Grey Matters

Baccio Bandinelli (Florence 1493-1560)
The Deposition, ca. 1528-29
pen and brown ink over traces of black chalk
15 1/8 x 11 1/8 inches
385 x 281 mm

A date of 1528-9 has been proposed for this “majestic” composition drawing,[1]  which can be related to the design of Bandinelli’s celebrated bronze relief of the Deposition presented to Emperor Charles V on the latter’s visit to Genoa in the late summer of 1529.  The whereabouts of this bronze is now unknown, although there is a superb later bronze by Antonio Susini which is probably taken from a wax cast of the original.[2] Bandinelli also made a stucco bozzetto for the Deposition which is now in the Museo di Stato at San Marino.  The bronze attracted enormous contemporary interest, including the praise of Vasari in his Vita,[3] and subsequently earned Bandinelli a knighthood of the Order of Santiago.

A possible source for Bandinelli’s composition is the large altarpiece by Filippino Lippi in the Church of Santissima Annunziata in Florence, a painting which influenced a number of artists, including Rosso Fiorentino[4] and Raphael.  The latter’s design of 1520-1 was engraved by Marcantonio Raimondi,[5] and contains several parallels with the present drawing. All the above-mentioned derivations from the Lippi Deposition share the frieze-like disposition of figures around the Cross and the plain, flat backgound.  Such an arrangement seems to have its origins in the work of Northern artists of the previous century.

The drawing exhibited here explores the central group gathered around the Cross.  Although Bandinelli has started with a layout similar to the Lippi prototype, in the sculpted variants the scene is extended on both sides to include the two flanking crosses and the figures below them.  In the Susini version, almost certainly the final version, the outermost figures from the bozzetto are excluded.  Both sculptures contain figures which are very close to those in our drawing, but placed in different parts of the composition or shown in reverse.  This particularly applies to Christ as He is being lowered from the Cross, and to the figure supporting His legs.  A number of the other figures also bears comparison, but the differences are so numerous that one must assume the drawing to be an early idea for the project.  No other composition studies for the Deposition have survived, but from this one drawing it is possible to gauge the extent of Bandinelli’s preparation for the work.[6]

His dependence on drawing for this preparatory process is well chronicled by Vasari, who continually refers to the value that Bandinelli placed on disegno and to the artist’s reputation as a draughtsman which exceeded his reputation in any other field of the arts, even amongst his most jealous contemporaries.[7] According to Ward, it was the “large compositional designs, like the superb Deposition … for which Bandinelli was perhaps most famous in his own day.”[8] ❖

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Installation view of Grey Matters at Nicholas Hall, 2021
The Deposition, Baccio Bandinelli
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