Both Annibale and Agostino made finished landscape drawings, especially during the late 1580s and early 1590s, and separating the two artists’ works of this type has often proved challenging. In the present sheet, the more rhythmic pen manner and the studied grandeur of the composition, with strong links to Venetian landscapes in the manner of Titian, are more characteristic of the style of Agostino.
The 1580s were increasingly busy times for Agostino, his popularity growing rapidly as he travelled extensively, inter alia to Venice. Partly reflecting his activity as a printmaker, Agostino’s penmanship gradually shifted with time to a more controlled and calibrated use of the pen and ink, the medium he preferred for his landscape drawings. These large, finished sheets were surely executed as works in their own right to be sold to collectors. A significant element of Agostino’s artistic output consisted of remarkable reproductive prints, after drawings and paintings by his contemporaries, a skill he first learned from Domenico Tibaldi (1541-1583), for whom he worked in around 1578/79-1581. By 1587 Agostino was a skilful and talented engraver, capable of sophisticated tonal effects and nuances in his printed works, and his reputation was especially based on the success of his work after Venetian masters, such as Titian and Tintoretto.
The handsome and imposing tree, in the left foreground of the present sheet, is characterized by careful cross-hatching, used to define the trunk and the roots, in contrast with the more freely described foliage. The same controlled use of the pen and elaborate and skilful, hatched lines also define the buildings in the centre of the composition, while the rest of the landscape is rendered with looser and quicker pen strokes, which help to create a deeper recession, culminating in the high rocky mountain in the background, surmounted by a castle with a tower.
This sheet is clearly a witness to Agostino’s strong debt to earlier sixteenth-century Venetian landscapes, ultimately looking back to artist such as Domenico Campagnola and Titian, yet clearly also reflecting Northern influences, seen in both the buildings and the rocky landscape. Not surprisingly, drawings such as this often bear old attributions to both these Venetian masters, and especially to Campagnola.1 Agostino seems to have excelled in this type of landscape, as is very evident here, where he shows his talent in the use of the media, strong and energetic, combined with a powerful image that is an inventive new take on an earlier, established approach to this subject.
The drawing has a very illustrious French and English provenance, which can be traced back to the celebrated collection of the Paris banker Pierre Crozat (1665-1740), and to Sir Thomas Lawrence (1769-1830), whose eagerness and appetite for drawings and exquisite taste made him one of the most successful drawings collectors of any period. Lawrence’s collection was built up mainly through the agency of his friend Samuel Woodburn (1786-1853) who also provided drawings for the collection of Thomas Dimsdale (1758-1823). The present sheet was part of the sixth exhibition of Old Master Drawings from the Lawrence collection, organized in 1836 by Woodburn, who was charged with the dispersal of the collection, after several unsuccessful attempts to sell it as a whole, following the death of Lawrence in 1830. Thereafter, many of the drawings, including this one, were purchased by Lord Francis Egerton, later 1st Earl of Ellesmere (1800-1857).
1. See for instance: C. Robertson and C. Whistler, Drawings by the Carracci from British Collections, exhib. cat., Oxford, Ashmolean Museum and London, Hazlitt Gooden & Fox, 1996-7, p. 68, no. 28, p. 67, no. 27, reproduced
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