The Adoration of the Shepherds
Pen and brown ink with brown wash over black chalk
Purchased through the Mrs. Harvey P. Hood W'18 Fund; D.995.9.2
Domenico Piola was one of the most prolific and influential artists working in Genoa during the second half of the seventeenth century. He and his son-in-law, Gregorio de Ferrari (1644-1726), established a high baroque style in the north that reflected contemporaneous developments in Rome. Aside from his many frescoes, easel pictures, and prints, he produced a great number of finished drawings to be sold to collectors. According to an eighteenth-century biographer, Piola “spent every night drawing his various ideas on paper . . . and never repeated a design in the more than 4,000 sheets still owned by his heirs." He had an enormous impact on the next generation of Genoese artists, and his prodigious graphic output, including frontispieces and other types of prints, contributed to his reputation throughout Europe.
This highly rendered wash drawing is entirely characteristic of Piola’s presentation sheets, which were intended as independent works of art rather than as preparatory studies for his paintings. It reflects his regular practice of using the brightness of the paper to indicate the effects of light. His figures are often draped in billowing clothes that provide a sense of movement and emotion in his scenes. The curving contours in pen and ink reinforce the dynamic appearance of his drawings. Like his predecessors, Piola studied a vast array of sources.
Although Piola made several paintings on the subject of the Adoration of the Shepherds, none of the extant pictures resembles the present composition. Compared to many painted and etched versions of the theme by Piola’s renowned predecessor, Giovanni Benedetto Castiglione (1609-1664), the younger artist has given unusual prominence to Saint Joseph, who through his gestures emphasizes the divine nature of the Christ Child. The portrayal of the crowded scene demonstrates Piola’s ability to coherently depict a throng of people in a compressed space.
Last Updated: 1/21/10