Lot 7
  • 7

Giovanni Battista Franco, called il Semolei

80,000 - 120,000 USD
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  • Giovanni Battista Franco, called il Semolei
  • a male nude holding a dagger, with a subsidiary sketch of a woman and child at the right corner
  • Black chalk, with touches of brown ink;
    bears old attribution in pen and ink on the old backing: Michael Angelo:


Prince of Liechtenstein, Vienna, (as Daniele da Volterra);
with P. & D. Colnaghi & Co., London;
Timothy Clifford;
with P. & D. Colnaghi & Co, Jean-Luc Baroni, London; acquired in 1988


London, P. & D. Colnaghi  & Co., Exhibition of Old Master Drawings, May-June 1953, no. 17 (as Daniele da Volterra), not reproduced; 
Edinburgh, The Merchants' Hall, Italian 16th -Century Drawings from British Private Collections, 1969, no. 37, reproduced pl. 59;
Venice, Fondazione Giorgio Cini, Disegni Veneti di collezioni inglesi, 1980, no. 25, reproduced;
Gainesville, et al., 1991-93, no. 3, reproduced



Gert Jan Van der Sman, 'Battista Franco: studi di figura per dipinti e incisioni', Prospettiva (97), 2000, pp. 70-72, note 44;
Anne Varick Lauder, 'Absorption and interpretation: Michelangelo through the eyes of a Venetian follower, Battista Franco', Reactions to the Master: Michelangelo's Influence on Art and Artists in the Sixteenth Century, London 2003, p. 105;
Idem, 'Battista Franco (c.1510-1561). His Life and Work with Catalogue RaisonnĂ©,' Ph.D. dissertation, University of Cambridge, 2004, vol. II, pp. 299-300, no. 21 DA; reproduced vol. IV, fig. 713


The drawing is laid down more than once. Overall in good condition. Trace of an old fold going across at the level of the thigh and a paper crease vertically, towards the left margin running down, caused almost certainly by the paper being dried. A small loss top left corner. Small foxing and tiny brown spots at the centre. Small abrasion and surface dirt.
In response to your inquiry, we are pleased to provide you with a general report of the condition of the property described above. Since we are not professional conservators or restorers, we urge you to consult with a restorer or conservator of your choice who will be better able to provide a detailed, professional report. Prospective buyers should inspect each lot to satisfy themselves as to condition and must understand that any statement made by Sotheby's is merely a subjective qualified opinion.

Catalogue Note

The present study is one of the most sophisticated surviving black chalk drawings by Battista Franco.  Because of its quality, it was previously attributed both to Michelangelo and to Daniele da Volterra.  Philip Pouncey was the first to suggest the attribution to Franco, during the preparation of the catalogue for the 1969 Edinburgh Festival exhibition.  Pouncey also suggested that it might relate to a figure in a Massacre of the Innocents.

More recently, however, Anne Varick Lauder has worked extensively on Franco and has been able to provide the following much more complete information, for which we are very grateful.  She considers the drawing a mature work, datable to Franco's later Venetian period, circa 1552-55.  Although it cannot be surely connected with any surviving project she believes that it is likely to be a study for a Christian soldier fighting a male vice in the lower register of Franco's Triumph of the Christian Hero.  This lost composition is known through a drawing formerly in the collection of Janos Scholz and now in the Pierpont Morgan Library, New York1, and also through Andrea Andreani's woodcut of 1610, which has a slightly different composition.2   Lauder has also recognised another drawing related to the composition, a beautiful sheet of studies in red and black chalk, in the Rijksprentenkabinet, Amsterdam, which is very close in style to the present work.3  The Amsterdam drawing combines elements found in both the woodcut and the Morgan Library version of the composition.  It can also be indirectly linked with the Horvitz drawing, as the male figure to the left in the Amsterdam drawing corresponds (in reverse) to one in the woodcut, who is fighting against a soldier holding a dagger, for which the Horvitz drawing could be a study.  Franco's composition of the Triumph of the Christian Hero must have been quite popular:  even El Greco borrowed elements from it for the central panel of his Modena triptych of 1567-68, now in the Galleria Estense.4  Andrea Andreani, who owned the drawing by Battista Franco from which he made his print, dedicates the woodcut to Lodovico Gonzaga and writes in the inscription below the image: 'Essendo longo tempo stato come sepolto nelle mie mani questo nobile dissegno del Semoleo, & parendomi di far torto alla professione donatami da Dio, mi son finalmente rissolto farlo uscire in luce in questo intaglio....' .

The traditional attribution on the backing of the present drawing emphasizes Franco's dependence on the lessons of Michelangelo both in disegno and in composition:  'The work of Michelangelo remained a constant source of inspiration for Franco throughout his career.  While the influence is most obvious in his early paintings and drawings, many of which were direct copies of works by the master, the later work, particularly the chalk drawings, retain Michelangelesque qualities, and yet become increasingly Venetian in character.' 5 Once back in his native Venice, Franco found his talents appreciated and rewarded by commissions from learned patrons such as Giovanni Grimani and he was employed there until his death in 1561.

At the top center of the page, the artist is trying his pen with the fine strokes which are very characteristic of his style.

1. K. Oberhuber and D. Walker, Sixteeenth Century Italian Drawings from the Collection of Janos Scholz, exh. cat., New York, Pierpont Morgan Library, 1973-74, p. 126, no. 103, reproduced

2. The Illustrated Bartsch, 48, p. 223, no. 14 (136)

3. A.V. Lauder, op.cit., 2003,  pp. 105, 108, reproduced fig. 5.8 

4. H.E. Wethey, El Greco and His School, New Jersey 1962, cat. X-154, reproduced, fig. 33

5. A.V. Lauder, op.cit., 2003, pp. 105-7