Concise, critical reviews of books, exhibitions, and projects in all areas and periods of art history and visual studies
March 9, 2010
Edward Olszewski, ed. A Corpus of Drawings in Midwestern Collections: Sixteenth-Century Italian Drawings, 2 vols. Turnhout: Brepols, 2008. 662 pp.; 17 color ills.; 572  b/w ills. Cloth €200.00 (9781905375103)

This ambitious, two-volume catalogue of sixteenth-century drawings in Midwestern American collections is the second in a series sponsored by the Midwest Art History Society. The first installment in the series treated drawings datable before 1500 (Drawings in Midwestern Collections, Volume I, Early Works, A Corpus Compiled by the Midwest Art History Society, Burton L. Dunbar and Edward J. Olszewski, eds., Columbia: University of Missouri Press, 1996), and the final volume will consider drawings from the Carracci into the eighteenth century. The sixteenth-century catalogue provides a valuable resource for scholars by illustrating and cataloguing an impressive 471 drawings from 40 different institutions, ranging from prominent museums to less well-known university museum collections. With the exception of the Art Institute of Chicago (whose drawings were recently catalogued, making repetition here unnecessary), the corpus appears to represent all the Midwestern museums with pertinent holdings. Major museums such as the Cincinnati Art Museum; Cleveland Museum of Art; Detroit Institute of Arts; Milwaukee Art Museum; Minneapolis Institute of Arts; Museum of Fine Arts, Houston; Nelson-Atkins Museum; and the St. Louis Art Museum are included. So are many impressive university museums, some of which may be less familiar to scholars, such as the Allen Memorial Art Museum of Oberlin College, the Elvehjem Museum of Art at the University of Wisconsin-Madison (renamed the Chazen Museum of Art in 2005), the Indiana University Art Museum, the Snite Museum of Art at Notre Dame, the Spencer Museum at the University of Kansas, the University of Michigan Museum, and the Mary and Leigh Block Museum at Northwestern University. The corpus also features works from collections not associated with universities, some previously unknown to this reviewer, such as the Thrivent Financial Collection of Religious Art in Minneapolis. And finally, somewhat incongruously, the catalogue includes twenty-six drawings from a collection in Louisiana, the only private collection represented in the corpus. The two volumes make available a wide array of drawings that include many works that are probably unknown even to specialists.

The Corpus of Drawings includes numerous important and beautiful drawings, many of them by significant Italian artists. A large group of drawings associated with Luca Cambiaso is particularly noteworthy, featuring ten autograph sheets, including two dynamic compositions from Cleveland (nos. 64 and 65, catalogued by Jennifer Finkel and Michael Morford) and twenty-six copies and workshop replicas. Five drawings by Bartolomeo Passarotti constitute another impressive group, particularly the sensitive copy after Michelangelo’s Aurora (no. 242, Nelson Atkins Museum, catalogued by Edward J. Olszewski) and the Male Nudes Fighting (no. 244; Museum of Fine Arts, Houston). As Caroline Wilson observes in her exemplary entry on the Houston drawing, this dynamic pen-and-ink sketch is apparently unknown in the literature on this Bolognese artist’s draftsmanship. Bringing such sheets to light is a key contribution of this catalogue. Nine drawings by Parmigianino or by a member of his circle (nos. 233–41) feature a variety of drawing types, including compositional sketches, individual figures, and a head study. Raphael and the Raphael school are also well represented. Luca Penni’s finished preparatory study for an etching depicting the Battle before Troy in the Mary and Leigh Block Gallery of Northwestern University (no. 250, catalogued by Robert Munman), an early drawing by Marcantonio Raimondi in the Snite Museum of Notre Dame University (no. 291, catalogued by Robert Randolf Coleman), an impressive study of a Man in Armor beside a Chariot by Francesco Salviati (no. 331, Cleveland Museum of Art, catalogued by Jennifer Finkel), and a drawing attributed to Giulio Romano and reworked by Rubens portraying soldiers from The Triumph of Scipio (no. 306, Cincinnati Art Museum, catalogued by Olszewski) are among the highlights.

The collection of drawings is also notable for its geographical diversity. Apart from the examples already mentioned above, the Florentines include such artists as Fra Bartolommeo, Baccio Bandinelli, Andrea Boscoli, Ludovico Cigoli, Michelangelo (two autograph drawings, including Cleveland’s masterly red-chalk study for a Sistine Chapel ignudo [no. 191, catalogued by Jeannine O’Grody]), Rosso Fiorentino, Andrea del Sarto, and Giorgio Vasari. Several Sienese artists are included, most notably Francesco Vanni, whose name is associated with eight drawings, though in the opinion of this reviewer only three are autograph (no. 372, catalogued by Munman; nos. 373 and 378, both catalogued by Olszewski). The Venetian school drawings include examples by Jacopo Bassano, Carletto Caliari, Domenico Campagnola, Palma Giovane, Tintoretto (including a preparatory study in the Snite Museum for the Baptism of Christ in San Rocco [no. 363, catalogued by Coleman]), and Paolo Veronese. In addition to the Passarotti drawings already discussed, the Bolognese school is represented by Niccolò dell’ Abate, Biagio Pupini, Lorenzo Sabbatini, and Orazio Samacchini. An attribution to Prospero Fontana (no. 158, in the University of Michigan Museum of Art, catalogued by Olszewski), seems to me to be by Niccolò dell’ Abate. Its figure style, monumental architecture, and handling of media strongly suggest that artist’s authorship, and the scene is very similar to Abate’s frescoes with scenes from the Orlando Furioso (formerly Palazzo Torfanini, Bologna, and now in the Pinacoteca Nazionale, Bologna).

One major Italian artist who worked primarily outside of the principal artistic centers and who is well represented by Midwestern holdings is Federico Barocci of Urbino. The selection of eight drawings includes varied preparatory studies for several important paintings, including a compositional study for the Casino of Pope Pius IV (no. 24, in the University of Michigan Museum of Art), the drawing of a head for Il Perdono (no. 25, in the Indiana University Art Museum), and a dynamic figure study for the Prado Nativity (no. 23, Detroit Institute of Arts). A drawing from Cleveland (no. 30) provides an example of Barocci’s landscape drawings, none of which can be conclusively associated with specific paintings. Another drawing from Cleveland that is connected to Barocci’s Flight of Aeneas from Troy (no. 29, catalogued by Olszewski, like all of this group) seems more likely to be a copy or a workshop drawing than an autograph study for this work.

The editorial oversight for this ambitious project was provided by the indefatigable Edward Olszewski, assisted by Robert Munman, associate editor, and Burton Dunbar, series editor. Sixteen authors, including Olszewski and Munman, wrote the 471 catalogue entries. The scholarly apparatus includes indices of artists, collections, and provenances. Catalogue entries are organized by artist, although this method can be confusing because works whose authorship by the designated artist is rejected in the catalogue entry are still catalogued under that artist’s name. No. 152, for example, a portrait drawing in the Snite Museum, is catalogued as the work of Pietro Faccini, although in the entry, Robert Randolf Coleman more convincingly assigns the drawing to an anonymous central Italian artist. Works that are considered copies or products of an artist’s school are not consistently or clearly identified as such. Copies and drawings by anonymous followers are all catalogued under the master artist’s name, as is traditional; but the organization can be confusing, since the autograph sheets do not always precede other drawings. The extensive selection of drawings connected with Parmigianino, for example, begins with a sketch for a circumcision in the Midland Center for the Arts that appears from the header to be catalogued as autograph but in the entry is termed a possible copy and the work of a follower. This entry is followed by three autograph sheets, succeeded by one drawing whose title gives no indication of any qualification in its attribution but whose entry records Graham Smith’s suggestion that the work was made by a follower. The Parmigianino section concludes with entries for four autograph Parmigianino drawings. The absence of a clear indication of authorship in the header is particularly confusing, because the method is inconsistent in the book: sometimes the header indicates that the drawing is a copy, but not always.

Notwithstanding these editorial issues, the Midwest Art History Society and all the participants in this ambitious publication are to be commended for making available a wide selection of Italian drawings to scholarly audiences. Considerable travel, expense, and organization were required for such an ambitious enterprise, and Olszewski and his team of collaborators have worked hard to make these drawings accessible.

Babette Bohn
Professor of Art History, School of Art, Texas Christian University