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Grey Matters

Giulio Bonasone (Bologna 1531 – 1574 Rome)
St. Paul Overcoming the Viper, after Perino del Vaga, mid 1540s
9 3/4 x 6 1/2  inches
249 x 165 mm

A rare print which is based on a drawing by Perino del Vaga now in the British Museum, London (inv. no. 1848,1125.11). It had been identified as the Apostle Phillip with the dragon by Pouncey and Gere and, following them, by Massari. However, Bernice Davidson has convincingly argued that Bartsch’s original identification of the saint as the Apostle Paul was correct (Bernice F. Davidson, “The cope embroideries designed for Paul III by Perino del Vaga,” in: Master Drawings, vol. 28, 1990, p. 138, fig. 13 for the drawing in London). Davidson had discovered an inventory record of two copes for Paul III, one with scenes from the life of St. Paul and the other of St. Peter. The existence of two copes also explains why Perino created two similar sets of drawings showing scenes from the lives of the two saints. Some of the surviving drawings were pricked for transfer onto embroidery patterns, further supporting Davidson’s thesis.

Perino del Vaga, Saint Paul Overcoming the Viper, pen and brown ink with brown wash heightened with white, on light brown prepared paper with lines indented © The Trustees of the British Museum 1848,1125.11

Bartsch’s complete title was “Saint Paul putting the Devil to flight in the form of a dragon” but, as Madeline Cirillo Archer points out in her entry in The Illustrated Bartsch, no such incident is traditionally connected with Paul’s life. The story of the apostle shaking off the viper when he was shipwrecked on Malta on his way to Rome is told in Acts 28:1–6.

A fine, early impression still showing the polishing scratches.
Bartsch 71; Massari 104; TIB, vol. 28, Commentary, pp. 278–280, no. 071 first state (of two).

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