Giovanni Antonio Bazzi, called Sodoma (Vercelli 1477 – 1549 Siena), Study of a standing man, for a St. Sebastian or a Christ at the column. Photo Sotheby’s.
Red chalk, on a very slight white preparation; bears recent black chalk attribution: A. Sacchi; 402 by 194 mm; 15 13/16 by 7 5/8 in. Estimate 150,000 — 200,000 USD
Provenance: René de Menthory, 1930 (from an inscription on the old mount, now lost: René de Menthory 16 Janvier 1930 beau dessin italien d’un caractère particulierment puissant attribué anciennement à Andrea Sacchi);
sale, Vienna, Dorotheum, 23 May 2011, lot 61 (as Gian Antonio Sogliani);
London, Private Collection
Literature: E. Testori and A. Marengo, ‘Risarcimento a Sodoma,’ Le Frontiere dell’ arte. Una raccolta di testi di Marco Rosci con saggi in suo onore, Novara 2013, pp. 113-118, reproduced pp. 108, 114-115, 117
Notes: This large and powerful red chalk study of a standing male figure was first attributed to Sodoma on stylistic grounds by Francesco Frangi, an attribution since accepted by a number of other scholars. Drawn from life, it could have been intended as a study for a St Sebastian or a Christ at the Column, although the latter seems more likely. Since the corpus of drawings by Sodoma is very slim (and his drawings rarely come to the market), this sheet is of great importance in shedding light on the development of the artist’s very individual and robust style.
Almost nothing is known of Sodoma’s drawing style before his work at Monte Oliveto, completed in 1508, for which three small red chalk drawings relating to the fresco of St Benedict predicting the downfall of Montecassino, first published by Patrizia Zambrano1, are in the Biblioteca Ambrosiana in Milan.2 The figure in the present sheet is clearly drawn from life with a delicate use of red chalk, and the modelling has both a sculptural and a classical feeling. The muscles catch the light that subtly defines all the forms. The face, mostly in shadow but dramatically lit on the forehead, exhibits a rather harsh physiognomy that reflects both the Piedmontese and Lombard traditions. When first publishing the drawing in 2013, Edoardo Testori stressed Sodoma’s strong stylistic link with the Milanese artistic centre of the late quattrocento, inspired above all by personalities such as Foppa and Bramante whose influences are clearly evident in our drawing. Both Frangi and Testori recognized in the subtle use of the shading in red chalk, mostly built with thin parallel strokes which cover the whole surface of the body, a technique very much associated with artists from Lombardy and the Piedmont, including Sodoma’s master Martino Spanzotti and Defendente Ferrari, but they also stressed that the subtle execution and the chiaroscuro modelling revealed a knowledge of Central Italian masters from the turn of the 16th century.3 Following Sodoma’s apprenticeship with Spanzotti, which was mostly spent in Vercelli and finished in 1497, the artist is known to have worked in or near Siena from about the year 1501, where he would have been exposed to a completely new and different artistic vision. Between 1497 and 1501 there is, though, a gap of four years in which Sodoma could have spent the undocumented period in Milan that his style implies he did, and although there is no record that he ever met or worked with Leonardo, the two artists could have overlapped there for some two years (Leonardo left Milan in 1499), and it is most probable that Sodoma would have seen The Last Supper. A clear Leonardesque influence is evident in the present study, not least in the red chalk medium, in which Sodoma seems to have worked comfortably throughout his career, surely an inheritance from his Milanese experiences. The particular shade of red chalk used in the present sheet appears to be the same as in Sodoma’s late study of St George and the Dragon, in the British Museum4, which relates to the artist’s 1518 painting in the Kress Collection at the National Gallery of Art, Washington.5
Although our drawing seems not to be connected to any known work by the artist, Testori has convincingly argued that there are close similarities in style and execution between this sheet and some of Sodoma’s painted works, for example the Christ at the column fresco in Monte Oliveto, and another fresco of the same subject now in the Pinacoteca, Siena.6 It is also revealing to compare the facial type of the figure in this drawing with some of the protagonists in the fascinating fresco of the LX Chapel (Cappella della Pietà) in the Sacro Monte in Varallo, a work convincingly attributed to Sodoma by Andreina Griseri in 19647 and probably datable to between June 1504 and September 1505, when there is another lacuna in the documents relating to Sodoma’s activities.
The most convincing dating for this remarkable drawing would seem to be after Sodoma’s return to Siena in circa 1509, a proposal that has been confirmed by Roberto Bartalini.8 We see here not only the strong influences from Sodoma’s North Italian origins but also an Umbrian quality that typically permeates his style, and the way in which Sodoma absorbed both these lessons and merged them in his own unique artistic expression makes him one of the most fascinating and intriguing artistic personalities of his time.
1 P. Zambrano, ‘Un nuovo disegno del Sodoma per Monteoliveto Maggiore,’ Paragone, XLI (1990), 23 (487), pp. 59-61, pls. 50-51
2 Inv. F263 inf. no. 5 and inf. n.17
3 Testori and Marengo, op. cit., p. 113
4 London, British Museum, Inv. no. 1952,0510.8;
5 F. Rusk Shapley, Italian Paintings fifteenth to sixteenth Century, London 1968, pp. 114-115, reproduced fig. 351
6 Testori and Marengo, op. cit., p. 116 and pp. 114-115
7 A. Griseri, ‘Una proposta per Sodoma giovane,’ Paragone, 171 (1964), pp. 54-59, pls. 47-59 a and b
8 Testori and Marengo, op. cit., p. 118
Sotheby’s. Old Master Drawings. New York, 28 janv. 2015, 10:00 AM