This handsome and rare sheet comes from an album, of which thirty pages are now known, twenty in the Uffizi, Florence,1 and ten others, including this one, in public and private collections.2 Ligozzi probably painted these subjects in the very earliest years of his Florentine sojourn, between 1580 and 1585, while working at the court of Grand Duke Francesco I de' Medici. The source of the commission is not known, but Lucilla Conigliello has recently proposed that rather than one of the Medici, the patron may have been the important collector Niccolò Gaddi, who was a great admirer of Ligozzi's work as a scientific illustrator. The Gaddi family owned the album before it went, in about 1740, to the famous Doccia porcelain factory near Florence, which had been founded by Marchese Carlo Ginori in 1735. A variety of Turkish subjects from this album were then used as models for the decoration of exquisite porcelain objects, which are today to be found in museum collections worldwide.3 The drawings from the album were probably dispersed soon afterwards and the Uffizi acquired their group as a gift from the sculptor Niccolò Bazzani in 1867.4
Following the defeat of the Turks at the Battle of Lepanto in 1571, there was a notable surge in interest in Turkish subjects. Ligozzi never travelled to Turkey himself, and seems to have loosely based his drawings on the illustrations in the Venetian edition of the Frenchman Nicolo de' Nicolay's book, Le navigationi et viaggi fatti nella Turchia, which was published in Italian, first in Antwerp in 1576 and then in Venice in 1580. The complete album must have been an incredible assembly of exotic and detailed images, showing figures in their elaborate costumes, often paired with fantastic or symbolic animals, and sometimes, as here, heightened with gold, to enhance their preciousness. The subtlety and precision of the artist's work reflect his early training as a miniaturist, a skill for which he was admired by the Medici court, and which he himself clearly valued, as he continued to sign his works Jacopo Ligozzi miniator as late as 1592.
The inscription at the top of this drawing incorrectly identifies the figure as Solimano Imperator de Turchi. It can be closely compared with the full-length portrait of Sultan Selim II with a dragon, now in an important European private collection.5
Jacopo Ligozzi arrived in Florence in 1577 from his native Verona and acquired his fame during his subsequent ten-year service to the Grand Duke of Tuscany, Francesco I de' Medici. He played a central role in the artistic life of the ducal court, executing exquisite naturalistic and scientific studies of plants and animals, works on paper or parchment for which he is still admired today. It was a period of great interest in the arts and sciences, and the patronage of the court encouraged and made fashionable the production of such superb, luxurious works of art for a small elite of connoisseurs and refined collectors.
1. See A. Forlani, 'Jacopo Ligozzi nel Gran Serraglio', FMR, no. 1, 1982, pp. 72-103, all reproduced
2. For example, The Metropolitan Museum of Art (inv. no. 1997.21); J. Paul Getty Museum (inv. no. 91.GG.93); for a complete account of the drawings from the album, see N. Strasser, Raphael to Renoir, Drawings from the Collection of Jean Bonna, exhib. cat., New York, Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2009, under no. 22
3. See L. Ginori Lisci, 'Una serie di vassoi di porcellana della prima epoca di Doccia', Faenza, 6, 1955, pp.127-132
4. See A. Forlani, op.cit., p. 77
5. Raphael to Renoir, Drawings from the Collection of Jean Bonna, exhib. cat., New York, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2009, p. 48, no. 22, p. 49, reproduced
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