De chair et d’esprit. Dessins italiens du musée de Grenoble

Flesh and spirit. Italian drawings at the Grenoble museum

Grenoble, Museum. From 6 March to 30 May 2010

1. Bernardino Butinone
(Known after 1473-1510) or
Bernardo Zenale (1455/60-1526)
Saint Jerome Doing Penance in
the Desert with Saint Francis Receiving
the Stigmata

Pen and brown ink,
wash and gouache - 15.7 x 11.8 cm
Grenoble, Musée
Photo : Musée de Grenble

After Orleans (see article in French) and Lyon (see article), Eric Pagliano, along with Catherine Monbeig Goguel and Philippe Costamagna, again regales us with a model catalogue – and exhibition – that of the Italian drawing collection in Grenoble. In just a few years, this young curator has become one of the most authoritative connoisseurs in this field and an acknowledged reference of international stature. He does not avail himself only of his thorough knowledge of the subject in establishing attributions and extracting dozens of works from their anonymity but gives careful thought each time to identifying artists and, probing even further, to what these new sheets contribute to art history. An attribution is never the ultimate goal, simply the beginning of an entire process. The entry (five pages long) which accompanies, for example, cat. 2, Saint Jerome Doing Penance in the Desert with Saint Francis Receiving the Stigmata (ill. 1), is an exemplary case in point. To set up the proof for an attribution, in fact still uncertain, to Bernardino Butinone or Bernardo Zenale, the author develops a brilliant demonstration which surpasses a mere formal analysis. He wonders about the work’s status, as a preparation for a miniature or a small devotional painting, about its iconography and about Saint Jerome’s place, as well as his association to Saint Francis, in the theology of that time. Eric Pagliano describes and explains the process which leads to determining the right name (or that which comes closest), transforming this exercise, at times laden with shades of a divining art, into a finely tuned demonstration supported with relevant arguments.

There was plenty of material to work with in Grenoble. With 50 unpublished pieces, including 18 drawings which had only been mentioned once [1] and had never been reproduced, almost two-thirds of the works exhibited here make their official debut into the world of art history [2]. Several changes in attribution can also be added to these numbers, even among those drawings recently presented during the 2006-2007 exhibitions [3], proof that the science of connoisseurship is not exact and that one would do well to remain humble when approaching this field.

2. Giuseppe Cesari,
called Cavaliere d’Arpino (1560/68-1640)
Study for Two Figures of Nude Men
Red Chalk
Grenoble, Musée
Photo : Musée de Grenoble

3. Attributed to Guido Reni (1575-1642)
Study of a Bearded Head
Black chalk heightened with white chalk - 23 x 18.9 cm
Grenoble, Musée
Photo : Musée de Grenoble

It would be difficult to point out all of the discoveries here. We will limit ourselves, in a purely subjective manner, to a discussion of those we deem most interesting, without necessarily following the order in the catalogue, identical to that in the exhibition, that is, a chronological and thematic progression which groups comparable drawings according to their status in small “case studies”.
Let’s take the example of Cavaliere d’Arpino. Grenoble owns three drawings by this artist : recently, one was published twice (cat. 63), but the other two, although familiar to the author of the monograph, had remained unpublished [4] despite their fine quality. These are a Virgin with Child (cat. 62) and Two Figures of Nude Men (ill. 2). The attribution of these three sheets does not raise too many questions. However, the same cannot be said of a work which is just as superb, cautiously attributed by Catherine Loisel to Giacomo Cavedone (ill. 3). The different opinions of art specialists – scrupulously included in the technical part of the entry – reflect their hesitation between names such as Cavedone, Domenichino and Reni, nonetheless clearly placing this drawing in the Bolognese school. Eric Pagliano retains the last master after reflecting at length in the entry. Whether or not the attribution to Study of a Bearded Head changes in the future, one thing will not, its extremely high quality.

4. Federico Barocci (1535 ?-1612)
Study of a Man’s Head
Black chalk, red chalk, heightened with
white chalk - 21.2 x 16.4 cm
Grenoble, Musée
Photo : Musée de Grenoble

5. Giovanni Battista Piazzetta (1682-1754)
Bust of a Young Woman
Black chalk and charcoal, heightened with
white gouache - 37.6 x 30.4 cm
Grenoble, Musée
Photo : Musée de Grenoble

Among the most important sheets, special notice goes to an unpublished one by Baroccio (ill. 4), a preparation for the head of Saint Joseph in the Nativity at the Prado ; a red-chalk by Parmigianino, also unpublished ; an Annibale Carracci exhibited for the first time in 2006-2007 ; one of the very few drawings held in a collection by Francesco Cairo, another discovery supported by a painting with the same composition at the Musee des Augustins in Toulouse ; a Bust of a Young Woman Seen from the Back (ill. 5) here solidly attributed to Piazzetta, which does seem undeniable, and which was simply mentioned with a question mark in one of the 2006-2007 catalogues (that of the Montpellier exhibition) and a Christ on the Cross by Francesco Guardi. Still in Venice, among the four Tiepolo drawings (two by Giovanni Battista, two by Giovanni Domenico), The Death of Cato the Younger (ill. 6) by the first has been acknowledged as a copy of a painting by Mathias Stomer always held in Sicily and which does not seem to have ever been reproduced in an engraving. How did Tiepolo know about this composition and especially how did “a work by an artist outside of his stylistic-historical references” come to Tiepolo’s attention ? Although the exhibition answers many questions, this mystery remains unresolved.
None of the drawings mentioned above – except for the one attributed to Guido Reni – present any doubts concerning their attributions [5]. However, several others are not as obvious. This is the case, for example, of a double-face sheet which until now was considered to be by Veronese and which Eric Pagliano acknowledges with caution to the much less known Alvise Benfatto, also known as Dal Friso (ill. 7) thanks to a fine analysis which studies all of the artists surrounding Veronese, before making his final choice.

6. Giovanni Battista Tiepolo (1696-1770)
The Death of Cato the Younger, after Mathias Stomer
Pen and brown ink, brown wash - 29.5 x 41.5 cm
Grenoble, Musée
Photo : Musée de Grenoble

7. Attributed to Alvise Benfatto,
called Dal Friso (1554-1609)
Study of figures,
Pen and brown ink,
brown wash - 26.6 x 18.3 cm
Grenoble, Musée
Photo : Musée de Grenoble

Before closing our article, we would like to put in a word for the catalogue published by Somogy. The reproductions are very good and many photographs offer comparisons to better support the scholarly demonstrations. There is one thing we do regret however : some of the reproductions are bigger than their actual size. Illustrations are usually and sometimes due to necessity, smaller. The opposite in fact serves no purpose and provides a distorted image to the viewer. This is the case notably for the drawing we mentioned at the beginning of this article, Saint Jerome Doing Penance in the Desert with Saint Francis Receiving the Stigmata by Bernardino Butinone or Bernardo Zenale. The full page reproduction hampers the reader from understanding that this is close to a miniature.

We were struck during our visit to this exhibition in Grenoble by the quality of the works which nonetheless remained totally unknown until now, even to specialists. Furthermore, we would like to commend the museum for its determination to explore and catalogue all of its collections, an undertaking begun many years ago and which its current director, Guy Tossato, continues to pursue. Next year, after the Italian drawings, the museum will highlight French drawings before the 19th century, then will present Northern European sheets. Let us hope that the entire collection will soon be published, a feat not yet achieved, to our knowledge, by any of the other provincial museums.

Eric Pagliano, Catherine Monbeig Goguel and Philippe Costamagna, De chair et d’esprit, dessins italiens du muse de Grenoble XVe –XVIIIe siecle, Somogy, 2010, 256 p., 34 euros. ISBN : 9782757203057

Visitor information : Musee de Grenoble, 5 place de Lavalette 38000 Grenoble. Tel : 00 33 (0)4 76 63 44 44. Open every day except Tuesday from 10 to 18.30. Rates : 5 euros (reduced : 3 euros).

Version française

Didier Rykner, vendredi 26 mars 2010


[1] Mostly in one of the catalogues for the 2006-2007 exhibitions highlighting 17th and 18th century Italian drawings in provincial museums (see article in French).

[2] According to Eric Pagliano, all of the interesting Italian sheets in the collection are on display, and does not regret any of those not presented but which will be offered on internet in photographic form.

[3] See note 1.

[4] Only one of them is mentioned in the 2006-2007 exhibitions.

[5] We would also like to mention the obvious attribution of Volterrano’s small masterpiece (ill. 8).

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