Rome 1499? — 1546 Mantua
An Herm Holding a Bowl on his Head; A Putto Riding an Acanthus Scroll
Herm: traces of black chalk underdrawing, pen & brown ink. 51/8 x 15/8" (130 x 41mm). laid down to Richardson's ruled mount which is inscribed Giulio Romano and the verso of which bears his shelf numbers: J:49: AA:69 C. ;
Putto: red chalk underdrawing, pen & brown ink. 15/16 x 33/8" (33 x 86mm). laid down to Richardson's ruled mount which is inscribed Giulio Romano.
These tiny but typical and typically evocative drawing were extracted from an album formed in the 18th century by the painter and major drawings collector Jonathan Richardson, Senior. They were two of ten small drawings by Giulio which were retained together until their sale by the estate of Ray Livingston Murphy in 1985 whereupon they were dispersed.
I am not sure how to date the "Herm" but I suspect that it was done soon after Giulio left Rome in 1524 to work for the Gonzaga in Mantua. As court artist there, this versatile artist, whose drawings were absolutely essential to his working methods, produced designs for metalwork, tableware, tapestries, monuments, frescoes, paintings, buildings, and more. This herm is typically bacchic, a prevalent characteristic in much of Giulio's work. Indeed, this herm seems to be grinning as he holds up a large chalice or bowl, shall we guess, filled with wine, while his torso is draped in goatskin (which also is known as a vessel containing Bacchus' wine). A goat skull marks his manhood. Vines (presumably grape) spiral around his pedestal-like lower section. These hedonistic attributes draw heavily on ancient motives which were constantly sourced by Giulio throughout his career. One drawing exhibited in NY in 1999 bears mention. >1 It is a design for a handle with two satyrs interlocking and many of their attributes are the same.
As to the purpose of this drawing, one can only speculate. This herm seems quite likely an early idea for one of the herms, the one of Bacchus, framing mythological compositions, perhaps for the Stalle del Te, as known from a pair of drawings in the Louvre. >2 Nothing of the interior of the stables exist, but Frederick Hartt believed that the Louvre sheets are both stylistically and iconographically appropriate for decorations there. >3 If Hartt is correct, that would tend to support my dating of around 1524, soon after Giulio's arrival in Mantua. The stables were designed before the Palazzo del Te. The herms were presumably executed in stucco, while the compositions they flanked would have been in fresco. This format of terminal figures in relief and framed scenes in fresco, was to become the standard for 16th century palace design from the Palazzo Vecchio to Fontainebleau.
A drawing of a Leaping Hound, also from J. Richardson's collection and with his (the same) mount, was sold at Christies NY in January 2013 for $22,500; it was only slightly larger than the present drawing (67 x 145mm) and said to be related to a compositional drawing in the BM which Hartt had dated ca. 1530. It is technically comparable to our drawing.
As for our drawing of a putto riding an acanthas scroll, a frieze design with foliage, putti and a lion (Ff I-45) in the British Museum reveals, in the central section of the frieze, a nearly identical putto astride a coil of acanthus, though he is more upright than our putto which really seems to ride the foliage.4 > Both were evidently part of the same decorative motif and measure in height within 1 mm. The BM drawing is inscribed on the back of the mount: Done in stucco in the Palace of T., most likely by Richardson Jr. The Palace of T is the Palazzo del Te in Mantua and one assumes that there was reason to make this connection. However, since the 18th c. there has been significant damage to the building and I am not aware of any existing stucco work which looks like this image. Another design incorporating a putto within an acanthus scroll is at Harvard University Art Museum. >5
Janet Cox-Rearick, Giulio Romano, Master Designer, Virginia Lithograph, 1999, cat. # 12, pp. 64-65.
Frederick Hartt, Giulio Romano, Yale University Press, 1958, reissued by Hacker Art Books, NY., cat. # 139, fig 149.
Hartt, op. cit. pp. 88-89.
Pouncey and Gere, Raphael and His Circle, London, 1962, 2 vols., pl. 88, #97, text pp.70-71.
Janet Cox-Rearick, Giulio Romano, Master Designer, Seattle, Washington, 1999, pp.62-63.