Description & Technical information

The present sheet, perhaps a study for a figure in an allegorical painting or fresco, provides a fine example of Cesare Mariani’s gifts as a draughtsman. As has been noted of this large drawing, ‘These Rubensian academic studies of a reclining female nude display a baroque lushness and an attention to light which Mariani derived from his teacher, [Tomasso] Minardi. Mariani has studied the model from three different angles, adding a detailed study of her feet and, at the left of the sheet, a partial outline of her hands. The several areas of pentimenti suggest that the artist quickly sketched the poses and then reworked the contours in a more complete manner. Mariani concentrated on the more highly finished figure of the model at the bottom of the page.’

Mariani seems to have favoured blue paper for his studies from life. A stylistically comparable sheet of studies of hands and feet, also drawn on blue paper, was in a private Florentine collection and appeared at auction in Italy in 2014. The present sheet has also been likened, in stylistic terms, to three similarly large-scale drawings of allegorical female figures, datable to around 1885 and perhaps intended for the decoration of a theatre, which are part of a group of 244 drawings, oil sketches and paintings by Mariani acquired by the Museo di Roma in 1966. Also comparable are two studies in black chalk, one of the sole of a right foot and the other of a left arm, that were exhibited at a gallery in Rome in 2001.

This drawing once belonged to Giovanni Piancastelli (1845-1926), a painter and engraver who served as the curator of the Borghese collection in Rome and assembled an important private collection of drawings. Piancastelli included the present sheet in an album that he put together, containing over 280 drawings by numerous artists working in Italy in the late 18th and 19th centuries, a few of which bear dedications to the collector. In 1901 Piancastelli sold some 3,600 drawings from his collection, mainly of ornament and stage designs, to the nascent Cooper-Union Museum for the Arts of Decoration in New York. Three years later, in 1904, the rest of Piancastelli’s collection, amounting to around 8,600 drawings, was purchased by the American collectors Edward and Mary Brandegee. After the death of Edward Brandegee in 1938, his wife sold most of the drawings to the Cooper-Hewitt Museum. 

The remainder of the Piancastelli collection – including the bound album of drawings in which the present sheet was included – was sold on the American art market in the second half of the 1940s. The album then found its way into the collection of a Maltese priest, the Revd. Francis Agius (1891-1958), who had arrived in America in the 1920s and served as a parish priest at a Catholic church in Inwood, Long Island. The album remained with his heirs until 1976, when it was broken up and the drawings dispersed.

Medium: Black chalk, heightened with white chalk, on deep blue paper
Signature: Signed Cesare Mariani at the lower right centre.

Dimensions: 32.8 x 43.5 cm (12⁷/₈ x 17¹/₈ inches)
Provenance: Part of a large album of 283 Italian drawings of the late 18th and 19th centuries, compiled by Giovanni Piancastelli, Rome
Probably Edward and Mary Brandegee, Brookline, MA
Probably dispersed on the American art market in the late 1940s
Revd. Francis Agius, Church of Our Lady of Good Counsel, Inwood, New York
Thence by descent until the album sold in 1976 to Shepherd Gallery, New York, by whom it was broken up and the drawings dispersed
John Richardson, New York
Anonymous sale, New York, Christie’s, 22 May 1997, lot 62
Private collection, New York.

Literature: Roberta J. M. Olson, Italian 19th Century Drawings & Watercolors. An Album: Camuccini & Minardi To Mancini & Balla, exhibition catalogue, New York, 1976, unpaginated, no.101, pl.34; Gemma di Domenico Cortese and Liliana Barroero, Mostra delle opera del pittore Cesare Mariani (1826-1901) conservate nel Museo di Roma, exhibition catalogue, Rome, 1977, p.61, under no.219; Roberta J. M. Olson, Italian Drawings 1780-1890, exhibition catalogue, Washington and elsewhere, 1980-1981, pp.168-169, no.67. 

Exhibitions: New York, Shepherd Gallery, Italian 19th Century Drawings & Watercolors. An Album: Camuccini & Minardi To Mancini & Balla, 1976, no.101; Washington, National Gallery of Art, and elsewhere, Italian Drawings 1780-1890, 1980-1981, no.67 (lent by John Richardson).

Categories: Paintings, Drawings & Prints