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Battista Franco (c. 1510-1561)

A flagellator c. 1555

Red chalk | 40.4 x 22.4 cm (sheet of paper) | RCIN 990048

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  • A drawing of a bearded man, turned to the left, with his arms raised over his head, holding a flail; a second lightly sketched figure is behind him. Faintly inscribed at lower left, pencil: Battista Franco.

    Franco spent much of his career in Rome and Florence, and on his return to his native Venice he continued to work in a central Italian style, seen here in the precision of the chalk lines. His eclectic and sometimes chaotic paintings were less successful than his prints, of which he produced about a hundred, sometimes on an unusually large scale. This is a study for his engraving of the Flagellation of Christ.

    This figure is a study (in reverse) for a tormentor in Franco’s print of the Flagellation, which is signed at lower left ‘Batista Franco facciebat’ (Bartsch XVI, p.122, no.10). The composition is also known, reversed, in two other prints, both probably copies of Franco’s. One held in the Royal Collection is large and uninscribed (RCIN 830517). The other is small, with some changes of detail and is signed by Martino Rota and dated 1568 (Bartsch XVI, p.250, no.7). None of these prints records explicitly the originator of the composition, and there has been a persistent suggestion that they reproduce a lost Flagellation by Titian, such as the painting that Giorgio Vasari described as having been sent to the Queen of Portugal.

    The details of the Royal Collection drawing agree closely with the print, though the waistband is reduced in width, a cloak is added, and the figure is tilted back a little. In the Metropolitan Museum is a comparable red-chalk study for the figure of Christ in the composition. That drawing is a nude study to which Franco would later add the loincloth and the usual facial features of Christ, including a beard; these amendments seem to confirm that Franco was not copying a painting but was devising the figures afresh, and he must be credited with the invention.

    Scholars have been unanimous in dating the print to early in Franco’s final Venetian period, whether or not they have accepted the design as his. Van der Sman raised the possibility that Franco had conceived the composition as a painting and that he later decided to render it in a print(Le Siècle de Titien, Gravures vénetiennes de la Renaissance, 2002-3, p.162). The figures are reversed in the print and their handedness does not help to resolve the matter - the two flagellators seen here are left-handed in the drawing, right-handed in the print; the other two nearest Christ are left-handed in the print, but this may simply have been a compositional device to maintain an open and inward direction to their poses and actions. Both studies are a little larger than the corresponding figures in the print, and there is no evidence of mechanical transfer (such as incised outlines) to or from these sheets. Nonetheless, the appropriateness of scale and conception of these figures for a typical late, large print by Franco would support the simpler contention, that the composition was intended from the outset to be engraved.

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

    Presumably in the Royal Collection by c.1810

  • Medium and techniques

    Red chalk


    40.4 x 22.4 cm (sheet of paper)