Francesco Primaticcio
Francesco Primaticcio


Old Master and British Drawings Including Property from the Descendants of Walter Brandt


Francesco Primaticcio
BOLOGNA 1504–5 - 1570 PARIS

Red lead oxide and red wash, heightened with white, squared in black chalk for transfer;
bears traces of an inscription in pen and brown ink at the lower margin, cut;
bears Sagredo numbering on the verso in pen and brown ink: S.L. n.o34

218 by 139 mm
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From the Sagredo album (with numbering, see above), the provenance of which is as follows:
Doge Nicolò Sagredo, Venice, by circa 1654,
his brother, Stefano Sagredo, Venice,
his nephew, Zaccaria Sagredo,
his wife, Cecilia Sagredo, until sold, circa 1743;
Jean-Jaques de Boissieu (1736-1810),
thence by descent until sale, Lyon, 1919;
European private collection,
thence by descent to the present owner


W. McAllister Johnson, 'Primaticcio' s Prudence Recovered', Master Drawings, vol. 11, no. 3 (1973), p. 268, reproduced pl. 22;
S. Béguin and M. Di Giampaolo, Maestri emiliani del secondo cinquecento, Florence 1979, pp. 18, 19; 
S. Béguin, 'Contributo allo studio dei disegni del Primaticcio', Bollettino d' Arte, vol. 67, no. 15 (1982), p. 32;
Idem., 'I pittori bolognese a Fontainebleau', in V. Fortunati Pietrantonio, Pittura bolognese del '500, Bologna 1986, p. 243;
Idem., 'Projets bellifontains', Dal Disegno all'opera compiuta, Actes du Colloque (Torgiano, Fondazione Longarotti, 1987), Perugia 1992, pp. 89-98;
E. Brugerolles and D. Guillet, Le dessin en France au XVIe siècle. Dessins et miniatures de L'École des Beaux-Arts, exhib. cat., Paris, École national supérieure des Beaux-Arts, et al., 1994-95, p. 54, under no. 19;
S. Folds McCullagh and L. Giles, Italian Drawings before 1600 in the Art Institute of Chicago, Chicago 1997, p. 201, under no. 258; 
S. Béguin, 'L' École de Fontainebleau: des Histoires anciennes ...et modernes', Atelier de la Renaissance, 1998, p. 278, reproduced fig. 4;
Disegni da una grande collezione. Antiche raccolte estensi dal Louvre e dalla Galleria di Modena, exhib. cat., Sassuolo, Palazzo Ducale, 1998, p. 82, under no. 23;
Dessins italiens du musée Condé à Chantilly, III, Vénétie, Lombardie, Pièmont, Emilie, XVe-XVIe siècle, exhib. cat., Chantilly, Musée Condé, 1998-99, p. 122; p. 123, under no. 34;
Primatice Maître de Fontainebleau, exhib. cat., Paris, Musée du Louvre, 2004-5, pp. 256-57; p. 259, note 19; p. 260, and p. 261, under no. 115; p. 263, under no. 116



This very beautiful and characteristic work is a preliminary study by Primaticcio for one of the figures adorning the doors of armoires in the Cabinet du Roi of François I at Fontainebleau.

At the death of his mother, Louise de Savoie, in 1531, François I took over the apartments he had prepared for her at Fontainebleau which from being called the Cabinet de Madame became the Cabinet du Roi.  The function of a Cabinet is not completely understood, although probably it can be compared to the Italian studiolo, a place in which to keep precious objects and art treasures as evidence of the refinement and cultivated taste of the King, as well as a setting in which to emphasise, through its iconographical program, both his moral virtues and heroic qualities.  The Cabinet du Roi was decorated between 1541 and 1546, but is now destroyed and very little is known about its appearance. According to records published by Léon de Laborde in Les Comptes des Bâtiments du Roi, the room contained four armoires each decorated with a pair of figures, a virtue and an illustrative hero, one on each door and facing each other, beneath which were small panels with historical scenes in grisaille and 'autres enrichissements'. The designs of the figures were conceived and executed by Primaticcio, but the painted decoration was done by Michel Rochetel, Giovanni Battista Bagnacavallo, Bartolomeo da Miniato and German Musnier.  Laborde only refers to the medium as 'de couleur a l'huile', and he does not clarify the colour scheme for the figures, but judging from the evidence of the surviving drawings they were all executed in monochrome, four in red and four in yellow-ochre.

In the recent Primaticcio exhibition at the Louvre, Dominique Cordellier suggested that there must have been several stages of preparatory studies for each figure.  The first two stages were carried out by Primaticcio himself, while the final one and the paintings were done by his assistants.  At first Primaticcio drew a study from a life model, executed freely, in red chalk and white heightening.  Then he drew the figures in pen and ink and wash, heightened with white, but not necessarily squared, and finally he made the finished, coloured, studies, like the present one, in which he intended to give meticulous instructions and to convey the 'cameo-like' effect to be achieved by his assistants in the painted versions.  The final stage in the preparation seems to have been copies after Primaticcio's drawings, drawn in pen and ink by the pupils who were to execute the paintings.2

The present drawing is Primaticcio's finished study for the figure of Prudence.  That for her companion hero, Ulysses, is in the Louvre, also in red monochrome and similarly squared. Also surviving are the preliminary chalk studies for both these figures, the one for Prudence having been recognised in 1982 by Sylvie Beguin.4

Of the other pairs, Primaticcio's finished studies for Justice and her hero Zaleucus, both yellow-ochre monochromes, are in the Louvre.5  That for Temperance, also in yellow-ochre, is in the British Museum,6 while her companion, Scipio, is known only from Primaticcio's drawing in pen and ink and wash, heightened with white, in the Louvre, which was published by Cécile Scailliérez in 1992. The red monochrome for Fortitude appeared on the London art market in 1992 and is now in the Art Institute of Chicago,8 but her companion, Caesar, is known only from Primaticcio's pen and ink and wash drawing of François I as Caesar, now in the Musée Condé, Chantilly.9

Prudence and Ulysses were painted by Giovanni Battista Bagnacavallo.  He is recorded in 1546 as working with Vasari in the Sala dei Cinquecento in Palazzo Vecchio, Florence, so his work in the Cabinet du Roi must have been executed before that date.

Prudence and her companions in this group of monochrome drawings are among the finest works of Primaticcio, and are related to an important commission.  They reveal not only his imaginative invenzione but also his great technical skill, and they encapsulate the refinement and elegance of the Fontainebleau school.  

1. Léon de Laborde in Les Comptes des Bâtiments du Roi (1528-1571), suivis de documents inédits sur les châteaux royaux et les Beaux-Arts au XVIe siècle, Paris 1877-80, vol. I, pp. 202-3
2. See Literature, Primatice, exhib. cat., Paris 2004/5, p. 267, under nos. 119-120, for two drawings in the Louvre: Scipio, inv. no. RF1070, attributed to Germain Musnier (?), and François I as Caesar, inv. no. 8638, attributed to Bartolomeo da Miniato; see also C. Scailliérez, op. cit., p. 54, no. 8
3. Inv. no. RF 587, see Literature, Primatice, exhib. cat., Paris 2004/5, p. 263, no. 116
4. Inv. nos. 8595, 8598, see Literature, Béguin, loc. cit., 1982
5. Inv. nos. 8550, 8540
6. Inv. no. 1900.0611.5
7. C. Scailliérez, François Ier et ses artistes dans les collections du Musée du Louvre, Paris 1992, p. 141, no. 63
8. Sale, London, Sotheby's, 6 July 1992, lot 20
9. Inv. no. 153 [153G], see C. Scailliérez, op. cit., p. 54, under no. 8, reproduced p. 55 

Old Master and British Drawings Including Property from the Descendants of Walter Brandt