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Work Group of figures in a square
Department of Prints and Drawings: 14th-15th centuries
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Groupes de femmes en conversation devant des maisons à terrasses
Prints and Drawings
Purchased in 1983, this drawing was recognized as the work of Antonello da Messina the following year. The Louvre had thus acquired a rare example of the artist's graphic work, until then represented by a single drawing whose attribution has been called into question as a result of the discovery. The quality of the drawing in both figures and architectural perspective confirm the preeminence of the artist, familiar with the most recent advances of both Italian and Northern masters.
The fragmentary state of the drawing means that its original size and composition are unknown: it represents a scene of everyday life, staged "in the Italian manner." In the foreground are ten female figures distributed in small groups that decrease in size from right to left, suggesting another vanishing point than that of the architecture in the background. Of these women, richly and abundantly draped, one alone, on the far right, is depicted in profile and without a veil. The others are shown in three-quarter view, or from the back, accentuating the refined treatment of the forms, drawn in fine lines with wash on the dark parts. Behind this scattered assembly is a foreshortened row of crenellated buildings whose balconies are decorated with flower pots. They are inscribed within a perspective that has its center on the small (male?) figure in the distance, beneath the battlements to the left of the archway.
Suggestions regarding dating vary because of this drawing's close and complex relationship with another in New York (Metropolitan Museum of Art, Lehmann Collection), which depicts a group of five female figures identical to those on the left here. One hypothesis dates the Louvre drawing to the early 1460s, treating the other as a detail or copy. Another dates the New York drawing to the 1450s, during Antonello's stay in Northern Europe, and sees the Louvre version as a more narrative reworking of the original, executed when the artist was in Venice in 1475-76. The fact that these are not the only suggestions to have been made is evidence of the difficulty in establishing the chronology of Antonello's work as a whole.
Real life in perspective
An artist's fame is not always matched by a comprehensive knowledge of his life or work: this is certainly true of Antonello, much of whose biography remains sketchy, especially regarding his travels in Northern Europe. This drawing does, however, demonstrate a Northern influence in the treatment of figures and drapery, which reveals a familiarity with the work of Petrus Christus and Jean Fouquet, while the depiction of a moment of everyday life also suggests familiarity with the art of Northern Europe. Antonello's skill, however, allows him to combine these influences with the tradition of his own cultural milieu, expressed in the execution of the houses, rendered in Italian Renaissance perspective.
BibliographyR. Bacou, in Acquisitions du Cabinet des Dessins, 1973-1983, Paris, musée du Louvre, 1984, p.7, notice 1.
R. Bacou, in Anciens et nouveaux choix d'oeuvres acquises par l'Etat de 1971 à 1985, Paris, Grand-Palais, 1985-1986, p.101, notice 29.
A. Forlani Tempesti, "Validità di un metodo", in Kunst des Cinquecento in der Toskana, Italianische Forschungen, dritte Folge, Band XVII, Kunsthistorisches Institut in Florenz, Munich, 1992, pp.310-315.
D. Thiébaut, Le Christ à la colonne d'Antonello de Messine, Paris, musée du Louvre, 1993, p.110.
G. Szabo, "Reflections on two Drawings by Antonello da Messina", in Drawing, Mars-Avril 1994, pp.121-123.
C. Savettieri, Antonello da Messina, Palerme, éd. Flaccovio, 1998, pp.129-130.
Antonello da Messina
Group of figures in a square
Second half of 15th century
Pen and ink, brown wash; patch of blue wash center right; cut in center of sheet, edges torn
H. 21.2 cm; W. 19.1 cm
Sagredo Collection; private collection, Lyon, before 1919; Marignane Collection after 1919; purchased 1983
Due to their fragility, works on paper are not on permanent display in the museum.
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