Whereas most of the Uffizi drawings are straightforward copies of a section of one of the original compositions, here Poppi has extracted his two figures from two different scenes. The St. John the Baptist to the right of the sheet reproduces the central figure in the fresco, St. John the Baptist preaching to the multitude (1515; fig. 1), while the young male figure undressing is found to the far left of St. John baptising the people (1517; fig. 2). Within the chapel itself, the sequence of the frescoes starts with the Baptism of Christ, at the right hand end of the far wall, opposite the entrance, followed by the Preaching of the Baptist, and on the next wall the Baptism of the people.
Poppi’s series of drawings must have been executed in the late 1560s, as one of the drawings in the Uffizi,2 copying the left-hand figures in the Annunciation to Zacharias, bears on the base of the altar the date of 1569, in Roman numerals. Alessandra Giovannetti has noted (as did also John Shearman and Anna Petrioli Tofani) that Poppi is known to have been working on a restoration in the Chiostro at about that time, so would have had the opportunity to study the frescoes then. The evidence for his presence is the fact that his name is inscribed, together with the date of 1568 and a grotesque decoration, fairly high up on a pilaster to the right of The Birth of the Baptist, indicating that he must have been working there, up a scaffold, at that date.
Further evidence that the drawings were originally in a single album has been discovered by Alessandra Giovannetti, who has noted that the artist's will of 1588 states that he wished to bequeath to Bastiano Morandini, his cousin, an album of his drawings after the Chiostro dello Scalzo by Andrea del Sarto: ’un libro de’ disegni fatto di mano di esso testatore, dove è tutto lo scalzo di Andrea del Sarto…’.3 Anna Forlani Tempesti has found more documentation for the group of drawings in the Uffizi, which were sold in 1782, by Giuseppe Salvetti, in a book of about eighty drawings, including these copies after Andrea del Sarto.4
It has been suggested that Poppi used these drawings primarily to study the complexity of del Sarto’s draperies and figure attitudes, in the context of the revivalist tendencies which dominated Florentine art in the second half of the 16th century. It is easy to imagine the admiration that Poppi would have had for the work of Andrea del Sarto, and while he was restoring and working on the frescoes, he had a unique and invaluable opportunity to study them in depth.
The delicacy of the execution of the present sheet is at the same time exquisite and moving. The artist has created a precious memory of one the most important fresco cycles of the Renaissance which, being executed in monochrome, is also particularly close in its artistic expression to the world of drawings.
1. A. Giovannetti, Francesco Morandini detto Il Poppi, Florence 1995, pp. 208-209, D2, reproduced
2. Florence, GDSU, 14464; Giovanetti, op. cit., reproduced p. 223, fig. 115
3. Ibid.,p. 210
4. loc. cit.
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