Dated circa 1602, the print is thought to be Agostino's last. It was left unfinished at the time of his death and was later completed, according to the biographer Malvasia, by Francesco Brizio, at the instigation of his master, Agostino’s cousin, Lodovico Carracci.2 Quite a number of other preparatory drawings for the print are known, which show the artist experimenting with various ideas before reaching the final compositional solution.3 If it is indeed related, as seems to be the case, to the development of the print of Saint Jerome, the present study must have been conceived very early in the process, while Agostino was still experimenting with both the position of the figure and the setting; other studies from this phase of the project show the saint either kneeling before an altar in contemplation of the crucifix, or resting his head upon his hand as he studies at his desk, in this case turning his head to the right.
Agostino spent the last two years of his life in Parma, probably at the invitation of Odoardo Farnese, who commissioned from him the frescoes in the Palazzo del Giardino. The artist had already travelled to Parma in the 1580s, but this later visit seemed to reawaken in him an appreciation for the works of the Emilian mannerists. The elaborate pen work, elongated torsos and limbs, and other parallels with the work of Parmigianino are clear in many of the preparatory drawings for the Saint Jerome print, and are very evident here, as well as in the double-sided sheet in Frankfurt. The present sheet is also similar in handling and technique to Agostino’s studies relating to the frescoes for Palazzo del Giardino, executed between 1600 and 1602.
Even at this advanced stage of his career, Agostino was clearly engaging with new ideas, and striving to continue his development as a draughtsman and printmaker. Particularly bold and vigorous in its execution, this drawing is a powerful witness to Agostino’s reassured handling of pen and ink at the end of his life, when he was still constantly working to reinvent and develop his style.
See also lot 316.
1. Frankfurt, Städelisches Kunstinstitut, inv. no. 5656
2. Carlo Cesare Malvasia, Felsina Pittrice. Vite dei Pittori Bolognesi, ed. Alfa, Bologna 1971, p. 272
3. D. DeGrazia Bohlin, Prints and Related Drawings by the Carracci Family: A catalogue Raisonné, exhib. cat., Washington, National Gallery of Art, 1979, under no. 213, reproduced, pp. 350-351
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