This impressive drawing is related to the important early work painted by Ludovico for Emilio Zambeccari. The latter, a member of an illustrious Bolognese family, commissioned the altarpiece on 18 July 1587 for his private chapel in the church of S. Francesco; the last payment was made on 15 May 1589. This famous painting, recorded and praised in the old literature, remained in the same location until 1798, when the church was deconsecrated. Since then it has been in the Pinacoteca of Bologna.
This innovative and dramatic representation of the subject has always been seen by art historians as a break with the painting traditions of the Counter Reformation. The sources of inspiration, particularly for the central figure of Saul, are rightly traced by scholars to Parmigianino's altarpiece (now in the Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna), and also to that by Ercole Procaccini in San Giacomo Maggiore, Bologna (see Lodovico Carracci, exhibition catalogue, Bologna, Pinacoteca Nazionale, and Forth Worth, Kimbell Art Museum, 1993, no. 19).
The present study, in fact almost a finished modello, has many important differences from the final painting. The only figure which seems almost unchanged is the central figure of the Saint. The composition in the drawing is less crowded with figures, and the city walls to the right tower over the scene in the same way that the rearing horse does in the painting (in which, unlike the drawing, the horse turns his head towards the viewer). Nicholas Turner has pointed out that the upper part of the drawing seems to be on a separate sheet of paper. This is exactly where the arched top of the composition starts, and could therefore be an indication of Ludovico's subsequent decision to eliminate this arched format in the final composition.
Other drawings have been associated with the painting, although none of these have been unanimously accepted as autograph by the leading Carracci scholars: one is in the British Museum (inv. no. 1895-9-15-748), another at Windsor Castle (inv. no. RL 1190), and a weaker version of our drawing is in the Metropolitan Museum of Art (inv. no. 2002.33; see Babette Bohn, Ludovico Carracci and the Art of Drawing, Turnhout 2004, respectively nos. R27, 27, R41a, all reproduced). We are grateful to Nicholas Turner for sharing with us his thoughts regarding the various drawings relating to this composition, and for informing us that he supports the attribution to Ludovico of the present sheet, which is an extremely important addition to the corpus of the artist's drawings.
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