A superb draughtsman, Jacopo da Empoli seems to have devoted great attention to the study of single figures. A good number of such studies by the artist have survived, but the appearance on the market of such a grand and beautifully drawn and washed sheet is a rare event indeed. Informally drawn on a very large scale, this drawing was surely executed from a posed assistant in Empoli's studio. Free and bold in its execution, with broad and strong contours in pen and ink, this figure is animated by the vivacity and intensity of the blue wash, which creates and modulates subtle effects of light and shade. The figure corresponds quite closely to its painted counterpart, including in the direction of the lighting, and the red chalk squared grid would indicate a late point in the evolution towards the final work. Only small differences can be found between the drawing and the painted figure of St. Nicholas, and although the artist has not bothered to draw the saint's left hand, he has outlined, with black chalk, a light sketch of the head and shoulders of the St. Jerome, who is painted just to the extreme left, behind St. Nicholas. A drawing of the whole composition in the Musée des Beaux-Arts, Lille,3 must be a copy executed in Empoli's workshop, after a lost drawing by the artist.
Jacopo da Empoli was a pupil of Maso da San Friano (1536-1571). Like Cigoli (1559-1613), he became an exponent of the classicizing tendency associated with the spread of the Counter-Reformation in Florence and reacted like many of his contemporaries against the Mannerism of the previous generation. Although Empoli was clearly rooted in the Florentine tradition, and had taught himself by copying artists from the first half of the sixteenth century, including Pontormo whom he especially admired, he unhesitatingly embraced the new realism as a vehicle of artistic expression. He seems to have shared with Cigoli an enthusiasm for the use of this particular tone of blue wash, a choice of colour which we can admire in many of his surviving sheets.
1. Jacopo da Empoli 1551-1640, exh. cat., Empoli, Chiesa di Santo Stefano e convento degli Agostiniani, 2004, pp. 98-99
2. A. Marabottini, Jacopo di Chimenti da Empoli, Rome 1988, p. 235, no. 78
3. Lille, Musée des Beaux-Arts, Wicar collection, inv. no. 176; Marabottini, op. cit., p. 237, no. 78a, fig. 78a
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