Orsi must have devoted enormous efforts and thoughts to this important commission, and no fewer than ten drawings survive that can be connected with it. The earliest of these must be the four drawings once in the Jabach collection and now in the Louvre, representing the four seasons, which include Apollo driving the chariot of the Sun,1 an early phase in the development of the present composition. Why the project was reduced from the original multi-compositional scheme to a single image is not known, but the effect of that image, positioned below the clock on the main face of the tower, must have been both more legible and extremely striking, dominating the main square of the city. Five other drawings, of different degrees of finish, can be related to this final version of the composition: they are in the Royal Library at Windsor Castle, in the Biblioteca Ambrosiana, Milan, in the Louvre, Paris, in a private collection in Los Angeles, and in another private collection (the finished modello, formerly in the Horvitz Collection and sold in these Rooms in 2008).2
In all these preparatory studies, as in the present sheet, the naked figure of Aurora leads the chariot with four horses, driven by a maestoso Apollo, the goddess initiating the day and therefore alluding, appropriately enough for the location, to the passing of time, while in the background various zodiacal signs surround the semicircle of the radiant sun. It is not surprising that for such an imposing and striking image Lelio Orsi produced such a number of compositional studies, but only two sheets, including the present one, are executed on a prepared paper. The modello formerly in the Horvitz Collection is drawn on a sheet washed with a shade of a distinctive ochre color, often used by the artist for his most finished sheets.
In the present drawing, however, the preparation is a light brown wash, and the drawing is delicately executed in pen and ink and brown wash, enriched with the use of white heightening. This study would seem to precede the finished modello which is of a similar size. Stylistically the present sheet appears closer to the version in the Biblioteca Ambrosiana, although brought to a further degree of finish. Such a refined and powerful image could have also been used and replicated for another project.
This drawing and the previous lot, both fine examples of 16th Century Italian Mannerism, were originally acquired by Sir William Forbes, the 7th Baronet of Pitsligo (1773-1828), before passing by familial descent for close to two centuries to the present vendor. Through a surviving letter, written by Forbes from Florence and dated 2nd May 1827, we know that the idea of forming a picture collection came to the Scottish Baronet very late in life. However the presence of a newly discovered preparatory study by the Bolognese artist Nosadella (lot 8), once in the collection of another celebrated Scottish collector, John McGouan, would suggest that Forbes was acquiring Old Master Drawings from a younger age, as McGouan’s three posthumous sales, the most logical venues for the acquisition of this particular work, took place in 1803 and 1804. While the aforementioned Nosadella was in all likelihood acquired in the United Kingdom, this exquisite sheet by Lelio Orsi may well have been acquired by Forbes’ agent, James Irvine, who during a short but fruitful spell, acting on Forbes’ behalf in Italy, was responsible for the purchase of many of the highlights of Forbes’ collection, a number of paintings from which were sold at Sotheby’s in London on 7th-8th December 2016. A single-owner sale of property formerly at Fettercairn, including Old Master Drawings, will be held at Sotheby's in London on 28th March 2017.
1. Louvre, Cabinet de Dessins, inv. nos. 3640, 10380, 10381, 10379;
Lelio Orsi 1511-1587: dipinti e disegni, exhib. cat., Reggio Emilia, Teatro Valli, 1987-88, nos 10-13, all reproduced
2. Windsor, Royal Library, inv. no. RL 0224; Milan, Biblioteca Ambrosiana, inv. no. F269; Paris, Louvre, inv. no. 10378; sale, New York, Sotheby's, 23 January 2008, lot 14; see exhib. cat., Reggio Emilia, Teatro Valli, op. cit., nos. 14-18 all reproduced
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