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Work Landscape with Classical Architecture

Department of Prints and Drawings: 16th century

Paysage avec édifices classiques

Prints and Drawings
16th century

Bartolucci Sara

This drawing, one of Polidoro da Caravaggio's finest, has been identified as a preparatory study for the landscape of the altarpiece, The Way to Calvary, which the artist painted in Messina in 1534. In the drawing one can see how Polidoro, once a pupil of Raphael's, responded to developments in Northern European art towards the end of his career.

Landscape and architecture

The landscape stretches out into the distance: in the middle foreground stands a solitary tree; in the background, classical buildings merge with the vegetation. The eye searches the horizon, lost among mountains and valleys. These details suggest that the drawing is a preparatory study for the background of a very large painting, and the most convincing argument has been made for Polidoro's altarpiece, The Way to Calvary (Capodimonte Museum, Naples), painted in Messina. Yet this hypothesis ignores the fact that in this painting Polidoro concentrates on an architectural ensemble inspired by the work of such architects as Bramante or Peruzzi, while the buildings in the drawing are classical. The argument finds support, however, in new data obtained during recent restoration work on the painting, which uncovered in the background a landscape with classical buildings, of which the drawing in the Louvre appears to be an early version. Painted by Polidoro in 1534, the altarpiece was commissioned by the Catalan brotherhood of Messina for their community's Church of the Annunciation. Marked by Polidoro's expressive naturalism, it is an example of the last style to be developed by the painter, and is a masterpiece of Southern European religious expression in the first half of the 16th century.

An excellent landscape artist

This small drawing's attribution to Polidoro was for a long time disputed, on account of the clearly visible Northern influences: the rapid line, the indistinct contours, the clear, soft light. Formal features connect this work to Polidoro's time in Sicily. The vibrant, vigorous use of pen and ink, without any watercolor or heightening in white, distinguishes it from the work of his Roman period, in which he concentrates on populated landscapes and ruins. In his Lives of the Artists (1568), Vasari says of Polidoro "...veramente lavoro i paesi e macchie d'alberi e sassi meglio d'ogni pittore" (an excellent landscape artist, better able than any other painter to render trees and rocks by patches of color).


Pierluigi Leone de Castris, Polidoro da Caravaggio. L'opera completa, Naples, 2001, p. 347, n 241
Pierluigi Leone de Castris, Polidoro da Caravaggio fra Napoli e Messina, cat. exp. Naples, musée et galerie nationale de Capodimonte, 1988-1989, p. 127, n X6[?]
R. Bacou, Autour de Raphaël, cat. exp. Paris, musée du Louvre, 1983-1984, p. 103, n 120
Ravelli, Polidoro Caldara da Caravaggio, Bergame, 1978, p. 145, n 101
R. Bacou, in Il paesaggio nel disegno del Cinquecento europeo, cat. exp. Rome, Académie de France, 1972-1973, p. 124, n 89
Marabottini, Polidoro da Caravaggio, Rome, 1969, p. 320, n 85

Technical description

  • Polidoro Caldara, known as Polidoro da Caravaggio(Caravaggio, 1499/1500 - Messine, c. 1543)

    Landscape with Classical Architecture

    c. 1530-1534

  • Pen and brown ink

    H. 24.3 cm; W.19.9 cm

  • Giuseppe Vallardi Collection; Jacques-Edouard Gatteaux Collection; gift, 1873

    RF 61

  • Prints and Drawings

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

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