PROSPERO FONTANA

1512 — Bologna — 1597

The Meeting of Abraham and Melchisedek, King and High Priest

black chalk underdrawing, pen & brown ink, brush & violet wash & white gouache heightening on blue paper. squared for transfer in brown ink. 83/8 x 161/4" (215 x 413 mm).

Prospero was trained in Bologna by Innocenzo da Imola, who had been inspired by Raphael, though his first known artistic activity was in Genoa as assistant to Perino del Vaga in the Palazzo Doria. Back in Bologna, the arrival of Vasari in 1539 was pivotal for Prospero; he was not only to collaborate with the Florentine, most notably at the Palazzo Vecchio in Florence from 1563-65, but he would also prosper by virtue of Vasari’s connections, obtaining many commissions. Prospero’s style from the 1550's to the 70's is vigorously Vasarian, as demonstrated in the present drawing. Note the many instances of stylistic affinity with the Vasari mode: the poses of both Melchisedek and the figure holding an urn; the grouping of the background figures, the superimposed profiles, all are typically Vasarian. The chiaroscuro technique is also common of Mannerist Florence. The present subject was treated by Vasari on at least three occasions. One version, now at the Musée Calvet in Avignon, was executed with the help of Christoforo Gherardi.1 A second version, in tempera, painted on a predella along with a dozen or so other scenes, is in Carnaldoli in the Chiesa del Monasterio.2 A third version, of unusually long proportions, is at the Walters Art Museum in Baltimore. Yet, along with the predominantly Florentine stylization of the present work, there is evidence of an Emilian influence or heritage. Note in particular the Parmigianesque attenuated figure that glances over his shoulder at us and the Bertoiesque facial morphology of the group of figures behind him. The linear quality of this group also reminds us of Bertoia with whom Prospero worked both at Caprarola and in the Pepoli Chapel of San Domenico, Bologna. It was probably through Bertoia that Prospero learned something of the Parmigianesque idiom.

In the first of the two volume opus of Pittura bolognese del 500, the author, Vera Pietrantonio, provides the most extensive survey to date of Prospero’s works in print, I believe.3 Unfortunately, of the ten drawings reproduced, one can deduce little of the artist’s drawing style except to say that it is extremely varied. Interestingly, one frescoed project is erroneously attributed to him; Filippo Maria Rossi Advising the Emperor Sigismondo to Lift the Siege of Padua in 1503 belongs instead to Bertoia’s oeuvre. The same author, now Vera Pietrantonio Fortunati, authored a monograph of Prospero.4 The attribution of the present work to him has been kindly confirmed by Dr. Marzia Faietti,5 formerly Keeper of Drawings at the Pinacoteca in Bologna and now head of the drawings cabinet at the Uffizi.
1

Laura Corti, Vasari, Catalogo Completo dei dipinti, Firenze, 1989, p. 64, illus (Foto Musée Nationaux 65 DN 6241).

2

Giorgio Vasari, exhibition catalogue Florence, 1981, pl. 268 (also Sopr. Arezzo 44074 (or 44014)).

3

published in Bologna, 1986, pp. 339-414, illus.

4

As relayed to me by Dr. Marzia Faietti.

5

In a letter dated 25 agosto 1998.