Two drawings by Giulio Romano


Two drawings in the National Gallery of Victoria attributed to Giulio Romano reveal the dialectic in his work between dependence and originality, felt most acutely in relation to classical sources. Giulio Romano was praised by Aretino for being: anticamente moderni e modernamente antichi,1F. Hartt, Giulio Romano, Yale University Press (New Haven), 1958, 1, p XVI. a turn of phrase which aptly describes the virtuoso fluency of these two works. 

The larger drawing in black and white chalk is a cartoon (fig. 1)2The other surviving cartoon fragment is now in the Bonnat Museum, Bayonne. Both have been attributed to Giulio Romano by O. Fischel. See F. Hartt, op. cit., p. 27. for the Madonna of Francis I in the Louvre. (See Frederick Hartt, Giulio Romano, 2, pl. 24, Yale University, New Haven.) An earlier drawing, also in the Louvre (fig. 2), shows how the Christ Child’s position was first conceived in relation to the Madonna who dominates the final composition in the painting. Undertaken between March and June 1518;3V. Golzio, Raffaello, Gregg International Publishers Ltd, (Hants.), 1971. this painting was commissioned from Raphael but was mainly executed by his assistants, Giulio and Raffaellino.4F. Hartt, op. cit., p. 27. 

The figures of both St Elizabeth and St John the Baptist are quite conventional and have several precedents in Raphael’s oeuvre.5For St Elizabeth refer Madonna Canigiani, Munich, and for St John in devotional pose Madonna della Sedia, Galleria Pitti, Florence. In them Giulio has justified the assumption, which lay behind the delivery of this hybrid painting as a work by Raphael, that his assistants would diligently imitate his style when carrying out his ideas.6To Vasari the achievement of a pupil was often inseparable from his dependence on previous artists. See his statement on the master–pupil relations in G. Vasari, The Lives of the Painters, Sculptors and Architects, Everyman’s Library (London), 1963, Vol. 3, p. 97, 98 and 106. The Christ Child as finally evolved, however, is strikingly original. His pose is aggressively athletic but also stable. It presents an almost flat profile to the viewer which is further emphasised in the painting by the sharp lighting of only the frontal planes and the blacking out of the forms in depth. 

The simplified contours in the cartoon reducing the Child’s back to straight lines in open V form were first clarified in an earlier study for the Child in the Ufizzi.7Illustration in F. Hartt, op. cit., fig. 28. First attributed to Raphael. See A. E. Popham, Letter to the Editor, Burlington Magazine, Vol. 88, 1946, p. 316. Reattributed to Giulio by O. Fischel, F. Hartt, op. cit., p. 28. Yet the real source for this bold pose can be found in the boy who steps over the column fragment on a Medea sarcophagus at Mantua (fig. 3), especially if seen in relation to the boy directly behind him. Indeed the figure in the Melbourne cartoon is even more closely related to the frieze figure than is the Christ Child in Michelangelo’s Taddei Tondo (Royal Academy, London) which E. Panofsky,8E. Panofsky, Studies in Iconology, Harpur and Rowe (New York), 1967, p. 172. W. Horn9Cited in C. de Tolnay, Michelangelo, Vol. 1, Princeton University Press (Princeton), 1947, p. 163. and C. de Tolnay10ibid, p. 162. have all argued as originating in this antique putto. That Raphael had made a drawing, now in the Louvre,11For illustration see R. Lightbown, ‘Michelangelo’s great tondo: origins and setting’, Apollo, January, 1969, fig. 3. after Michelangelo’s Taddei Tondo and used the figure of the Child in his Bridgewater Madonna (National Gallery of Scotland, Edinburgh) and for the putto who sports beneath the dolphins of Galatea (Villa Farnesina) testifies to his fascination with this pose. It is thus quite probable that Raphael and Giulio were aware of Michelangelo’s antique source. 

In contrast to Michelangelo’s development of torsion in the boy, the Francis I figure has restated his classical form more literally and has brought it into a far tighter relation with the picture plane, recreating the single plane of the classical frieze. Yet Raphael’s late style is never constricted in this way but, on the contrary, increases the three-dimensional dynamism of his figures with a movement that is truly proto-Baroque. Giulio’s style, however, found a natural affinity with the compressed space and formal tensions of the antique relief. 

The final effect of the Christ Child suggests that Giulio was either responsible for the initial conception or has subtly transformed Raphael’s idea according to the classical source. Even within Raphael’s school, Giulio’s individual aesthetic asserted itself to create a powerful alternative classicism. 

This new formal invention of the Christ Child involves an equally new iconography. As in other depictions of the Holy Family where the Infant adopts an active role12For example, Michelangelo’s Taddei Tondo and Bronzino’s Virgin and Child, National Gallery, London. there is a grave recognition of His destiny. The cradle beneath the Child is no mere domestic detail, for, being carved in stone, it alludes to the sarcophagus in which Christ is to be laid. Yet the resolute action springing out of the stone cradle then becomes a prefiguration of the Resurrection and the attention of the Infant Baptist, cross in arm, a witnessing of Christ’s triumph rather than a reminder of suffering. 

It is also essential to consider the Child’s action as directed towards Mary whose inclined body and supportive arms create a formal and emotional circle with Him. The elevated role given to the Virgin is emphasised by the angel who stretches over the group to hold flowers directly over Mary’s head, invoking her Coronation in heaven.13This motif has always previously been interpreted as a frivolous gesture in which the angel strews flowers over the group or over Christ. See, for example, Crowe and Cavalcaselle, Raphael, His Life and Works, John Murray (London), 1882, Vol. II, p. 397. Clearly, however, the angel is not throwing the flowers away, but deliberately holds them just above the Virgin’s head as a crown while gazing specifically at her face and not at Christ’s. Further, the Incarnation, so crucial to the notion of Redemption, is almost literally enacted before the viewer as Christ purposefully leaps into her arms. This unusual celebratory theme of the Madonna of Francis I radiates from their relationship, but above all from the resolved energy of the Christ Child’s classically inspired pose. 

The pen drawing of a winged female figure carrying a cornucopia14The Inscription beneath of ‘Vitoria’ in a different tone of wash is most probably a later addition. It is unlikely that this figure symbolises Victory as the cornucopia is very rarely associated with this deity. Refer C. Daremberg and E. Saglio, Dictionnaire des Antiquites grecques et romaines, Librairie Hachette et Cie (Paris), 1877–1919, p. 853. I suggest that this drawing represents either Bona Fortuna or a type of seasonal Genius. (fig. 4) shows the fully independent development of Giulio’s new aesthetic. Considered to be by Perino del Vaga, it was reattributed to Giulio Romano by Philip Pouncey and Julian Stock in 1972. 

In the buoyant movement forward of this goddess, Giulio has sought to endow the human body with the potential for graceful flight without loss of corporeality. To this end he has instinctively followed Alberti’s advice: 

‘Thus you will see what grace the bodies, where they are struck by the wind, show the nude under the drapery in suitable parts. In other parts the draperies blown by the wind fly gracefully through the air …’15L. Alberti, On Painting, Routledge Kegan Paul (London), 1967, p. 81. 

 

Exemplifying the style ‘all antica’ Giulio’s figure evokes precisely those quattrocento images of both Christian angels and secular types with ‘windblown hair, billowing drapery, fluttering ribbons’16E. Panofsky, Renaissance and Renascences in Western Art, Paladin, Grenada (London), 1970, p. 175. For examples see A. Warburg, La Rinascita del Paganesimo Antico, Firenze, 1966, figs 113–4. in which Aby Warburg located the influence of antique Horae, Maenads and, of course Victories. 

Yet Giulio’s aesthetic drives him to greater precision in relation to the classical prototypes at the basis of this visual tradition. In fact, the source of the figure in the Melbourne drawing is readily found among Roman Imperial coins but in particular on the Nero coin A.D. 54–60 (fig. 5) which shows a winged Victoria Augusti on the reverse. The close similarity of the drawing to this coin extends even beyond details to the very rhythm of the figure’s crisp step. 

Giulio’s interest in owning actual antiquities is well documented. In 1524, when he moved from Rome to Mantua he took with him a fine collection of ‘classical fragments, pictures, statues and gems’. He left in Rome ‘30 different medals … with various figures upon them’.17E. Muntz, Raphael, (London), 1882, p. 580. Vasari sums up Giulio by saying: ‘He was universal and could discuss everything, but especially medals, upon which he spent much time and money’.18Vasari, op. cit., Vol. 3, p. 109.

Yet Giulio’s close adherence to classical sources does not take place in an imaginative vacuum. For, to use Panofsky’s words on historical perspective, when ‘the distance created by the Renaissance deprived antiquity of its realness’19E. Panofsky, Renaissance and Renascences in Western Art, (London), 1970, p. 112. one outcome was the development of an extensive classical fantasy life. A discovery which made this possible was that of the delicate grotesques in Fresco and stucco on the walls of the Domus Aurea, first explored In the 1490s.20J. Schulz, ‘Pinturicchio and the Revival of Antiquity’, Journal of the Warburg and Courtauld Institutes, Vol. 25, 1962, p. 41. Overwhelmed by their ‘design, variety and fancy’21Vasari, op. cit., Vol. 4, p. 9. Raphael, Giovanni da Udine and Giulio reproduced, and in Vasari’s opinion surpassed, this antique decorative style in designs such as those for the Villa Madama, Rome.22For illustration see N. Dacos, La Decouverte de la Domus Aurea et la Formation des Groteques a la Renaissance, Studies of the Warburg Institute (London), 1969, fig. 181. One of these shows a fantastic classical structure in stucco relief with winged Victories in the spandrels with a remarkable likeness to the Melbourne drawing in pose and style. This affinity suggests that it too may have been intended for such a stucco motif in a decorative framework.23Almost all the drawings F. Hartt has described as designs for stucco reliefs are executed with the same technique of fine pen line and broad wash against a plain background. See F. Hartt, op. cit. 11, figs 300 and 361. Certainly the effect which Giovanni da Udine sought in his stucco of an ‘outer skin as smooth, delicate and white as the ancients’24Vasari, op. cit., Vol. 4, p. 10. also characterises the surface texture of this drawing. 

Decorative styles such as the grotesque and decorative undertakings for fetes and triumphal entries were an important free arena in which 16th century artists tested their inventiveness. The grotesque style provided Giulio with an artistic precedent for the peculiar extensions of his imagination. In the Melbourne drawing this is evident in the aggressive open mouth on a strict classical profile, the impossible twist of the body, the gigantic wings and in the very quality of the pen line which indicates the weight of the body yet also abstracts it to the realm of decorative caricature. This image more than justifies Pirro Ligorio’s conviction that grotesques ‘signify as much as possible the pregnancy and fullness of the intellect and its fancies’.25D. Coffin, ‘Pirro Ligorio and the Decoration at Ferrara’, Art Bulletin, pp. 182–3. 

These two drawings in the National Gallery of Victoria appear at first to be caught in a tight web of artistic influences which threaten the originality of their achievement. Yet on closer scrutiny Giulio shows that he is spinning his own web, tying and untying threads of his classical training in a new pattern of form self-sufficient and radically inventive. 

Vivien Thwaites, Tutor, Department of Fine Arts, University of Melbourne (in 1976).

Notes

1              F. Hartt, Giulio Romano, Yale University Press (New Haven), 1958, 1, p XVI. 

2              The other surviving cartoon fragment is now in the Bonnat Museum, Bayonne. Both have been attributed to Giulio Romano by O. Fischel. See F. Hartt, op. cit., p. 27. 

3              V. Golzio, Raffaello, Gregg International Publishers Ltd, (Hants.), 1971. 

4              F. Hartt, op. cit., p. 27. 

5              For St Elizabeth refer Madonna Canigiani, Munich, and for St John in devotional pose Madonna della Sedia, Galleria Pitti, Florence. 

6              To Vasari the achievement of a pupil was often inseparable from his dependence on previous artists. See his statement on the master–pupil relations in G. Vasari, The Lives of the Painters, Sculptors and Architects, Everyman’s Library (London), 1963, Vol. 3, p. 97, 98 and 106. 

7              Illustration in F. Hartt, op. cit., fig. 28. First attributed to Raphael. See A. E. Popham, Letter to the Editor, Burlington Magazine, Vol. 88, 1946, p. 316. Reattributed to Giulio by O. Fischel, F. Hartt, op. cit., p. 28. 

8              E. Panofsky, Studies in Iconology, Harpur and Rowe (New York), 1967, p. 172. 

9              Cited in C. de Tolnay, Michelangelo, Vol. 1, Princeton University Press (Princeton), 1947, p. 163. 

10           ibid, p. 162. 

11           For illustration see R. Lightbown, ‘Michelangelo’s great tondo: origins and setting’, Apollo, January, 1969, fig. 3. 

12           For example, Michelangelo’s Taddei Tondo and Bronzino’s Virgin and Child, National Gallery, London. 

13           This motif has always previously been interpreted as a frivolous gesture in which the angel strews flowers over the group or over Christ. See, for example, Crowe and Cavalcaselle, Raphael, His Life and Works, John Murray (London), 1882, Vol. II, p. 397. Clearly, however, the angel is not throwing the flowers away, but deliberately holds them just above the Virgin’s head as a crown while gazing specifically at her face and not at Christ’s. 

14           The Inscription beneath of ‘Vitoria’ in a different tone of wash is most probably a later addition. It is unlikely that this figure symbolises Victory as the cornucopia is very rarely associated with this deity. Refer C. Daremberg and E. Saglio, Dictionnaire des Antiquites grecques et romaines, Librairie Hachette et Cie (Paris), 1877–1919, p. 853. I suggest that this drawing represents either Bona Fortuna or a type of seasonal Genius. 

15           L. Alberti, On Painting, Routledge Kegan Paul (London), 1967, p. 81.

16           E. Panofsky, Renaissance and Renascences in Western Art, Paladin, Grenada (London), 1970, p. 175. For examples see A. Warburg, La Rinascita del Paganesimo Antico, Firenze, 1966, figs 113–4. 

17           E. Muntz, Raphael, (London), 1882, p. 580. 

18           Vasari, op. cit., Vol. 3, p. 109. 

19           E. Panofsky, Renaissance and Renascences in Western Art, (London), 1970, p. 112. 

20           J. Schulz, ‘Pinturicchio and the Revival of Antiquity’, Journal of the Warburg and Courtauld Institutes, Vol. 25, 1962, p. 41. 

21           Vasari, op. cit., Vol. 4, p. 9. 

22           For illustration see N. Dacos, La Decouverte de la Domus Aurea et la Formation des Groteques a la Renaissance, Studies of the Warburg Institute (London), 1969, fig. 181. 

23           Almost all the drawings F. Hartt has described as designs for stucco reliefs are executed with the same technique of fine pen line and broad wash against a plain background. See F. Hartt, op. cit. 11, figs 300 and 361. 

24           Vasari, op. cit., Vol. 4, p. 10.

25           D. Coffin, ‘Pirro Ligorio and the Decoration at Ferrara’, Art Bulletin, pp. 182–3.