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Work Group of four muses (recto)Study for a Flight to Egypt (verso)

Department of Prints and Drawings: 16th century

Groupe de quatre muses

Prints and Drawings
16th century

Bartolucci Sara

The group of four muses and the Flight to Egypt, drawn on either side of one sheet, are major examples of Taddeo Zuccaro's stylistic experimentation and his feeling for staging a scene. The drawings were finished at the same time, but illustrated very different works, and are thus important in helping us understand the final years of his brief artistic career.

The group of four muses

The group of four women on the recto of the sheet is part of the preparatory work for the Muses at the Castalian Spring on Mount Parnassus, which Taddeo Zuccaro painted in 1559 on the ceiling of the Casino loggia at the Palazzo del Bufalo in Rome. Stefano del Bufalo commissioned the work. The paintings were transferred to canvas in 1880 when the palace was demolished and are now in the Palazzo Cenci in Rome. Comparing the drawings and the fresco, one sees that they are not identical. The most likely reason is that there was a further intermediary stage between this drawing and the final painted version. Nevertheless, the two versions have a great deal in common, including the number of figures, their position, which has hardly changed in the painting, and the folds of their gowns, which are very similar. Note that on the right of the drawing is the precise mark of a margin, which corresponds exactly to the frame of the fresco. In stylistic terms, this is a fine example of the supple, refined lines of Zuccaro's late work, where he goes over the outlines of black chalk with a wash, using the tip of the brush. There is a clear link between this work and those painted using a brush tip with red chalk wash. Dating the work by analyzing its formal aspects gives a date in the late 1560s, which coincides with the final years of the decorative cycle.

The Flight to Egypt

On the verso of the same sheet, Zuccaro sketched a study for the Flight to Egypt painted at Santa Maria dell'Orto a Ripa, Rome, in 1558-59.This is just one of the episodes of the cycle painted by the Zuccaro brothers for the church. The other frescoes depicted the Nativity, the Marriage of the Virgin, and the Visitation, although these were the work of Federico Zuccaro. While nearly all experts agree on this interpretation, several aspects of the style and composition make it difficult to attribute the various episodes to the one or the other brother. In his Lives (1568), Giorgio Vasari claims that the cycle of frescoes in Santa Maria dell'Orto was the first work entrusted in its entirety to Federico Zuccaro, since his elder brother Taddeo, who received the commission, judged that Federico had sufficient mastery of the art to carry out the work. The remarkable formal quality and complexity of the iconography contradicts the claim that Federico - still a young artist at that time - was solely responsible for the frescoes, however. Moreover, attempting to establish which of the brothers was responsible for what is something of a futile exercise, as the cycle was a true collaborative effort between Taddeo and Federico.


Bacou R., Le Seizième Siècle européen. Dessin du Louvre, Musée du Louvre, Éditions de laRéunion des musées nationaux, 1965, p. 58, notice 28, pl. XXXI.
Gere John A., Dessins de Taddeo et Federico Zuccaro, XLIIe exposition du Cabinet des dessins, Musée du Louvre, Éditions de la Réunion des musées nationaux, 1969, notice 19, p. 29, pl. VI.
Viatte François, Roman Drawings of the Sixteenth Century from the Musée du Louvre Paris, Chicago, The Art Institute of Chicago, 1980, p. 158, notice 70, fig. p. 159.
Boubli L., in L'Oeil du connaisseur. Hommage à Philip Pouncey, Musée du Louvre, Éditions de la Réunion des musées nationaux, 1992, notice 54, p. 91-93, p. 92, fig. 54, 52a.

Technical description

  • Taddeo Zuccaro (1529-1566)

    Group of four muses (recto)Study for a Flight to Egypt (verso)


  • Recto: black chalk and brown wash Verso: black chalk

    H. 40 cm; L. 24 cm

  • Saint-Morys collection; seizure of émigrés' possessions, 1793; allocated to the Museum, 1796-97

    INV 2816

  • Prints and Drawings

    Due to their fragility, works on paper are not on permanent display in the museum.

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