9.000

NOVELLI, Francesco. Disegni del Mantegna.

Venice, , 1796-1799 circa

Folio (386 x 277 mm.), engraved title-page with the bust of Mantegna on a pedestral, engraved dedication printed on two leaves anf fourty-four engraved plates. Contemporary half calf, gilt spine in compartments with red morocco lettering-piece. Spine very lightly rubbed, overall very fine.

 

 

‘A rare suite of prints reproducing drawings of putti playing of fighting, all'antica heads, and studies of the Virgin and Child, once attributed to Andrea Mantegna, now recognized as works of Marco Zoppo (1432/3-1478). The prints are dedicated by the printmaker Francesco Novelli to Giambattista de Rubeis, and all but the last two reproduce drawings executed in pen and ink and wash on vellum in an album that De Rubeis had given to the printmaker's father, the Venetian painter Pietro Antonio Novelli. The album passed subsequently through the hands of Samuel Woodburn, Sir Alexander Barker, Baron Mayer de Rothschild, to Archibald Philip Primrose, fifth Earl of Rosebery (1847-1929), who in 1920 presented it to the British Museum. The function of the album has been much debated, with some reading ita s apattern book, others as an adjunct to a literary text – perhaps Petrarch's De viris illustribus – or as a luxury picture book commissioned by a patron in Venice or Padua; its date, too, is uncertain, with arguments ranging from the mid-1460s. The elusive meaning of some of the drawings and discret homosexual imagery in others “suggest a commission where the patron had a hand in providing some of the subject matter, the significance of which may have been understood only by a small circle of friends” (Chapman, Padua in the 1450s: Marco Zoppo and his contemporaries, exhibition catalogue by Hugo Chapman, British Museum, Departments of Prints and Drawings, London 1998, pp.38, 40) […] In the dedicatory letter, Novelli recounts the discovery of the album in 1765 in Padua by Giambattista de Rubeis (1743-1819), a painter and a dilettante from Udine. He tells us that various experts of Padua, recognizing ita s an important work of art derived from Squarcione, decided that the drawings must be by his most illustrious pupil, Mantegna, basing this attribution on a resenblance, in their opinion, to the so-called Tarocchi del Mantegna. In the letter, Novelli attemps to support the attribution, by finding affinities with the Triumphs of Caesar and other authentic works of Mantegna. The album consists of twenty-six vellum leaves, of which twenty-four are drawn on both sides and two are blank on one side, so the total number of drawings is fifty. Novelli's plan was to engrave all fifty drawings and issue his prints serialy, in group of eight, to subrcribers. […] In a letter of December 1796 to Abate Mauro Boni, Novelli writes that he had become apprehnsive about publishing prints of two drawings, because he considered them licentious, and thus likely to lose his subscribers, as incorrect in drawing. We learn from another letter that Francesco Novelli had acquired from Abate Pietro Bini, sometime before 27 May 1796, a double-sided drawing (on paper) showing eight studies of the Virgin and Child in a variety of pose. Novelli belived this sheet to be also by Mantegna – despite receiving from the Venetian connosseur Giovanni Maria Sasso the correct attribution to Zoppo – and he etched both sides as substitute for two rami licenziosi recording the different provenance directly on the plates: Il disegno fu regalato all'incisore dall'Egregio Pittore Sigr. Abre. Pietro Bini. […] The project was brought to a close in 1799, […]. In an undated Avviso [in our copy pasted onto the front pastedawn], Novelli explained that the work would terminate with forty-four prints, however the two prints of the Virgin anc Child (each with four studies) would be counted as eight, thereby fulfilling his promise to supply 50 disegni originali di Andrea Mantegna. The majority of surviving copies are comprised of forty-seven or forty-eight prints: the title-print (often supplied in two versions, one with and the other without lettering); two leaves of engraved dedication and forty-four numbered plates.' (Robin Halwas)

 

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