Description & Technical information

This iron gall ink drawing by the Lombard artist Cesare da Sesto does not only show the full power of the artist draughtsmanship, but also the complexity of his compositions. 
It must stand as the testimony of a little known old master, who was able to combine different styles to create his own visual language.

Cesare da Sesto was born in the small Lombardic village of Sesto Calende in 1477.
He was profoundly influenced by Leonardo da Vinci, and since arriving in Rome in 1505 showed strong influences by RAPHAEL’s harmonious compositions. After his return to Milan in 1520 he received some major commissions, but died only three years later.

The condition of the drawing is extremely good and a professional conversation and restoration was done by Aurelia Streri, earlier this year.
The measurements are 180mm x 200mm. The paper is white and shows a previous mounting in a frame. The collector’s mark of BOUVERIE (Lugt 325) appears on the left hand bottom corner, without disturbing the drawing.

The drawing on offer here is a supreme example of his skills. It had been falsely attributed to RAPHAEL (see Christie`s sale of July 20th, 1859 - Plate 9), and was at times thought to be by Leonardo da Vinci. A fate shared by various drawings by the hand of Cesare da Sesto, since his style is so closely related to those two masters that inspired him.

In this drawing he combined compositional elements of RAPHAEL, with his Leonardesque drawing technique, the grace of his figures, however, shows a further influence of the elegant figures so cherished by the circle of Lippi. 

Especially interesting is the unique iconography. The middle is filled by the group formed of the Virgin Mary, Jesus in her lap and the little Saint John the Baptist, who is seated on a lamb. 
The strong upward diagonal finds its counterpart in the downward motion of Mary, who in turn is seated on a lion, which seems to function both as a constructional element to fulfil a harmonious pyramidal form, as well as to connect the middle group to the standing figure of Saint Marc. 

At the same time the combination of lamb and lion is a direct reference to the book of revelations. This is further played on by the dragon on the left side, who is situated in front of a female figure and a bearded Saint. Since the female figure, whom is carrying a book and pen, and the saint likewise seems to carry a book, this could be a depiction of Saint Matthew. The density of the iconological themes and the various levels of meaning hidden within them already show some of the qualities of da Sesto as an artist.

The new attribution to Cesare da Sesto is based on a detailed study of his drawing style. The influences of the lombardic tradition are still to be traced in it, but have been refined by a close study of the dominant styles of the Renaissance. A strong Florentine tradition can be observed in the form and quality of line, while the harmonies of RAPHAEL are evident in the composition. 
The group of the Virgin Mary, Jesus and John the Baptists are a close observation of RAPHAEL’s various renderings of this theme. The surrounding saints and symbolic animals frame this group and at the same time add to the complexity. The similarities in style become apparent in the qualities of the line, one of the best indicators of an artist maniera.

Clearly our drawing and a drawing in the Morgan Library (Cesare da Sesto - Study of a Frieze) as well as many other drawings known to be by Cesare da Sesto are so similar in style, line and complexity that they must be by the same hand. Looking at the line one can see identical patterns of hatching, which show the same speed, fluidity and structural intention in both drawings. 
The application of shade can be universally observed throughout the entire Oeuvre of da Sesto. 
Further on drawing 265492 shows the same female type, which again is a strong indicator for our attribution. Looking at drawing 272686 in detail one can see the same way of notating the basic facial features in the figure of a satyr and the features of Saint Marc in our drawing. 
The modelling of the cheekbones seems to be identical in approach. Also one can see the use of thick black lines to indicate the outlines of important facial features against the white background.

Cesare da Sesto`s true importance can be understood only with the historical context. Indeed, artists like Jacopo da Pontormo did not yet forming their own visual ideas, and the concept of Mannerism was still far off. Yet in the methodic approach of da Sesto one can see a very similar understanding of the role of the artist. 
Like Pontormo and Vasari he seems to have studied various masters in order to adopt parts of their characteristics in order to achieve his own “maniera”. 
This is already far removed from the workshop practice, which dominated the artistic landscape during the 15th century. 
While even Leonardo shows a strong resemblance to the style taught by Verroccio, da Sesto seems to have went through phases of different styles, resulting into a unique mixture, of high renaissance harmony and power of lines. 
This drawing therefore offers a rare example of profound changes in the artistic landscape of Italian Renaissance: the turn from the artist as a craftsman to the artist as a member of the free arts.

Concluding this drawing must be by the hand of the extremely skilled artist and draughtsman Cesare de Sesto. The combination of Leonardesque drawing's style, Raffaelesque composition and complex iconography lead to a harmonious, and beautiful work of art.

Date:  1510
Period:  1400-1600, 16th Century
Origin:  Italy
Medium: Iron gall ink
Dimensions: 18 x 20 cm (7¹/₈ x 7⁷/₈ inches)
Provenance: John Bouverie (L.325),
by inheritance to his sister Anne Bouverie and his brother-in-law John Hervey,
by descent to his son Christopher Hervey, at his death in 1786,
by inheritance to his aunt Elizabeth Bouverie;
by bequest to Sir Charles Middleton, later 1st Baron Barham,
Sir Gerard Noel, father of the first Earl of Gainsborough,
by descent to Charles Noel, 3rd Earl of Gainsborough,
sale, London, Christie's, 20th July 1859 (as Raphael)


Battaglia 2007 Roberta Battaglia, Leonardo e i leonardeschi : Giovanni Antonio

Boltraffio, Marco d'Oggiono, Andrea Solario, Giovanni Agostino da Lodi, Francesco Napoletano, Cesare da Sesto, Bernardino Luini, Giampietrino, Francesco Melzi, Milano, 2007.

Carminati 1994 Marco Carminati, Cesare da Sesto 1477-1523, Milano, 1994.

Degenhart 1937 Bernhard Degenhart, Zur Graphologie der Handzeichnung : die Strichbildung als stetige Erscheinung innerhalb der italienischen Kunstkreise, Leipzig, 1937.

Freedberg 1993 Sydney J Freedberg, Pelican History of Art; Painting in Italy, 1500-1600, London, 1993, pp. 383–4.

Frizzoni 1915 Gustavo Frizzoni, Certain studies by Cesare da Sesto in relation to his pictures, in: The Burlington magazine for connoisseurs, Vol. 26, 1914/15, pp.


Gregory 2004 Mina Gregory (Ed.), Painters of Reality: The Legacy of Leonardo and Caravaggio in Lombardy, New York, 2004.

Lugt 325 
N. Turner,, 'John Bouverie as a collector of drawings', Burlington Magazine, CXXXVI, 1994, pp.90-99

Categories: Paintings, Drawings & Prints