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Stefano della Bella (1610-64)

A sleeping satyr c.1650-55

Pen and ink over graphite | 22.5 x 37.7 cm (sheet of paper) | RCIN 904558

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  • A drawing of a sleeping male nude with the horns but not the goat's legs of a satyr. His back is leaning against a cloth covered support, and his face turned to the front.

    Stefano della Bella was born in Florence, the son of a sculptor in the workshop of Giambologna, and he trained initially as a goldsmith. But an aptitude for copying the prints of the French etcher Jacques Callot (1592/3-1635) pointed the way to a career as a prolific designer and printmaker, and he produced over a thousand etchings of secular subjects - landscapes, festivals, costumes, ornaments and so on. From 1633 della Bella was based mainly in Rome, until in 1639 he travelled to Paris in the train of the Florentine ambassador, possibly with the aim of filling the void left by the death of Callot. Della Bella enjoyed great success during his eleven years in Paris, but growing hostility to Cardinal Mazarin’s foreign protégés during the civil unrest of the Fronde seems to have caused him to return to Florence in 1650.

    Della Bella’s drawings, mostly small, light sketches, survive in great numbers. This more substantial study is a typical academy figure, drawn from a posed nude model and given an ostensible subject by the addition of a woodland background and the horns and pointed ears (though not the goat’s legs) of a satyr. As an etcher della Bella was practised at modelling surfaces using only line, and he was capable of a wonderful variety of touch, from long delicate strokes to short dense scribbles. The outlines of the body were initially sketched in with a piece of graphite, but few of these contours were reinforced with the pen; the slightly ragged hatching leaves the edges of the body indeterminate, so unifying the satyr with his surroundings.

    Though the paper lacks a watermark it appears to be Italian, and the great confidence of the pictorial effects suggests that the drawing is from della Bella’s latter period in Florence. Along with several other academies by the artist in a similar style, the study may have been intended for the instruction of the future Grand Duke Cosimo III de’ Medici (1642-1723), whom della Bella served as drawing master for a time.

    The earlier provenance of the 150 drawings by della Bella in the Royal Collection is not known. Because of his great productivity there have always been quantities of his drawings available on the art market, and he is also well represented in other collections (Paris, Louvre; Florence, Uffizi; Vienna, Albertina; London, British Museum, etc.). It is probable that, unlike most of the other large groups by individual artists in the Royal Collection, the della Bellas have not been together since the artist’s death, but that they were assembled by a later collector from diverse sources and subsequently bought en bloc for George III.

    Text adapted from Holbein to Hockney: Drawings from the Royal Collection

    Purchased by George III from Consul Joseph Smith, 1762

  • Medium and techniques

    Pen and ink over graphite


    22.5 x 37.7 cm (sheet of paper)