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Salviati’s motivation to return to Florence came, according to Vasari, from an anonymous friend who, together with Piero di Marcone, a goldsmith he had befriended while in Rome, persuaded the artist that if he went back to Florence he would certainly find employment in the Duke's service.1 Vasari goes on to stress the challenges and political implications of obtaining such an important commission, in addition to which the artist would have to win the approval and support of his Florentine peers, before being granted a Medici commission.2 Many of those with whom he had previously collaborated, in 1539, on the decorations erected for the wedding of Cosimo and Eleonora, were still working in the service of Cosimo I. Salviati, though Florentine by birth and early training, had formed his style mostly in Rome. This invaluable experience gave the painter particular standing among his fellow artists in Florence, and was a great advantage when painting the grand decoration for the Sala dell’Udienza, illustrating episodes from the life of Furio Camillo, taken from epic Roman history. This was a commission devised with the intention of validating, through historical precedent, the legitimacy of Cosimo I de’Medici’s rule, each scene alluding to an event in the Duke’s own life. This decorative scheme is among one of the most sophisticated frescoed ensembles in the whole of Italian Mannerism.
This handsome, large sheet, subtly drawn with fluid lines in pen and ink and developed with two shades of brown wash, applied with a fluency of the brush so typical of the artist, is a preparatory study, with differences, for the figure of the river Arno, frescoed above the central window of the west wall of the Sala, overlooking Piazza della Signoria. More explicitly here than in the final fresco, the bearded river god is shown in the process of drawing back the curtain, an action that would, in the final work, reveal the city of Florence in the distance. Salviati combines in this drawing great elegance of execution with a thoroughly mannered pose: the river god half reclines, one hand lifting the cloth while his other arm and hand rest on an urn from which pours water, symbolising the abundance of the river. In contrast to the final painting, his head, surmounted by an elaborate head piece of river plants, is turned to the left.
The depiction of the Arno is a pivotal image within the scheme, and is described in some detail by Vasari, in his life of Salviati: 'e dirimpetto alla Pace che arde l'arma è il fiume Arno, che avendo un corno di dovizia abbondantissimo, scuopre (alzando con una mano un panno) una Fiorenza, e la grandezza de'suoi pontefici e gli eroi di casa Medici' (‘in front of the Peace burning the arms is the river Arno, with a most abundant horn of plenty, who reveals (lifting with his hand a cloth) Florence, and the greatness of its pontiffs and heroes of the Medici family’).
A thoroughly Roman image, reminiscent of the Antique, this strong study epitomizes the very elaborate mannerist style adopted by the artist, and his confidence as a designer. A drawing in the Louvre shows the same figure, but is very close to the fresco, and seems to be the work of the bottega of Salviati, possibly based on a lost sheet by the artist.4
We are grateful to Catherine Monbeig Goguel for confirming, from an image, the attribution to Salviati.
1. G. Vasari, Le Vite de più eccellenti Pittori, Scultori ed Architettori, ed. G. Milanesi, Florence 1881, vol. VII, p. 21
2. Ibid.,p. 22
3. Ibid.,p. 24
4. Paris, Louvre inv. no. RF 38407; C. Monbeig Goguel, Francesco Salviati (1510-1563) o la Bella Maniera, exh. cat., Rome, Villa Medici and Paris, Musée du Louvre, 1998, reproduced p. 16
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