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Hood Museum of Art
Dartmouth College
Hanover, NH 03755

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Francesco Vanni, Italian, 1563-1610

Two Seated Female Figures
About 1603
Red and black chalk on laid paper
Purchased through the Mrs. Harvey P. Hood W'18 Fund; D.995.9.1

Like many young Italian artists, Taddeo Zuccaro was attracted to Rome to study the works of the most well-known painters of the early sixteenth century. Consequently, his own style combined natural proportion and idealized form in the depiction of human figures. In spite of his early struggles, Zuccaro eventually established a successful studio that received numerous commissions and earned him praise from his colleagues.

According to Giorgio Vasari (1511-1574), the turning point in Zuccaro’s career came when Cardinal Alessandro Farnese (1520-1589) put him charge of designing the frescoes and stucco work for one of the most opulent Renaissance residences built outside Rome, the Villa Farnese at Caprarola. This complex iconographical program was developed by leading scholars to celebrate the accomplishments of the Farnese family and reflect the spiritual, intellectual, and dynastic interests of their patron. The result was a series of cycles that rank among the most impressive of the late sixteenth century. Within two years after construction commenced on the villa in 1559, work began on the decorations in the first large room on the main level, the Hall of Jupiter. The present sketch is a preparatory study for two nymphs depicted in the central section of the ceiling (although the final fresco portrays three). The subject is described by Vasari in connection with Jupiter’s youth, when the god was cared for by nymphs and nourished by a goat (in Italian, capra, in association with the site, Caprarola). The position and gestures of the figures are nearly identical to those in the finished work of art.

Combinations of black and red chalk began to appear in Italy early in the sixteenth century. Initially artists employed the technique as a means of differentiating structure, surface, and contour in figure drawing. Later in the century the method became more common, and both Taddeo and his brother, Federico (1542-1609), made consistent use of it, as in the case of the latter’s study titled The Madonna of Saint Jerome after Correggio (about 1490-1534).

Last Updated: 1/21/10