Description & Technical information

The present sheet has been attributed to Cristofano Allori since the late 17th or early 18th century.While the slender, graceful pose of the central figure is typical of Allori, the technique is unusual for the artist, who worked mainly in black or red chalk, although he occasionally used pen and ink for compositional studies. A stylistic comparison may nevertheless be made with a handful of pen and wash drawings, including two studies of kneeling figures, among the large corpus of drawings by Allori in the Uffizi in Florence.

The story of the Gordian Knot is taken from ancient Greek legend, and tells of an ox-cart, tied to a post with a highly intricate knot, in the palace of the former Phrygian kings in the city of Gordion. Local legend had said that whoever was able to unravel the knot would one day rule over all of Asia. In 333 BC Alexander the Great marched through Phrygia, and at Gordion attempted to untie the elaborate knot. Having failed to do so, he simply took his sword and cut through it with one stroke.

The inscription on the mount on which this drawing is laid down is similar to those found on several drawings by Florentine and Tuscan artists from an album formerly in the collection of Comte Eugène Charles d’Oultremont (1845-1916) in Belgium. The d’Oultremont album was in all likelihood originally compiled in Florence in the 17th or 18th century, possibly by the Florentine diplomat, collector and biographer Francesco Maria Niccolò Gabburri (1676-1742). A number of drawings sharing this provenance, and with similar mounts and inscriptions, are in the Louvre.

An earlier provenance for this drawing is suggested by a number of Florentine drawings – in particular a large group by Baldassare Franceschini, known as Volterrano - with the same later d’Oultremont provenance as the present sheet which are inscribed in the distinctive handwriting of the 17th century Florentine engineer, draughtsman and collector Giuseppe Santini, who was active between c.1661 and 1717.

Medium: Black chalk and brown wash, heightened with white
Signature: Laid down on a 17th or 18th century Italian mount, inscribed (by Niccolò Gabburri?) Cristoforo Allori in the lower margin.
Further inscribed Coll. Gaburri on the reverse of the mount.

Dimensions: 23.1 x 18.8 cm (9¹/₈ x 7³/₈ inches)
Provenance: An anonymous 17th or 18th century Florentine collection, possibly that of Giuseppe Santini, Florence
Francesco Maria Niccolò Gabburri, Florence
Comte Eugène Charles d’Oultremont, Château de Presles, Aiseau-Presle, Belgium
Thence by descent until c.1985
Marcello Aldega, Rome, and Margot Gordon, New York, in 1990
Anonymous sale, London, Christie’s, 2 July 2019, lot 48 (as Giovanni Bilivert)
Anonymous sale, New York, Sotheby’s, 29 January 2020, lot 31.

Literature: New York, Margot Gordon and Rome, Marcello Aldega, Old Master Drawings, exhibition catalogue, 1990, pp.42-43, no.16.

Exhibitions: New York, Margot Gordon and Rome, Marcello Aldega, Old Master Drawings, 1990, no.16.

Categories: Paintings, Drawings & Prints