Black chalk heightened with white chalk on light brown paper, watermark crowned eagle with initials VC, verso counterproof of a figure in red chalk
354 x 224 mm. (13 7/8 x 8 7/8 in.)
Anonymous sale, Christie's London, 6 July 1976, lot 22 (as circle of Fra Bartolommeo); Baron Paul Hatvany (1899-1977); his sale, Christie's London 1980, 24 June, lot 23 (as Florentine School, circa 1600); Professor Raymond E. Pahl, FBA, (1935-2011).
Biliverti was the son of the Delft-born goldsmith Jacques Bijlvert (1550-1603), who was head of Francesco de'Medici's workshop, Biliverti trained with the Sienese painter Alessandro Casolani (1552/3-1607) before entering the studio of Lodovico Cigoli. Cigoli's influence on Biliverti was overarching in terms of both composition and draughtsmanship, and Biliverti benefitted from numerous Florentine private commissions. The success of and demand for his elegant and emotionally charged domestic paintings led Biliverti and his workshop, which included Orazio Fidani and Agostino Melissi, to produce plentiful replicas.
This drawing has always been attributed to a Florentine draughtsman, and has historically been placed in the Circle of Fra Bartolommeo. The use of black chalk and technique certainly imply a Florentine draughtsman from the 16th Century, however the technique is not as soft as the Frate, and the drawing 'feels' later in the century. More recently the drawing has been attributed to Giovanni Biliverti, by Rick Scorza1. Biliverti was a draughtsman who worked in Florence at the end of the 16th century, early 17th century, and who would have been exposed on a regular basis to the work of other Florentine draughtsmen from earlier in the century. Scorza has connected the drawing to a painting by Biliverti of the same subject, St Bernard of Clairvaux, [see Figure 1] formerly in the church of San Giusto dei Cappuccini, Pisa, side panel of the high altar. In 1985 it was in the Depositi of the Pisan Sopraintendenza, Palazzo Reale, Pisa, awaiting re-installation to its original location. Scorza has pointed out that the left foot in our drawing is visible in the painting. In addition the artist has changed the position of the hands and arms and the pose of the saint. However the overall direction of the cross, the stance of the saint and the direction of his head are the same in both the drawing and the painting. The present drawing is clearly a working drawing with many pentimenti.
Other drawings by Biliverti are in Christ Church, Oxford, 2 where the artist has used black, white and red chalk on a reclining sibyl. The red chalk on the verso of the present drawing is probably a counterproof from another drawing. It is likely that our drawing was in an album at some stage.
1.Written communication, 9 July 2007.
2.J. Byam Shaw, Drawings by Old Masters at Christ Church Oxford, Oxford, 1976, number 270, plates 174 & 176.