Girolamo Siciolante da Sermoneta , (circle of)

(Sermoneta, 1521 - 1580)

Omage to Niobe

Pen and wash and brown ink, on traces of black pencil

193 x 361 cm (7.60 x 14.21 inches)

  • Reference Number: 0205
  • Provenance: Private collection, Paris

A group of figures wearing classical robes is bearing gifts to give to Niobe, the Queen of Thebes. An elder but strong man has an urn on his shoulder, a half clad woman has a cornucopia, other figures crowd around bearing a vase, a second woman is leading a mutton while a young man is holding back a galloping horse. The Queen is not shown, but all of the figures in this large group are facing her. 

This sheet, which is of a very high quality, is an antique copy of the first part of the Niobe frieze in Palazzo Milesi in Roma. The frieze was painted by Polidoro da Caravaggio and Maturino da Firenze between 1526 and 1527[i]. The fresco, which Vasari[1] praised[ii], was above the entryway of the façade on Via della Maschera d’Oro. Considered to be lost and forgotten by the major part of art historians, this frieze has been recovered and can today be studied thanks to a wonderful restoration that was completed in 2006. 

Amongst the facades in Rome decorated by the team Polidoro Caldara and Maturino, a collaboration that lasted from the second decade of 1500 up until 1527[2] when, according to Vasari, Maturino died of plague and which radically transformed the aspect of the streets in Rome, the façade of Palazzo Milesi was the most admired and imitated. Many copies of facades painted by Polidoro were later considered to be his work as the foglio we are looking at attests in the caption on the lower right, written in a hand that could date from the 1700’s. Comparison with drawings that are known to have been done by the maestro from Lombardy, such as the splendid Processsion today in the British Museum[iii], show, as if it were really necessary, that this foglio is a copy, even though it is very well drawn and is surely quite antique and was probably not drawn any later than the 1550s.

Amongst the antique copies of this frieze the one that seems closest to this drawing both in size and style is probably the sheet in the British Museum[3] with the inventory number 1946 713 1424[4]. This drawing, like the drawing we are here examining, was done by a Roman maestro who was in the circle of Girolamo Sicioliante da Sermoneta. However, the rigor of the drawing recalls Michelangelo’s work and that of Perin del Vaga which leads one to think that the artist who did this work could be influenced by the Tuscan artists who were in Roma in the same period. Compared with the sweeter and more mannerised drawing style of the sheet in the British Museum, in the drawing on show you can almost touch the poetry of the artists from the early 1500’s, a time when the heights reached by Renaissance art began to seen, in retrospect, mythical and no longer reachable. 

[1] P. Leone De Castris, Polidoro da Caravaggio: l’opera completa, Napoli 2001, pp. 497-498, n. 18.

[2] G. Vasari, Le Vite dei più eccellenti pittori, scultori ed architettori, Firenze 1568, ed. in Le opere di Giorgio Vasari, a cura di G. Milanesi, Firenze 1981, V, pp. 149-150.

[3] Pouncey, J. A. Gere, Italian drawings in the British Museum: Raphael and his circle, Londra, 1962, I, n. 214.

[4] L. Ravelli, Polidoro Caldara da Caravaggio, Bergamo 1978 pp. 377, 379, n. 686.


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