspect of certain works of his last years, achieving something of the passionate expression of the works of the period of his first maturity around 1521.
The copy in the Museo Civico in Milan of Rosso’s lost drawing of the Holy Family (D.83) is sufficiently good to suggest that the original resembled in its draughtsmanship the approximately contemporary Design for a Tomb. Like that drawing, the one in Milan is composed largely of broad areas of bright light and several values of shade with the forms given a somewhat greater degree of precision than the washes themselves would provide by deft but also slightly ragged pen lines. Technically the drawing also resembles the Pandora and Her Box (D.57), but the later drawing is more boldly conceived without the ornamental penmanship and the very broken lights and shades of the other. A boldness characterizes the composition, which is both grand and concentrated, and which has, in general, the form of a hemisphere, the center of which is occupied by the Christ Child. There is in the relationships of the parts of the composition—in the broad areas made by the heads and arms and legs of the figures—much that recalls pictures by Andrea del Sarto, Fra Bartolommeo, and Raphael. Especially remarkable in this work is the space that appears such an integral part of its composition. There is a certain precedent for the composition of this drawing in Rosso’s Allegory on the Birth of Christ (D,72) but the Holy Family is further evolved and focused in the terms that are generally associated with the art of the High Renaissance. It is just possible that the drawing reflects a study of Sarto’s Madonna and Child with St. Elizabeth and the Young St. John34 and of Raphael’s Madonna of Francis I, both of the Louvre and both in the Francis I’s collection. Were it not for the abstraction of Rosso’s image one might also believe that the drawing was done two decades earlier and by an artist of an earlier generation. But it is that very abstraction—the description of form that is so broad and planar—that indicates the significantly later moment of this work. Not only the bonnet of the Virgin but also the entire sober temper of the work brings to mind the Dei altarpiece of 1522. But the repressive aspect of that altarpiece, resulting from Rosso’s concession to the decorum of Florentine taste at that time, is not evident in the Holy Family. The conception, forms, and temper of this work are fully affirmative.
Although the subject of this drawing, and of the prints that are derived from it (E.101, E.161), has always been described as showing the Holy Family with St. Elizabeth, the absence of the young St. John in this scene makes it unlikely that the old woman is his mother. It is more probable that she is St. Anne, and that through her the scene makes reference to the immaculate conception of the Virgin. This is also suggested by the inclusion of the piece of fruit toward which the Child gestures. This apple, having, however, something more of the appearance of a pear in the engraving made after this design, is held by the old man who would seem to be St. Joseph. In the context of this composition, there should, perhaps, be no reason to hesitate in recognizing him as Joseph, but his robust appearance, the fact that he is shown nude to the waist, and his action are unusual. One might be inclined to wonder whether both he and the old woman are supposed to be seen as referring to other persons as well as in Rosso’s Allegory on the Birth of Christ. She could be the prophetess Anna, who attended the Christ Child’s presentation in the temple, and he a prophet; however, the man’s nudity would no more easily support the latter identification than it does the one to Joseph. His robustness, however, like Joseph’s youth and handsomeness in Rosso’s Marriage of the Virgin, may have its own special meaning here. With the fruit in his hand held away from Christ, there is indicated not only original sin but also the role that, in spite of Joseph’s viril appearance, is significantly not his in Christ’s paternity. Thus no identification of the bearded man as anyone other than Joseph seems necessary. The old woman would then unquestioningly be St. Anne. Her arm, the gesture of which is not altogether clear, is compositionally linked to Christ’s as his other arm leads to Joseph’s hand holding the fruit. The Child supported only by the Virgin whose arm and hand keep open a small book placed in her lap. Her youth is contrasted to St. Anne’s old age, while Christ’s smooth body contrasts with Joseph’s muscular strengths. Christ’s face appears slightly anxious, an emotion that is somewhat more emphasized in the prints and may have been more pronounced in Rosso’s original drawing. But the other figures exhibit little, if any, expressions on their faces. Their major importance is as attendants to the Child whom they surround. Their largeness and strength heightened the sense of vulnerableness in the child, while the open book, with its implications of prophecy, indicates the preordination of his fate, of which the Christian spectator is already well aware. The meaning of the scene seems to be quite simple, and even the inclusion of Joseph does not prevent one from easily recognizing what is intended, although Joseph’s role is sufficiently uncommon to cause us to take new notice of it. The stylistic sobriety of the composition of the drawing is similarly heightened by the brilliant effects of Rosso’s draughtsmanship.
The Madonna and Child known from an engraving attributed to Boyvin (E.25) has a largeness of conception and an expressive clarity that are comparable to those of the Holy
Family. The engraved scene is also similarly concentrated but it is composed more on the basis of the relationships of verticals and horizontals and interweaving diagonals than with the broad, bending forms of the Holy Family. As in that drawing, the Madonna in the print wears a ruffled bonnet and holds a book. She is visible from the knees up and is apparently seated on or immediately in front of a bed whose canopy, draperies and pillow all but fill the area behind the figures. A similar bed appears in the background of the Allegory on the Birth of Christ and suggests the intimacy of a domestic interior that in the allegory is shared by the other figures. This intimacy is felt much more strongly in the Madonna and Child because the background is immediately behind the figures and there are only two figures in the scene. The child is enormous, recalling in his size the children in Sarto’s Madonna and Child with the Infant St. John in the Borghese Callery.35 His pose, however, is similar to that of the Child in Sarto’s Madonna and Child, St. Elizabeth and St. John in the Louvre. He kneels with one leg on the Virgin’s thigh but, unlike Sarto’s figure, the full length of his nude body is placed right against the Virgin’s, his genitals touching her abdomen. He embraces her around the neck, she around his hips. His left hand holds her little finger. Although her body is fully wrapped in abundant drapery that is crisscrossed by a variety of angular folds, her small and widely spaced breasts are very apparent, and the right nipple can be seen through her garment. He looks out and she down so that emotionally the two of them seem quite separated in their thoughts. But physically they are very much joined so that, in association with the bed behind them, there is implied an almost erotic relationship between them. She does not fondle him as a child, and his upright pose, with his left foot partially supporting him upon a small ledge in the immediate foreground, gives him a certain degree of independence and maturity. As in the Holy Family drawing in Milan, the Virgin again holds open a book that rests on the foreground ledge. The overall impression of the scene, in spite of its decorative and descriptive richness and the physical intimacy of the two figures, is grave and even melancholy. The image portends the loss of the very love it shows.
A small drawing of the Annunciation is Dusseldorf (D.84) is a copy of another late invention by Rosso and one which, in the grandness of its conception, is similar to the Holy Family in Milan and the engraved Madonna and Child. Done in pen and gray-brown ink and gray wash the draughtsmanship of this copy is very bold but does not have the crispness of that of the original Design for a Tomb. It is, however, a kind of draughtsmanship that is more like that preserved in the copy of Rosso’s lost Pandora Adorned by Aphrodite in Dallas (D.78). Nevertheless, the Annunciation is a more energetic drawing and possibly preserves, better than the Dallas drawing, something of the boldness of the type of draughtsmanship it shows that has a history that goes back at the latest to the years immediately following Rosso’s stay in Rome. A graphic ruggedness produces in this drawing an extraordinary plasticity that is in accord with the energetic movement of the figures and the compactness of the composition of this scene.
Although this Annunciation is not the only work of Rosso’s that is composed of the relationship of fully plastic forms in space the Annunciation is remarkable for the degree to which these relationships have been explored to produce such a balance between forms and the spaces they create. The Annunciation resembles Rosso’s Dream of Hercules (D.79) where, however, the profile pose of the woman and the extreme twist of the hero’s body tend to reduce the spatial implications of their large and full forms. In the Dusseldorf drawing the poses and gestures of the figures project their forms in complementary relationships throughout the space of the scene. At the lower left the edge of a cloth-covered table provides a strong diagonal into the composition. The body of the Virgin, though seen largely from the front, is placed with her forms projecting backward and forward as well as across the scene. The angel is seen in profile but slightly turned to his right and this turn along with the openness of his pose that gives full value to the placement of his limbs makes him wholly appreciable within the space that his body and limbs define. Furthermore, his pose, especially his raised right arm, moves to occupy the space formed by the bend of the Virgin’s body and, in particular, by her lowered and extended left arm. Under the arch of the top of the drawing, the huge figure of God-the-Father flies forward on a diagonal from the distance. He and three angels fill the entire upper third of the scene except for the clear area at the right where the foreshortened arm of God appears with the hand pointing to Gabriel. The arc of God’s arms and shoulders crowns the composition but it does so spatially as well as laterally as his body, on a diagonal, compositionally joins the frontal pose of the Virgin and the profile of one of the angels. With similar reciprocity of pose and movement, the gestures of the three main figures balance each other in space and across the plane of the composition. Were it not for the degree of abstraction of the figures and certain aspects of the interpretation of the theme of this drawing, one might also consider this composition a late High Renaissance one joining a kind of Fra Bartolommesque calculation of design with a Michelangelesque energy of form and movement. But there is also a dramatic impetuousness in this Annunciation that distinguishes it from that earlier art and marks its emotional temper as peculiarly that of Rosso’s imagination.
In most respects Rosso’s Annunciation has the usual features associated with this subject. In showing Gabriel alone making his announcement to the Virgin this scene is actually more normal, one might even say more traditionally correct, than his earlier French Annunciation in the Albertina (D.43). But in three matters the scene in Dusseldorf is unusual. Gabriel is shown nude except for some drapery that covers his hips and legs. God’s body and arms are also undraped. And the Virgin is shown with bare breasts, with clearly marked nipples. Nipples are slightly indicated through her clothing in other representations of the Virgin by Rosso but nowhere else are her breasts depicted completely uncovered. Leonard Limosin’s etching of this Annunciation (E.90), which alters very many details of Rosso’s drawing, has the breasts covered, as well as the Virgin’s arms. Nor does Limosin show her bare feet, which he covers with drapery. Limosin’s print also depicts God and the angel entirely clothed. These changes in the etching, done probably in 1544, certainly indicate Limosin’s feeling of the inappropriateness of the nudity in Rosso’s Annunciation. But other changes that he made, as well as details that he added, give evidence, too, that Limosin did not fully comprehend the meaning of Rosso’s work. He also changed the gestures of the Virgin’s and Gabriel’s left hands. He gave the angel a staff with a twisted banderole at the top of it and gave God-the-Father an orb to hold in his left hand. A dove was added in the center of a blast of light, a vase of lilies was placed on a paved floor, and the entire scene was given an architectural setting. Not only has Rosso’s Annunciation been elaborated, it has also been conventionalized and its original meaning has been almost entirely obscured.36
Unusual as his Annunciation is, it is not necessary to believe that the nudity of the figures, and especially the Virgin’s exposed breasts, indicate any intended sacrilege on Rosso’s part. The way her torso is drawn makes it look nude and although it is possible that we are to see it as covered by a very tight garment, her breasts are very particularly described as large and extending over the band immediately beneath them. Her torso also looks uncovered. The Virgin’s extended left arm and the upturned gesture of her hand indicate her receptivity to the announcement that is given to her by the angel. The pointing finger of God’s left hand is directed to the angel who in turn transfers its significance to the Virgin with the extended finger of his left hand. It is the moment of the incarnation of Christ and it is not only Divine will but also Mary’s receptive fecundity that make it possible, Rosso would seem to be indicating. Mary’s bonnet may suggest her maidenhood and her innocence but her body and breasts make even more evident that she is the vessel that now shall bear and then shall nourish the Son of God.37 Rosso’s conception of this subject is daring but it is not without its own religious truth. One may well wonder if his representation of the Virgin that gives visual form to this truth could even have been translated to the size of a major altarpiece or to one that would be located in a public place of worship. Even as a small print Limosin felt obliged to alter the iconography of Rosso’s original conception. Nevertheless, it behooves us to recognize the seriousness of Rosso’s intentions, which are supported by the grandness of his composition, even if these intentions could possibly only be given existence in the form of a small drawing.
The seriousness of Rosso’s drawing should not, however, cause us to ignore the degree to which it is also unusual. There are other religious works by Rosso such as his Marriage of the Virgin of 1523 that explore the sensual implications of the subjects they depict. Some of his secular works do, also, even when their eroticism is not necessarily called forth by what they represent. Then there are a few works, including the Pluto and Proserpina, designed in Rome (E.46), that are blatantly sexual. The Annunciation is and is not, depending upon how much one believes its subject can or need to bear such interpretation. But in any case, there is no reason to see the drawing’s erotic implications as facetious. They may strain the limits of the believer’s faith but the style of the drawing assures a serious attitude towards its subject.
There is equally no reason to believe that Rosso’s Judith and Holofernes drawing in Los Angeles (D.85) is to be taken any less seriously in spite of the unprecedented and most bizarre interpretation of its subject. Rosso had depicted the subject once before, almost immediately upon his arrival in France. But that earlier scene, a painting, known from Boyvin’s engraving probably after a drawing for it (E.7), is wholly unlike the Los Angeles drawing. That earlier depiction showed a half-length Judith exhibiting the head of Holofernes and the sword with which she decapitated him. She is shown fully and richly clothed and with a very elaborate coiffure that gives her a degree of sexual allure heightened by the slight appearance of her nipples through her dress. But nothing of this image really prepares us for what appears in the Los Angeles drawing.
In certain respects this drawing shows a traditional representation of Judith putting the head of Holofernes in a bag held by her maid, with his headless body lying in the background. But there seems to be no other picture of this subject showing all three of these figures totally naked. It was not uncommon to represent Holofernes nude, and often in his bed. By showing Judith also nude Rosso has made her role as a seductress obvious which in the Book of Judith is only implied. Relating how she dressed herself up in all her finery, she proceeded, however, not from sensuality, but from virtue, and with God’s help “she appeared to all men’s eyes incomparably lovely”. On the night of the killing Judith was left alone with Holofernes, the enemy of her people, in his tent where he eventually fell asleep drunk. Then, and only then, does the story state that she approached him, but with the intention of cutting off his head. Upon her return to Bethulia Judith proclaimed “…the Lord hath not suffered me his handmaid to be defiled, but hath brought me back to you without pollution of sin, rejoicing for his victory, for my escape, and for your deliverance.”38 But pure though she remained, Judith’s original intention of enticing him sexually is clear in the story and it is this aspect that Rosso wished to emphasize by Judith’s nudity. This has been suggested in other representations of Judith, who is sometimes accompanied by an old and fully clothed maid, whose appearance points up the youth and beauty of Judith39 in Rosso’s drawing the maid would seem to serve the same function but much more empathically by revealing her withered body.
Rosso’s interest in representing old figures such as Judith’s maid goes back as far as his Allegory of Death and Fame of 1517 (D.1).40 The juxtaposition of age and youth with types as in the Los Angeles drawing can also be found in the Loss of Perpetual Youth and in the Twins of Catania in the Gallery of Francis I. So prominent, in fact, is the figure of the maid in Rosso’s scene that the Judith and Holoferens has also the appearance of a Memento mori, of a vanitas image, or of the depiction of Love and Envy.41 These implications vie, to some extent, with the significance of the story of Judith giving the scene an intellectual resemblance to Rosso’s Three Fates Nude and to the ambivalent image of St. Roch-Emnedocles. The effect of ambivalence in the Judith drawing is somewhat different. What is represented is so unusual in regard to Judith’s story and so bizarre in regard to the appearance of the old woman next to the young one that it is difficult to experience what is depicted as somehow bearing upon Judith’s bravery and virtue. And yet it seems that Rosso intended us to understand from what we see these aspects of Judith and to recognize simultaneously that Judith conquered Holofernes with her beauty. But in exposing so obviously the sexual element of Judith’s power, Rosso has emphasized the means of her success at the expense of the significance of her intention to be the savior of her people. The unusual absence of a sword gives more importance than usual to the placing of the head in the bag held by the maid. In pictures in which Judith holds the head she usually holds it by the hair, but here she holds it almost nonchalantly by the cheek so that it faces upward. Furthermore, the head is placed far to the left of the drawing seeming almost as an incident in the scene, rather than the object of Judith’s bravery. The empty bag appears much more important. Although she does not occupy so prominent a position as Judith, because of her bizarre appearance the maid compels the attention of the spectator to a degree that may exceed the attractiveness of the heroine herself. Like the Annunciation drawing in Dusseldorf, the Los Angeles drawing disrupts one’s normal expectations of the subject and leaves one somewhat at a loss as to where the meaning of this new experience of an old subject lies.
One may well wonder what Rosso intended to do with this drawing. Transform it into a painting? Or is it, as so many of his drawings seem to be, the finished work of art itself? If the latter is true then it presents an aspect of Rosso’s inventiveness that was largely a private matter that belonged to some of his drawings. If the Judith and Holofernes lacks that degree of decorum that might be expected from him in his religious paintings—but here we might think back to the S. Maria Nuova Altarpiece—it is very probable that this is so because it was never intended to be a painting. In a drawing, however, such a conception could be tried and appreciated within a less restricted realm of artistic possibilities and expectations.
Graphically the drawing has something of the precision of Rosso’s Florentine Enthroned Madonna and Child with Four Saints (D.4) and Virtu Vanquishing Fortune (D.6) but with the chiaroscural faceting of the Aretine Madonna Bella Misericordia (D.85). But the figures in the Judith drawing are larger, and it may be for this reason that the draughtsmanship of them makes them appear rather insubstantial, although they are not caught within a fluctuating luminosity as are the figures in the Aretine drawing. This is especially true of the body of Holofernes, perhaps because it is in the background, and to some extent also of the maid. Judith is more fully and continuously modeled, and this gives her the special definition that she deserves in this scene, but even she is not emphatically three-dimensional. The whole drawing has an almost evanescent quality that, if not exactly visionary in its effect, distances the image from the spectator.
What may be the latest surviving drawing by Rosso, possibly representing the Visitation, in the Lebel Collection in Paris (D.86, is even more ephemeral in its appearance but not as an extension of the kind of draughtsmanship represented by the Judith and Holofernes. The lower part of the Lebel drawing, executed in red chalk, is rather severely damaged but where the drawing survives well it resembles graphically the Reclining Nude Woman in the British Museum (D.80). The figures in both of these approximately contemporary drawings are described almost completely in terms of light and shade. But whereas a certain degree of substance is sensed in the Reclining Nude Woman, in the Visitation all form has been completely dissolved. A shadowed atmosphere surrounds the figures in both of these drawings which makes them unlike the Judith drawing where the figures are more isolated from their background. The kind of drawing that is presented by the two other works could also be recognized as going back to the kind of draughtsmanship that is seen in the much earlier Madonna della Misericordia (D.$5). The transformation of it, however, especially in the Visitation, has been extraordinary and has dissolved the form and details to such an extent as to approach the obliteration of the subject that is represented.
The two full-length women facing each other, the old one possibly bowing before the young one and with their arms extended and hands are about to meet, suggests the Visitation. The clasping of hands is a traditional detail in scenes of the meeting of St. Elizabeth and the Virgin. However, the depiction of extended left hands offers the possibility that the subject of the drawing is something else, unless it is a counterproof which could also explain its lack of clarity. The old woman could be seen as seated. Perhaps the scene is not a narrative one at all, nor even a religious one. The drawing might represent a pair of sibyls, or a scene with ambivalent meanings which might include an allusion to the Visitation.
It is with these questions in mind presented by Rosso’s late drawings that we can approach his last surviving painting, the unfinished picture in Los Angeles (P.24). What is presented here has been only lightly brushed in giving the picture a translucence and an appearance of spontaneity that in its more densely painted finished state would probably have become a richer brilliance on more fully defined forms. The Los Angeles picture would almost surely, even when completed, have been brighter than the somber Pietà in the Louvre. But these two paintings share a breadth of form, and an interrelationship of bodies and limbs that associate them as French works. There is, however, a largeness of conception in the Los Angeles painting that joins it to those works that seem to have been done in the very last years of his life. One may wonder if its incomplete state is due to the fact that Rosso was working on it at the time of his death.
The confrontation, in the painting, between an old woman and a young one—the Virgin—brings to mind Rosso’s Vertumnus and Pomona (D.46), his drawing in Los Angeles (D.85), as well as the late drawing in the Lebel Collection (D.72). We are also reminded of the Loss of Perpetual Youth in the Gallery of Francis I and the Allegory on the Birth of Christ (D.72), in both of which bizzarely characterized old age is juxtaposed to youth. The Holy Family in Milan (D.83) shows a very old figure, St. Anne, placed next to a young one, the Madonna. Rosso’s fascination with very old age, as already pointed out, goes back to the very early part of his career, but during the end of his life there seems to have been a even more pointed concern with it, at least in the depiction of women. Almost equally long-standing was his interest in representing figures asleep, and as apparently asleep when they are actually dead. In the Volterra Deposition and the Boston Dead Christ death appears as a pleasant sleeping state. Adam sleeps, of course, restlessly, in the Creation of Eve in the Cesi Chapel in Rome. A young woman sleeps in the Loss of Perpetual Youth as does Rosso’s Reclining Nude Woman in the British Museum. Hercules sleeps in The Dream of Hercules. A young male figure also sleeps, with the appearance of death, in the lower left corner of the painting in Los Angeles. With Rosso’s other depictions of old age and of sleep and death in mind, the painting in California takes on a special profundity of meaning and a special poignancy as well. These are created by stylistic aspects that similarly refer to Rosso’s own art, but also to the work of other artists.
Rosso’s painting recalls Sarto’s Madonna and Child with St. Elizabeth and the Young St. John that was in Francis I’s collection and is now in the Louvre. The figures of the Christ Child in these two paintings are very similar in pose, and behind Sarto’s Madonna are two young angels in a rattier painful state of high emotion that recall those in Rosso’s picture. Whatever Sarto’s picture may mean the relationship of the angels to the main figures in this painting is similar to that of Rosso’s angels in relation to the figures in front of them. The angels act as a kind of chorus responding to the announcement made by the Baptist in Sarto’s painting and by the old woman in Rosso’s. Although the pose of the sleeping youth in Rosso’s painting is different, the fact that he is shown asleep and is placed in the lower left corner of the picture suggest a degree of correspondence to the sleeping child in Sarto’s Charity that was also owned by Francis I. The pose of Rosso’s Virgin seems to be dependent to some extent upon that of the Virgin in Raphael’s Madonna of Francis I. A comparable but more general effect of the same picture can be recognized in the broad forms and in the grandness of the composition of Rosso’s painting. The relationship of Rosso’s work to these paintings by Sarto and Raphael is not such as to give Rosso’s painting the appearance of being newly and obviously Sartesque or Raphaelesque. It is sensed rather in Rosso’s response to the largeness of the artistic and emotional intentions of their pictures, which are those of the grandest art of the Italian High Renaissance.
Rosso’s painting might be identified with Leonardo’s Virgin and St. Anne in the Louvre, although it is not certain that it was in Francis I’s collection.42 Again the correspondence is not between specific details of the style of these works as it is with the level of artistic conception that they represent. In addition, they seem to share iconographical relationships involving the Madonna, the young Christ, and possibly St. Anne. An earlier drawing by Leonardo in the Louvre,43 of the same theme as the Louvre painting, shows St. Anne old, and Leonardo’s London cartoon shows the young St. John the Baptist. It is, therefore, possible that the subject of Rosso’s painting is dependent upon his study of Leonardo’s conceptions of the Virgin and St. Anne theme.
It is, however, uncertain that the subject of Rosso’s painting is actually the same as that of Leonardo’s images. It is not only that the angels in Rosso’s painting suggest a drama that does not appear in Leonardo’s works but the identity of two of the figures in Rosso’s image is not necessarily the same as the two corresponding ones in Leonardo’s pictures. Rosso’s old woman should be St. Anne if she corresponds to the one in Leonardo’s paintings and drawings, though only in one case does Leonardo show her old. However, the book that Rosso’s figure holds is not an attribute of the Virgin’s mother. Thus it has been suggested that she is also to be recognized as Anna the Prophetess who at the Presentation of Christ in the Temple recognized Him as the Redeemer.44 If, however, the old woman is associated with the nude youth reclining at her feet and if he is identified as St. John the Baptist then she could be his mother St. Elizabeth, though a book is not traditionally her attribute either. Because it is not at all unusual in Florentine art to have St. John in scenes with the Madonna and Child it is easiest to assume that in this picture by the Florentine Rosso St. John is the figure in the lower left corner of the picture even if he neither wears nor carries anything that is generally associated with this saint. Although not common it is not unparalleled to show this saint asleep in association with the Madonna and Child, and in at least one later picture, in Verona,45 he is shown also with an old woman who could be St. Anne. It has been suggested that this reclining figure could refer to Adam as well, as he is sometimes shown at the foot of the cross to symbolize Original Sin over which Christ triumphed through his supreme sacrifice.46 This Adam is generally shown prone which is not the pose of Rosso’s figure. Nevertheless, a reference to Adam could still be intended though perhaps to the Adam of another scene, specifically the Creation of Eve in which he is shown: asleep, but generally on his back or side. Double associations such as those of St. Anne with Anna or with St. Elizabeth, and St. John with Adam, are not infrequent in Rosso’s art and are especially found in the works of the last half-decade of his life. We need only to be reminded of his Three Fates, Nude, his St. Roch-Emodeocles, and his extraordinary Allegory on the Birth of Chirst.
It must, however, be recognized that the supposed multiple identities of two of the figures in Rosso’s painting, acceptable as they might be, are not clear. The old woman may simply be St. Anne and the book she holds may not so much belong to her as to the picture as a whole which is more or less the case in the drawing in Milan, where, however, the Madonna rather than St. Anne actually holds it. The reclining youth may simply be St. John who, because the painting is unfinished, may not yet have been furnished with an attribute, such as his usual cross-staff, that would unquestionably identify him. This would, of course, mean that iconographically Rosso’s painting is quite closely related to Leonardo’s images. At the same time, it does not exclude the possibility of seeing in Rosso’s figures allusions to other personages. But the style of his painting suggests not so much the complexities and ambivalences of the Allegory on the Birth of Christ as the directness of the Three Fates Nude which only by implication alludes to another subject. Rosso’s painting also does not seem to present the unresolved ambivalence of the St. Roch-Emoedocles drawing. The iconography of the Los Angeles painting may be, on a primary level, quite straight-forward though visually the picture may also suggest other possible iconographies.
Standing not on the ground but with one foot on the foot of the old woman who is probably St. Anne and the other on the thigh of the Virgin, Christ is placed to indicate his intimate relationship to both of these women. All three figures are thereby joined in reference to the Immaculate Conception, the article of belief that is conveyed by the appearance of St. Anne. In turn, the stance of the Christ Child almost certainly verifies the identification of the old woman as the Virgin’s mother; there is no reason that he should have this pose in relation to the St. Elizabeth. The old woman also touches Christ which may very well make it impossible to identify her at any level with Anna the Prophetess.47 With her left wrist resting upon Christ’s shoulder the close relation of St. Anne to the Child is again suggested but as she has reached considerably forward to place her hand upon him there is also indicated, ever so slightly, the drawing of him away from his mother. He clutches the Virgin’s dress and even appears to seek her breast under her garment, she holds on to him, and both of their expressions convey their reluctance to be separated. What seems to be visualized here is the recognition that the Immaculate Conception initiates that course of events that leads to Christ’s sacrifice. This is what also seems to be implied, though less forcefully, in the Milan drawing. And in the Los Angeles painting the role of St. Anne, and hence the idea of the Immaculate Conception, dominates the drama of the picture, though it does not eclipse the implications of the tragic consequences of the latter. What, of course, is also indicated is Christ’s complete innocence of sin and the relationship of his purity to his eventual sacrifice.
John’s appearance in Rosso’s painting is analogous to St. Anne’s insofar as he, like her, prepared immediately the way for Christ’s coming to earth. He occupies the same side of the picture but his legs are stretched across the painting and arranged on either side of her’s and the Christ Child’s. John is linked to them and yet the very fact that he does not touch them suggests the different relationship he has to them from the one St. Anne, the Virgin and the Christ Child have to each other. Although, as already mentioned, it is unusual to show St. John asleep it is not unprecedented to depict him so. In the few pictures of the Madonna and Child and the Holy Family in which he is shown sleeping48 an allusion would seem to be made to Christ’s death which is much Fiore frequently indicated by showing Christ himself asleep. Transferring the depiction of sleep to John tends to emphasize his prophetic importance and his identity with Christ, effectively joining thereby the Old to the New Testament. In Rosso’s painting such a role is also played by St. Anne whose book must refer to the prophecies of the Old Testament. What is unusual about Rosso’s St. John is his age. For while in all comparable paintings, such as the mid-sixteenth-century Florentine painting of the same subject in Verona mentioned above, he is depicted as a baby or as a very young boy, Rosso shows him considerably older. He is also shown older than he should be in relation to the apparent age of the Christ Child. However, the greater maturity of the figure of St. John has made it possible for Rosso to give him a pose that resembles that of the mature dead Christ. The pose is, in fact, very similar to that of Christ in Rosso’s own Deposition in Volterra. Hence, St. John’s greater physical maturity and his particular pose make much more poignant the tragic implications of showing him asleep than the casually reclining or sitting posture of a small child could. That he may also recall Adam as St. Anne may bring to mind a prophetess or a sibyl may be due not so much to these allusions having been iconographically programmed by Rosso as to the possibility that Rosso’s characterization of his figures is sufficiently profound to inspire the imagination of the Christian spectator to invent such allusions. For the frame of reference his picture gives directs us back and forward in time and it is within the power of the spectator to move his attention both back to Adam and forward to the moment of Adam’s own redemption.
What has yet to be mentioned are the two huge nude angels that rise up behind the other figures in the painting.49 Described as children about the same age as Christ they are, however, considerably larger. They are also much larger than the comparable angels in Sarto’s Madonna and Child with St. Elizabeth and the Young St. John in the Louvre that Rosso studied. Above the space that divides St. Anne from the Madonna and the Child and in contrast to the separation of Christ from his mother the two angels embrace. But their embrace also makes emotionally explicit the prophetical connection between the Old and New Testaments implied elsewhere in the painting. These angels appear to support each other in the midst of their recognition of the meaning of what is taking place in front of them. One angel looks down at St. John and makes a startled gesture toward him with his right hand. The other angel, with his mouth gaping open, looks out at the spectator. His glance makes the viewer aware of having been noticed, and although this may suggest his intrusion into the private world of the painting it may also imply that what is shown has significance for him, too. Through these angels Rosso’s painting becomes intimately related to the spectator as the intimacy between St. Anne and her daughter is crossed by the viewer’s with the angel. While the two angels, St. Anne and the Virgin are shown knowledgeable of the fate of the Christ Child, and the pose of St. John clearly refers to it, the Child himself expresses an emotion that can be read as more innocent. His reaction to St. Anne’s attention and gesture can be interpreted as that of a child—of any child—to the threat of being separated from its mother. Seen this way the sense of impending death indicated by the figures around Him is heightened. So too is it heightened by the knowledge we share with them. The viewer’s very personal feeling in response to the fate of the Child is experienced within an iconographical, expressive and artistic context of the highest sophistication that joins his private emotions to the most profound issues of Christian faith.
While the style of the painting may suggest that of Rosso’s Deposition in Volterra, done almost two decades earlier, the similarities which they share are somewhat exaggerated by the unfinished state of the later work. All the forms in the Los Angeles work are larger and rounder and the postures and gestures are more broadly conceived. The color is more somber and subdued and although when finished it probably would not have been as dark as the Louvre Pietà it is very likely that it would have shared something of its subdued tonal range, which is quite different from that of the altarpiece of 1521. Against a dull green-brown background brushed over tan, St. Anne’s garments are gray-green, lavender-gray, tan and light red-purple, while the Virgin’s dress is a very dark green with a wine colored sash. The angels’ wings are dark green and gray-lavender. The remainder of the picture is filled with the flesh tones of the angels, the Christ Child and St. John. All of this naked flesh is itself quite startling and is reminiscent to some extent of the Boston Dead Christ. But finished the Los Angeles painting would more probably have had the kind of luminosity and density of the Louvre picture. It is unlikely, however, that the actual colors would have been significantly changed. Consequently, the high emotion of the Los Angeles picture has about it—and when the painting was finished would have had it even more so—a deep coloristic sonority. This accompanies a definition of forms set back into the shallow space of the picture that resembles that of the Louvre picture but not very much the thinness of the figures in the Volterra Deposition with their placement more in relation to the picture plane.
Set clearly in space the figures also appear to loom up before one, as in the contemporary Annunciation in Dusseldorf (D.84). In the Los Angeles painting the effect of this is even more startling because of the extraordinary relative size of the figures. The angels are immense compared to the Christ Child and their size, even more than the foreshortened God-the-Father in the Annunciation, makes them appear to be closer to the viewer than the figures actually nearer to the picture plane. There is also something unusual about the size of the figure of St. John. His anatomy is approximately that of a young adult but in relation to the other figures in the painting he seems unnaturally small. His size makes him appear to recede and thus to complement his pose that it set on a slight diagonal into the picture with the head thrown back. Rosso’s depiction of St. John and his placement in the picture give him unusual importance, but they also prevent him from overpowering the significance of the other figures. One may wonder whether the saint’s role has anything to do with the fact that the painter’s own name was Giovanni Battista, making it possible that Rosso painted the picture for himself, perhaps for an altar dedicated to his namesake.
While the relationship of Rosso’s Virgin and Child with St. Anne and St. John the Baptist to his first Florentine paintings of the early 1520’s is suggested, somewhat too much, by the unfinished state of the Los Angeles painting, the structure of this late work and the kinds of figures, emotions, and meaning that it is in many respects like those of the Volterra Deposition. But the Los Angeles painting is grander, and its forms and emotions are weightier. Assuming that its finished appearance would have resembled that of the Louvre Pietà the later picture, with its surfaces more deliberately articulated, would very probably have looked more grave. At the same time, these surfaces would possibly not have been so finely modulated as in the Pietà. Thus, the resulting effect of the Los Angeles work might have been closer to the unfinished state in respect to the breadth of its forms and largeness of its surface details than to the slightly earlier Pietà where everything is so finely faceted. There one recognizes the exquisite handling of such paintings as the San Lorenzo Sposalizio and the Dei altarpiece. The Los Angeles painting suggests the more planar manner of the Volterra and Villamagna altarpieces. Surviving also in the late French work is something of their strong and keen emotion and poignant privacy.
After looking at what he produced in the late 1520s in Italy and in the 1530s in France, the end of Rosso`s career as we see it in his painting in Los Angeles appears almost surprisingly direct again, both stylistically and emotionally. This is not as true as it might seem at first and yet it is sufficiently apparent to indicate that vein of the serious purpose of Rosso’s art from which a variety of manners arose. His ambitions were high, and no less so than those of his illustrious Florentine predecessors, Leonardo and Michelangelo. His genius, however, was not of their level, but it was as extraordinary as that of his contemporary, Pontormo, though the appearance of their art and the nature of their careers were very different. Rosso valued his individuality more and sought more than Pontormo to make it felt as a significant factor in his art in a variety of ways. But this need was not merely a stylistic issue. It also had its intellectual sources for the individuality of Rosso’s art lies as much in its themes and iconography as in its style. It is the richness of its intellectual basis that must account also for the vicissitudes of Rosso’s style which make one so aware of his awareness of his own artistic position in relation to the art that had been produced and was being made around him in Italy. Furthermore, in style and content one senses in Rosso’s art the public and the private man, sometimes comfortably expressed separately, sometimes easily combined, but also sometimes revealing a discontent with the former as an artistic role. There is just enough biographical information to support the contention that there was personal discontent here that was not set aside as unworthy of expression. In the midst of his extensively varied artistic—and to some extent also personal behavior, there was, however, more than a contrary personality. There was an individual concerned very much with the issues of man’s condition, his faith and his fate—and with Rosso’s own and with the ways that these issues give shape to art, and reciprocally with the ways that art defines them and gives them their meanings. As a final statement the Virgin and Child with St. Anne and St. John the Baptist shows us the vitality that the individuality of Rosso’s imagination still had to give form to his intuitions, a vitality that continues to reflect the temperament that was his in Florence over twenty years before.
Rosso died on Sunday 14 November 1540.50 He was forty-six years old. Vasari reported in 1550, and again in 1568, that, feeling dishonored and fearful of being called a bad and disloyal person, he committed suicide at Fontainebleau, when the king was in residence, after falsely accusing his assistant, Francesco Pellegrino, of stealing a large sum of money from him.51 It has been argued that Vasari’s story is not true and that Rosso died of natural causes after an illness of several months.52 To resolve this conflict it has been suggested that although he poisoned himself he was given last rites before he expired and hence could be buried with the sanction of the church.53 A triple obit for the deceased canon Rosso held in Ste. Chapelle ten days after his death.54 An epitaph for a monument in Florence that may never have been made is reproduced by Vasari in 1550:
ROSCIO FLORENTINO, PICTORI, TVM IN-
VENTIONE AC DISPOSTIONE, TVM VARIA
MORVM EXPRESSIONE TOTA ITALIA
QVI DVM POENAM TALIONIS EFFVGERE
VELLET, VENENO LAQVEVM REPEDENS:
TAM MAGNO ANIMO, QVAM FACING
RE: IN GALLIA MISERRIME PERIIT.
VIRTVS ET DESPERATIO, FLORENTIAE HOC
Stating that Rosso took poison rather than face the gallows, one assumes that this was thought to be his fate, the result of a judgment of a supposed countersuit brought against him by Pellegrino.56
Given the evidence that has come down to us, it is not difficult to conclude that Rosso killed himself, although he may also have been ill.57 From the beginning, there was discontent, disquiet, and even, it seems, desperation in his life. The actual nature of his death, as reported by Vasari, expresses a conflict of major proportions. For all of the financial rewards that his position in France brought him, it was precisely upon the issue of money that the last act of his life turned. His success had put him in a position to become embroiled in court intrigues, the implications of one of which he felt he could not escape. There comes to mind Pietro Aretino’s remark that “Vita 6 it non andare in Corte.”58 But it is to court that Aretino’s recommendation took Rosso, and it was at the court of Francis I that Rosso, as artist-courtier, had to create a place for himself and where he was in a position to make the most of his genius. In the second edition of the Vite Vasari wrote. “When the news of [Rosso’s death] was taken to the king it caused him indescribable regret, since it was his opinion that in losing Rosso he had been deprived of the most excellent artist of his time.”59
In much of Rosso’s art there is evidence of a fascination with death, as horrible, but also as satisfying. Already in 1517, in his Allegory of Death and Fame, Death as a winged skeleton appeared with a smile on its face to acknowledge the sweetness that Fame dives to mortality. The pleasure of death appears again on the face of Christ in the Volterra Deposition, and in the Boston Dead Christ. Death is ritualized in the Borgo Sansepolcro Pietà but with overtones of horror and decay rather than of pleasure. Ritual appears to shape the emotion in his French Pietà drawing, and in his Death of Adonis in the Gallery of Francis I. In Rosso’s painting in the Louvre the image of death is more passive, suggesting again sleep rather than the finality of death itself, as in his Design for a Tomb, perhaps his own, where the effigy is of a figure asleep beneath a relief of the Entombment. In his last painting the depiction of sleep once more suggests death, but not, in this case, the sleeper’s. St. John’s appearance presages the death of the anxious Christ Child. However, the two excited angels seem to presage more, that Child’s eventual resurrection. In spite of its aura of impending doom the final implication of the Los Angeles painting is affirmative. Its conception of death in relation to the Christian life is the most profound and complex of Rosso’s artistic statements on this subject. It is very likely his final one as well.
As a plea for his salvation Vasari appended a second epitaph to his 1550 Life of Rosso:
L’ombra del Rosso & qui; la Francia hA 1’ossa;
La fama it mondo copre; it Ciel risponde
A chi per le belle ogre it chiama; donde
Non passa Palma sua, la inferna fossa.60
1 Bee for example the female stucco figures by Primaticcio of the mantelpiece in the Chambre de la Reine at Fontainebleau, done between 1534 and 1537 (Blunt, 1973, 62, Fig. 38).
2 On the Graces as reflected in the Fates, see Mind, 1968, 249, n.27.
3 Vasselin, as in E.105; and Shoemaker and Broun, 1981, 148–149, no. 45, Fig. 45.
4 See (as in E.105) HL’guin, in Delay, 1987; and Grivel, in Ronsard, 1985, who gives S. Matthews–Gricco’s suggestion that the nudity of the figures is proof of their demonic character in the sixteenth century, and that they are perceived as sorcerers.
5 Panofsky, 1965, 4–5, n.4.
6 On the drawings and engravings of costumes and masks that have been related to Rosso but which cannot be recognized as by Rosso himself, see RD.1, RD.27, RE.28–30, RE.65, and RE.79–80.
7 Translation based upon that of Anne and Christopher Fremantle, in Denieul-Cormier, 1969, 134.
8 I wish to thank Professor Frangois Rigolot for identifying this passage for me.
9 As kindly suggested to me by Nicholas S. DeMarco.
10 At the same time the technique of the drawing is so similar to that of the disegni di stampe that Rosso made in Rome, and the engraving so closely follows it that one is inclined to wonder if Rosso did not intend the Hercules scene to be engraved. This need not, however, have been the case as the very careful and dry draughtsmanship of the drawing is also characteristic of other drawings by him, such as his St. Jerome, in the Louvre (U.45), which was done in France and was not engraved. Furthermore, Rosso’s manner of drawing in chalk in so many of his drawings would seem to lend itself to being copied by an engraver. On the possibility, however, that Rosso was considering the making of prints from his designs in France, see Chapter IX.
11 On the position of his arm bend over his head as signifying sleep, see Meiss, 1966, in Millard Meiss, “Sleep in Venice. Ancient Myths and Renaissance Proclivities”, in The Painter’s Choice, New York, 1976, 216, and 232, n.25.
12 According to Cesare Ripa (IconoloQia, Rome, 1643, reprint Hildesheim and New York, 1974) the mask is the attribute of “Pugia”, “Fraude”, and “Ignanno”; when thrown on the ground and broken, it signifies (under “Lealti”) “dispregio della fintione”, and when put under foot (under “Contritione”), “dispregio delle cose mundane”. (see also Erwin Panofsky, Studies in Iconology, New York and Evanston, 1962, 89 and n. 75). The Sun appears as a symbol of “Virtu” and “Verit&”. Ripa’s “Verity.” is indicated in all but one example as nude but also “con alcuni veli bianchid’intorno” to cover her partially.
13 On the Dream of Hercules, see Erwin Panofsky, Hercules am Scheideweae, Leipzig and Berlin, 1934, 39ff., and especially 87ff.; Theodor E. Mommsen, “Petrarch and the Story of the Choiceof Hercules”, Medieval and Renaissance Studies, ed. E.F. Rice, Jr., Ithaca, 1959, 175-195; Jung, 1966, 9, 135-136, and Michae Mezzatesta, “Dreaming Hercules: A Note on Hercules Iconography and North Italian Classicism c.1544”, Marsyas, XVIII, 1975–1976, 17–19.
14 If the Dream of Hercules was used as part of the decorations made for this visit it could have been invented for one of the “archi” that Vasari says Rosso designed, and possibly for the triumphal arch that Dan mentions and partially describes, if Rosso and not Primaticcio devised it. This arch must have had more paintings than the one, it seems, that Dan describes as showing the king and the emperor in antique costume accompanied by Peace and Concord. If it was understood that Hercules signified the emperor and his virtues were to be extolled through this figure then the Dream of Hercules could have found its place in the iconography of this arch, perhaps with other scenes of Hercules, although this might, from Francis I’s point, have overemphasized Charles V’s worldly might, or with scenes of Virtue or other ancient figures. Hercules scenes referring to Charles V were used exclusively on one of the triumphal arches erected in Brussels for the entry of Prince Philip in 1549–50, and two other arches also showed Hercules and his labors (see Jacquot, 1960, 445–446).
15 See, for example, Fetes, II, 1960, P1. IV, 1.
16 See Guerin, 1669, 5-6, the translations of these passages have been adapted from Denieul-Cormier, 1965, 135–136.
17 See Jung, 1966, 88.
18 For much of what follows, see Marcel Bataillon, “Plus oultre: la cour decouvre le nouveau monde”, in Fetes, II, 1960, 13-27; and Earl Rosenthal, “Plus Ultra, Non Plus Ultra, and the Columnar Device of Emperor Charles V,” JWCI, 34, 1971, 204-228.
19 Jacquot, 1960,479, states that the device “Plus oultre” also referred to “un depassement de soi-meme Bans un effort pour atteindre la plus haute vertu.” See also Jung, 1966, 89, n.50. For the imperial significance of the motto and the columns, see Francis A. Yates, “Charles Quint et L’idee d’empire”, in Fetes, II, 1960, 82–83.
20 For a banquet at the Louvre in honor of Charles V during his visit a statue of Vulcan, twice life-size, holding a torch was placed in the courtyard (see Jacquot, 1960, 438). Given Vulcan’s connection with fire, one need not search for any special significance in this torch, which was probably meant primarily to give illumination. The smaller Hercules statue could have been put to a similar use but it is unlikely that this was the only significance of its torches because they were not a required element of the established symbolic meaning of its columns.
21 See Yates, Fates, 11, 1960, 94–95.
22 See EdF, 1972, 32–35, no. 34, with ill.
23 As he is called in the title of one of the published descriptions of his entry into Paris (see Macd, ed. Reynaud, 1379, xvii, no. 8).
24 Bataillon, in Fates, 11, 1960 (as in n.18), 27.
25 Guerin, 1883, 74, and Jacquot, 1960, 438.
26 DeBoom, 1957, 85.
27 This translation was kindly made for me by the late Professor James Day who offered this interpretation of the phrase.
28 Yvonne Hackenbroch (“Bijoux de l’Ecole de Fontainebleau,” in Actes, 1975, 71, 72, Figs. 1–2) discussed a Hercules pendant in a private collection in New York that she thought was stylistically close to Rosso and that she connected to the visit of Charles I to Paris and to the Hercules statue that was given to him. But the pendant shows Hercules carrying only one column and does not seem to me in any of its particulars to indicate a connection with Rosso. Neither the Hercules of this pendant nor the statue designed by Rosso seems to bear any relation to the conception of the “Hercule Gaulois,” the legendary founder of Paris, mentioned by Hackenbroch, who was celebrated for verbal eloquence.
29 On the sun’s relation to the moon, see B6guin, 1976, 73; on this and the relation of fire and heaven, see The Fragments of Empedocles, translated by W.E. Leonard, Chicago, 1908, 34, nos. 41 and 42, and 38, no.62. Henri Busson (Le rationalisme dans la litt6rature francaise de la renaissance (1533–1671), Paris, 1957, 145, 125) indicates that knowledge of Empedocles was obtained from the works of Aristotle, almost all of which had been published in Lyons or Paris between 1529 and 1539, and from the commentaries of Alexander of Aphrodias, which were published in Paris in 1536. But he was certainly known before this time through the influence of Neoplatonism (see Wind, 1968, 86–89, 175) although I do not know in what way, in France, on the particular points illustrated in Rosso’s drawing and in Boyvin’s print. The reasons for the selection of Empedocles as the subject of Rosso’s drawing requires further study, but they would seem not to be related to “vana aloria” and to the “pens curieux” (curiosi homines) associated with Empedocles and discussed by G6rard Defaux in his Le curieux, le crlorieux et la sacresse du monde daps la premi6re moitid du seizi&,me si&cle: l’exemple de Panurae (Ulysse, DL&mosth&ne, Empddocle), Lexington, Kentucky, 1982, 111–1130. Stanley Meltzoff (Botticelli, Signorelli and Savonarola, Florence, 1987, 320) commented that Empedocles, “among the noble pagan souls in Dante’s Limbo, was the prophesier of the Christian event of a last day, a believer in the transmigration of souls, and a follower of the orphic mysteries.” See also Wind, 1968, 86–89, 175.
30 Diogenes Laertius, Lives of Eminent Philosophers, translated by R.D. Hicks, Cambridge, Mass., and London, 1965, II, 374–375.
31 For a later fusion of Eve and Pandora, see Panofsky, 1965, 63
32 The traditional aspect of the image can be judged by comparing it with Granacci’s small painting in Cardiff (see A.D. Fraser Oenkins, “A Florentine Marble Tabernacle with a Door by Granacci,” BM, CXVII, 1975, 44, 46, Fig. 46, and Van Holst, 1974, 153, no.39, Fig. 65).
33 See Henrietta s’Jacob, Idealism and Realism, A Study of Sepulchral Symbolism, Leiden, 1954; and Erwin Panofsky, Tomb Sculpture,, New York, 1964, Figs. 123 and 135.
34 Freedberg, 1963, I, Fig. 66.
35 Freedberg, 1963, I, Fig. 72.
36 For several other etchings by Limosin of religious subjects that can be related to Rosso, see E.90–97).
37 On the Virgin’s nurturing brests, see Caroline Walker Bynum, “The Body of Christ in the Later Middle Ages: A Reply to Leo Steinberg,” Renaissance Quarterly, 39, no. 3, 1986, 399–439, and Askew, 1990, 75–76.
38 Judith 10.4 and 13.20 (Douay version).
 For other Renaissance representations of Judith nude, see Bialostocki, 1951; and Bernadine Barnes, in H. Diane Russell, with Bernardine Barnes, Eva/Ave, Woman in Renaissance and BaroquePrints, exh. cat., Washington-New York, 1990, 32–33, 66–68, nos. 25–28. In one of Beham’s prints discussed by Barnes the nudity of both Judith and her young maid and the importance given to the bag suggest a connection with Rosso’s drawing. For a representation of Judith with an old maid, see the painting by Cariani (Berenson, 1957, I, 54, II, PL. 735).
40 On old age from the fourteenth through the sixteenth century, see Georges Minois, History of Old Age: From Antiquity to the Renaissance, trans. Sarah Hanbury Tenison, Chicago, 1989, Chapters 8–10. Although I have found nothing here to connect directly with Rosso’s images of old age the real and imagined conflicts between youth and old age that are described create a degree of sympathetic association with issues that Rosso’s works of art seem to propose.
41 See Cristofano Robetta’s Allegory of Envy (Hind, 1938–1949, Part I, Vol. I, 206, no. 31, Vol. III, Pl. 254).
42 On the provenance of the painting, see Cox-Rearick, 1572, 21, no. 21; and Janis Shell and Grazioso Sironi, “Salat and Leonardo’s Legacy,” BM, CXXXIII, 1591, 97, 104.
43 Kenneth Clark, Leonarda da Vinci, Cambridge, 1552, Pl. 51.
44 Lavin, 1961, 325.
45 Lavin, 1561, 326, n.40, and Fig. 10. It is the attention that the old woman gives to the Christ Child in the painting in Verona that Lavin reproduces that makes it possible to see her as St. Anne. The downward glance that the old woman gives to the sleeping young St. John in a painting attributed to Jacopino del Conte, in the Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge (Christian von Holst, “Florentiner Gemalde and Zeichnungen aus des Zeit von 1480 bis 1580,” Mitteilungen des Kunsthistorischen Institutes in Florenz, XV, 1971, 50, Fig. 57) most likely identifies her as St. Elizabeth. See also Iris Cheney, “Notes on Jacopino del Conte,” AB, LII, 1970, 34, Fig. 3 (wrongly identifying the sleeping child as Christ); and J. W. Goodison and G. H. Robertson, Catalogue of Paintings, II, Italian Schools, Cambridge, Fitzwilliam Museum, 1967, 52–53, no. 651, as Florentine School, mid-sixteenth century.
46 Lavin, 1961, 325–326.
47 Anna Jameson (Legends of the Madonna, Boston and New York, 1895, 264) points out that because Anna did not take Christ in her arms “she was early regarded as a type of the synagogue, which prophesized great things of the Messiah, but, nevertheless, did not embrace him when he appeared, as did the Gentiles.”
48 See the pictures mentioned by Lavin (1961, 326, n.40) and thepainting in Cambridge mentioned in n.44.
49 Lavin, 1961, 326, n.39, suggests that they may be Uriel and Raphael who, according to legends, protected the young Christ Child and John at various times.
50 Roy, 1929, 149–150.
51 Vasari, 1550, 804-805; Vasari, 1568, II, 212; VasariMilanesi, V, 172–173. Roy (see preceding note) stated that he died in his house in Paris but the documents he published give no evidence of this. Vasari had heard he died at Fontainebleau while the king was there. The sources indicate that the king was at Fontainebleau on 14 November 1540 (see Eugbne Thoison, Les sdiours des roil de France dans le G&tinais (481–1789), Paris Orleans, 1888, 47).
52 Roy, 1939, 152.
53 Wittkower, 1933, 138. See also Grodecki’s challenge to Roy’sinterpretation of the documents in Grodecki, 1975, 102, 104, n.19.
54 Roy, 1929, 149 and 153, Document I. Roy (150) said thata funeral service and his burial were in Notre Dame but none of the documents he published indicate this
55 Vasari, 1550, 804. Translated in Wittkower, 1963, 139 as: “Courage and Despair caused Florence to erect this monument to the Florentine Rosso, most famous throughout the whole of Italy and France for invention and composition as well as for the various expressions of character, who, since he wanted to escape the punishment of retaliation, exchanged poison for the gallows and lost his life miserably in France through greatness of spirit as much as through the poisoned cup.” The Wittkowers pointed out the extraordinariness of such a notice of suicide in a church, suggesting either that the epitaph was only planned, or that it was soon removed. The epitaph, written in the 1540s, was not reprinted in the 1568 edition of the Lives.
56 Or, if not the gallows, then punishment by others, in some unspecified manner, as indicated by Vasari, 1568, II, 184; Vasari-Milanesi, V, 173.
57 See Alleau (and Destanque), 1967, 219–223, for a fancifuloccult explanation of Rosso’s suicide.
58 Labalme, 1982, 121.
59 Vasari, 1568, II, 212; Vasari-Milanesi, V, 173. For a small oil sketch showing Francis I in the Studio of Rosso by Alexandretvariste Fragonard (1784-1850) in the Muscle des Beaux-Arts, Dijon (and formerly attributed to Bonnington), see Pierre Georgel and Anne-Marie Licoq, La peinture dares la oeinture, exh. cat., Dijon, 1982–1983, 80, no. 46, 98, Fig. 138, 99, 101, n.1. Herbet, 1937,
125, n. 2, also mentions in the museum in Dijon a picture by I. Patrois of FranQois IRK confdrant au Rosso les bondfices de llabbave de Saint-Martin as related to an unrealized project for the Galerie des Fastes at Fontainebleau of 1862–1866. However, the title of that painting seems to indicate that Primaticcio is the artist depicted there. It is also possible that the two paintings mentioned here are the same.
60 Vasari, 1550, 805. Something of the ambiguous understanding of Rosso’s death is suggested in a poem by Robinet de Luc: “Tesmoing l’escript ou par dueil ou courroux / Tu plains la mart du bonpaintre Le Roux” (see E. Droz, “Les podsie du Robinet de Luc Brodeur de Frangois Ier,” Bibliotheoue d’Humanisme et Renaissance, III, 2943, 47; and McAllister-Johnson, 3574, 31.