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Grey Matters

Pietro Buonaccorsi, known as Perino del Vaga (Fiesole 1537–91 Florence)
A Griffin Holding a Coat-of-Arms, ca. 1525
pen and brown ink
6 3/4 x 5 3/4 inches
173 x 138 mm

The attribution of this drawing to Perino del Vaga was first proposed by Philip Pouncey (†), London and has been supported by Linda Wolk-Simon who has tentatively proposed a connection to the Capranica family. It was previously in the collection of Sir Timothy Clifford (fig. 1), director of the National Galleries of Scotland between 1984-2006, whose collection of drawings sold with this work as its catalogue cover.

Fig. 1 Timothy Clifford © Emily Mott

The artist

Perino del Vaga was one of the most admired and influential Italian artists of the sixteenth century. His art, with its emphasis on grace, artifice, and effortless complexity, epitomizes Mannerism. Perino’s powers of invention are abundantly on display in his drawings; far better known today than his paintings, they represent the apogee of his artistic achievement.

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Palazzo Baldassini, Rome

Fig. 2 Exterior view of Palazzo Baldassini, Rome
Fig. 3 Frescos in Palazzo Baldassini

In 1522 he began to work on his first major independent commission, the decoration of the interior of the Palazzo Baldassini, Rome (fig. 2), which probably ended 1525 with the death of his patron, the lawyer Melchiorre Baldassini. The palace was erected between 1516-19 to designs by Antonio da Sangallo. The decoration of the “salone” with antique subjects alluding to the patron’s profession is particularly noteworthy. The frescoes from this room are today in the Uffizi in Florence (fig. 3). The decoration of the “studio” is still preserved at the original place. They include ornaments, putti, and a coat-of-arms held by a gryphon (fig. 4).[1] Philip Pouncey, who first correctly attributed this drawing to Perino, has suggested that the present design may be a study, with some differences in the coat-of-arms, for this frieze decoration.

Comparable examples

Comparable drawings by Perino del Vaga with decorative designs including coat-of-arms are in the Christ Church College Oxford (fig. 5), and in the Courtauld Institute, London. A stylistically similar representation of a mythical creature, whinged, with lion head and paw, can be found on the verso of a sheet with sketches of a wall decoration in the Staatliche Museen Preußischer Kulturbesitz, Kupferstichkabinett, Berlin (fig. 6).[2]

Fig. 5 Perino del Vaga, A Coat of Arms supported by Putti, 16.3 x 25.7 cm © Ashmolean Museum, University of Oxford WA1936.179
Fig. 6 Perino del Vaga, Supporting winged figure, with lion head and paw, 26.3 x 22.3 cm © Staatliche Museen Preußischer Kulturbesitz, Kupferstichkabinett, Berlin KdZ 5166

Perino’s last years

Fig. 7 Frescoes by Perino del Vaga in the Pauline Hall, Castel Sant’Angelo, Rome executed between 1545-47

Following the Sack of Rome in 1527, Perino del Vaga relocated to Genoa, where he worked for nearly a decade as court artist to Admiral-Prince Andrea Doria. By 1537 he was back in Rome, which was undergoing a period of cultural renewal, and within a few years he had become court artist to Pope Paul III, assuming the role that Raphael had filled decades earlier for Pope Leo X. Like Raphael, Perino oversaw a large and industrious workshop, devising monumental compositions for the Vatican and elsewhere while entrusting much of the execution of his frescoes and stucco reliefs, as well as the rock crystals, embroideries, medals, and other precious objects he designed, to his collaborators.  The ceiling and freso paintings at the Castel Sant’Angelo in Rome (fig. 7) were among the last projects taken on by the artist. Perino died in 1547 and was entombed in the Pantheon near Raphael. ❖

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Installation view of Grey Matters at Nicholas Hall, 2021
Left: A Griffin holding a coat-of-arm, Perino del Vaga; right: Tuscan Men of Letters, Giovanni Maria Butteri.

Illegible inscription in the band at the center of the stemma

Alistair Mathews, 1972 (as Italian School, 17th century)

Timothy Clifford, Edinburgh (his sale: Sotheby’s, London, July 3, 1989, no. 10, as Perino del Vaga)

Private collection, Germany

Kendal, Abbot Hall Art Gallery, 16th and 17th Century Italian Drawings, 2 May – 21 June, 1981, no. 11

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