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Attributed to Domenico Brusasorci (c. 1516-1567)

A prophet or philosopher c.1550-60

Black and white chalks with grey-brown wash, on blue paper, lower left corner cut | 40.8 x 25.4 cm (sheet of paper) | RCIN 906697

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  • A study of a bearded prophet wearing a turban, two studies of his head in different positions and studies of a leg. For the attribution to Brusasorci, see cat. 'Le Dessin à Vérone', Louvre, 1993.

    Though the early inscription attributes the drawing to Paolo Veronese, it is more likely that it is by his compatriot Domenico Brusasorci. Few sheets can be assigned to Brusasorci with certainty, but the busy silhouette of the stocky figure, and the unusual technique of small strokes of wash over black and white chalks, seem to have been typical of the artist. No project is known for which the sheet might have served as a study.

    As the inscription (probably of the seventeenth century) shows, this drawing was traditionally attributed to Paolo Veronese (1528-88). This was tentatively accepted by Arthur Popham, and more enthusiastically and tenaciously by W.R.Rearick, who put forward at different times two hypotheses for the purpose of the drawing - an early idea for one of Veronese’s frescoed prophets high in San Sebastiano, Venice; or connected with Veronese’s work in the Libreria Marciana. Rearick advanced a scenario in which Veronese produced four canvases (with another planned in the Windsor drawing) in 1557, continuing the theme of the tondi painted (by artists including Veronese) in the ceiling, with a mixture of philosophers, scientists and allegories; it then became clear that the canvases were too small, and the decision was taken to abandon the first series and commission larger canvases with the figures in architectural niches designed by Sansovino himself.

    There are indeed strong general resemblances between the Royal Collection drawing and Veronese’s niche-figures of the 1550s, but the style of the drawing seems irreconcilable with Veronese’s certain sheets. In rejecting the drawing, Cocke noted that ‘the detail with which the shadow is built up and the insistence on the silhouette achieve a powerful sculptural effect at odds with Veronese’s painterly chalk studies’. In response Rearick argued that the drawing belonged to a ‘transitional moment’, arguing that Veronese early in his career ‘remained deeply rooted in the Emilian principles that had first inspired him’. The argument of the ‘transitional moment’ is usually special pleading to explain a drawing that one would wish to be by an artist but whose style does not correspond with anything certainly by that draughtsman.

    This combination of complicated outline and busy, faceted internal modelling is not met with in the certain drawings of Veronese. There are, however, enough points of contact with his art to suggest that it is by a contemporary, and Sueur made the most convincing suggestion to date in proposing that it is in fact by Veronese’s compatriot Domenico Brusasorci. Brusasorci’s drawn oeuvre is very sparse, and few sheets can be assigned to him with certainty. A drawing in Edinburgh, inscribed with the date 1547 and reasonably attributed to the artist, displays the Emilian roots of his eclectic style.

    By the following decade Brusasorci’s figures and compositions had solidified: the key work in reconstructing his drawn oeuvre, a study at Chatsworth for his altarpiece of the Madonna and Child with Saints in Sant’Eufemia, Verona, demonstrates a less decorative approach to the drapery, with a busy silhouette and stocky figures, as is also seen in a second sheet in Edinburgh, again attributed to the artist with some certainty. The monumentality of the present figure compares well with a study of Saturn in the Uffizi, with a sixteenth-century ascription to Brusasorci. The unusual technique of the present drawing, with many small strokes of wash over black and white chalks, is comparable to that of a sheet in the Louvre, also attributed to Brusasorci by Sueur.

    No project of Brusasorci’s is known for which the sheet might have served as a study, though a study of St Peter in a niche (reasonably attributed to the artist), and another drawing of a standing prophet (less certainly so) may have been for the same undertaking. When the drawing was lifted from its old mount for the Veronese exhibition in Washington in 1988, an unusually large black-chalk drawing of a male nude was discovered on the verso. Unfortunately, too much of the chalk has been lost over the centuries to assess its style. The arms of the figure appear to be missing (as if it were a damaged sculpture), or pinioned or tied behind its back. This is the plight of St Sebastian in Brusasorci’s Sant’Eufemia altarpiece, though the pose of the figure is not particularly close.

    Inscribed upper left: Paulo Calliari. VE. [ligature]

    Catalogue entry adapted from The Art of Italy in the Royal Collection: Renaissance and Baroque, London, 2007
    Provenance

    Royal Collection by c.1810 (Inventory A, p. 59, Titiano Paolo Veronese e Scuola Veneziana, among '29 to 42. Of Paolo Veronese and Carlo Cagliari').

  • Medium and techniques

    Black and white chalks with grey-brown wash, on blue paper, lower left corner cut

    Measurements

    40.8 x 25.4 cm (sheet of paper)