These two female allegorical figures are closely related to a sheet by Annibale in the Royal Collection at Windsor Castle: Plenty and Felicity (fig. 1).1 When Rudolf Wittkower published the Windsor sheet, in 1952, as the work of Annibale (dating from his early Roman period), he suggested a link with a painting of the same subject mentioned in an old inventory (circa 1680) of the Farnese family’s Palazzo del Giardino, in Parma: Una donna a sedere che tiene alla destra un mazzo di spiche, alla sinistra un grappolo d’uva, et avanti di essa un’altra femina sedente…’ (A seated woman holding with her right hand a bunch of ears of wheat and with her left a bunch of grapes).2 Wittkower suggested that this was most probably the same painting mentioned by Malvasia as being in the Palazzo del Giardino: ‘un Abbondanza con altra Donna..’ (Abundance with another Woman... ).3 The painting has not, however, been traced.
As Kate Ganz rightly observed in her Washington catalogue entry for the present sheet, the O'Brien drawing, which she dates to circa 1602-5, is likely to precede the one at Windsor, where the composition appears to be more complete and the handling of the pen in the figures is 'less agitated' (see Exhibited). The Windsor drawing also fits more closely with the description of the Farnese painting in the old inventory mentioned above. It is also worth pointing out that it includes in the background an army entering the gate of a city, tentatively identified by Wittkower as Bologna.
In the present sheet, Annibale clearly demonstrates extraordinary freedom in the handling of the pen and ink, searching for contours and volumes with continuous and reinforced lines that enhance the vitality and energy of the overall composition. He has strengthened some contours, and often seems to have varied the pressure on the pen, resulting in darker strokes of brown ink that help to create the necessary shadows. Annibale’s artistic vocabulary is full of geometric abbreviations, contrasting with the volumes evident in the abundant, flowing clothing of the two female figures. The beautiful allegory seated to the right, representing Fortune, holds the winged caduceus and looks towards Abundance or Felicity, who holds a cornucopia filled with fruits and flowers, while a child, kneeling in the immediate foreground, carries a basket of fruits. Together, the figures fill the entirety of the sheet.
Earlier in his career Annibale had treated, in an oil painting in the Royal Collection at Hampton Court, an equally intriguing allegorical subject: The Allegory of Truth and Time, where a handsome female allegory standing to the left holds both a cornucopia and a caduceus.4
As Ganz has also observed, the two figures in the present drawing are inspired, in their classical poses, by the Antique, though they might easily derive from intaglios, ancient cameos or coins, as much as statues. There is ample evidence of the profound impact on Annibale of his exposure to classical statuary, but the artist also learned directly from the collections of the Farnese and their librarian Fulvio Orsini (1529-1600), himself a distinguished collector, not only of books, but also of archaeological and antiquarian curiosities, including coins, gems and intaglios.
1. Windsor Castle, The Royal Collection, inv. RL 2147; see Exhibited, p. 268
2. R. Wittkower, The Drawings of the Carracci at Windsor Castle, London 1952, p. 156, no. 426, reproduced pl. 62
3. G. Campori, Raccolti di cataloghi ed inventarii inediti …, Modena 1870, p. 220
4. Reproduced The Drawings of Annibale Carracci, exh. cat., op. cit., p. 170, fig. 3