Description & Technical information

Unusually large in scale among Ligozzi’s extant oeuvre of drawings, this is a finished composition study for one of a series of lunette frescoes of scenes from the life of Saint Francis of Assisi, painted by Ligozzi in the cloister of the church of the Ognissanti in Florence. The artist received the commission for this vast mural project around 1599, and worked on it over the next two decades or so, eventually completing seventeen of the thirty-one frescoes in the cloister. Starting in the southeast corner and working clockwise, Ligozzi painted every lunette fresco on the south and east walls of the cloister, as well as the two on the northwest corner. The remaining lunettes on the north and west sides were painted by other artists, sometimes working from Ligozzi’s designs, including Giovanni da San Giovanni, Filippo Tarchiani, Nicodemo Ferrucci and Galeazzo Ghidoni. The painting of the cloister frescoes seems to have been largely completed by 1624.

This large and highly-finished drawing, almost certainly made to be presented to the friars of the church for their approval, is a modello for one of the last frescoes painted by Ligozzi at Ognissanti, depicting the meeting of Saints Francis, Dominic and Angelus in the church of Saint John Lateran in Rome in 1215. The lunette fresco of this scene is found at the eastern end of the north wall of the cloister, and was probably painted around 1620. Like many of the other frescoes in the cloister at Ognissanti, which have long been exposed to the elements, the lunette of The Meeting of Saints Francis, Dominic and Angelus of Jerusalem at San Giovanni in Laterano had suffered damage and sustained significant losses, particularly in the foreground, by the early 20th century. Nevertheless, the appearance of the fresco is accurately recorded in an engraving made in the 19th century.

This drawing is the only known preparatory study for the fresco. It differs little from the final painting, apart from the area of the foreground at the lower right. Here the prominent figure of the seated youth seen in the present sheet was replaced in the fresco by a mendicant friar and a young boy, as can be seen in the reproductive engraving. Although the Ognissanti cloister frescoes underwent a major program of restoration in the 1980s, the lower foreground part of this fresco remains irreparably lost today. 

A number of other highly-finished compositional drawings by Ligozzi for the Ognissanti frescoes are known, some of which, like the present sheet, are heightened with gold. These include four drawings at Christ Church in Oxford6, two sheets in the Kupferstichkabinett in Berlin, and single examples in the Uffizi in Florence, the Art Institute of Chicago and the Louvre in Paris. Other drawings related to the Ognissanti frescoes include two studies for individual figures; one in the Uffizi and the other in the Städel Museum in Frankfurt.

With its dark ground and delicate highlights in gold, this drawing reveals the influence on Ligozzi of chiaroscuro woodcuts by such Northern artists as Albrecht Altdorfer and Hans Burgkmair the Elder. Among stylistically comparable drawings by the artist, although considerably smaller than the present sheet, is a highly-finished study for an unknown altarpiece or fresco of The Virgin Blessing Two Monks, Accompanied by Saints Mary Magdalene, Agnes, Cecilia and Catherine, with Christ and Angels Above, in the De Pass Collection at the Royal Cornwall Museum in Truro.

Medium: Pen and brown ink and brown wash, heightened with gold, on two joined sheets of paper, backed and varnished
Dimensions: 70.5 x 52 cm (27³/₄ x 20¹/₂ inches)
Provenance: Private collection, France
Talabardon & Gautier, Paris, in 1998
Anonymous sale, New York, Sotheby’s, 26 January 2000, lot 48
Thomas Williams Fine Art, London and W. M. Brady & Co., New York
Anonymous sale, New York, Sotheby’s, 27 January 2010, lot 26.

Literature: Lucilla Conigliello, Drawing Gallery: Ligozzi, exhibition catalogue, Paris, 2005, p.71, under no.20.

Exhibitions: New York, W. M. Brady & Co., Master Drawings 1520-1890, 2006, no.9.

Categories: Paintings, Drawings & Prints