Description & Technical information

A particularly fine and fresh example of Pier Francesco Mola’s spirited draughtsmanship in chalk, the present sheet may be an early preparatory study for a painting of this subject by the artist, though different in composition, which was formerly in the collection of the 18th century French connoisseur Jean de Jullienne and was recently on the art market. Datable to c.1640, the painting shows Erminia, wearing a similar robe as in this drawing, standing and writing Tancred’s name on a tree, but the composition is reversed from the drawing, and shows her facing to the left.

The lengthy inscription on the back of the mount of the present sheet refers to another, later painting of Erminia Writing the Name of Tancred on a Tree, datable to the late 1650s, which was acquired by King Louis XIV in 1685 and is now in the Louvre. The Louvre painting is, however, quite different in composition, with Erminia seated on the ground.

The subject of this drawing is taken from Canto VII of the 16th century writer Torquato Tasso’s epic poem Gerusalemme Liberata. Erminia, a Saracen princess of Antioch, has fallen in love with the Christian knight Tancred. Jealous of Tancred’s love for the warrior-maiden Clorinda, one night Erminia steals Clorinda’s armour and leaves the besieged city to find Tancred among the Christian army. Mistaken for Clorinda by some Christian soldiers and almost killed, Erminia flees into the forest, where she is rescued by a family of shepherds by the river Jordan. Disguised as a shepherdess, she carves the name of her beloved on a tree trunk. In the words of a 19th century English translation of Tasso’s poem: ‘Oft when her flocks from summer’s noontime rays / lay in cool shades o’erarched by gadding vines, / she carved on beeches and immortal bays / her Tancred’s name, and left the mossy pines / with sad inscriptions flourished, silent signs / of the unhappy flame her fancy fed; / and when again she saw her own fond lines, / as she the melancholy fragments read, / Fresh tears of grief unchecked her lovely eyes would shed.’

The subject of Tancred and Erminia seems to have appealed to Mola, as a number of drawings of scenes from this story are found in his oeuvre, of which the present sheet is arguably one of the most beautiful.

Date:  1640
Period:  1600-1750, 17th century
Origin:  Italy
Medium: Black and red chalk, Buff paper
Signature: Numbered 1718 at the lower left. Inscribed Mola. and PIETRO FRANCESCO MOLA / [?] on the old mount. Numbered 64 – 4 on the old mount. Further inscribed A Sketch for a Picture on cloth, in the French King’s Collection. / 2 ft. 1 1/4 Inch. high, by 2 ft. 3 1/4 Inch. wide. Vide Catalogue raisonné / des Tableaux du Roy, par M. Lépicié. Tom. II p.314-5. on the reverse of the old mount. Also inscribed Francesco Mola and Dijonval Colln on the reverse of the old mount. 

Dimensions: 25.4 x 32.3 cm (10 x 12³/₄ inches)
Provenance: Possibly Paignon-Dijonval (according to a note on the reverse of the old mount)
Anonymous sale, New York, Sotheby’s, 25 January 2006, lot 68
Private collection, California.
Literature: Francesco Petrucci, Pier Francesco Mola (1612-1666): Matiera e colore nella pittura del ‘600, Rome, 2012, p.283, fig.B16.1; Francesco Petrucci, Pier Francesco Mola (1612-1666): Matiera e colore nella pittura del ‘600, Rome, 2012, p.283, fig.B16.1; Véronique Damian, ed., Massimo Stanzione, Guercino, Hendrick De Somer, et Fra’ Galgario: Tableaux redécouverts du XVe au XVIIIe siècle, Paris, Galerie Canesso, 2016, p.16; Heiko Damm and Henning Hoesch, ed., galleria portatile: Old Master Drawings from the Hoesch Collection, Petersberg, 2017, pp.258-261, under no.63, fig.1 (entry by Marco Simone Bolzoni).
Categories: Paintings, Drawings & Prints