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Bartolomeo Passarotti

(1529–1592, Bologna)

Christ Giving the Benediction. Etching. 28.7 x 14.7 cm. Bartsch XVIII, 4, 6.

The painter, draughtsman and etcher Bartolomeo Passarotti was unquestionably one of the most influential and pioneering artistic personalities in Bologna during the second half of the cinquecento. Passarotti was a creative master who distinguished himself in various types of painting, such as portraiture, genre scenes and still life. The founder of a flourishing studio (Agostino Carracci was among his pupils), he made a major contribution to the development of Late Mannerist and Early Baroque painting in Bologna.

Together with five other portrayals of Apostles (Bartsch 6–11), Christ Giving the Benediction is one of an incomplete series of etchings. Stylistically they belong to Passarotti’s early work and were probably executed in the 1550s in Rome, whither he had followed his first master, the architect Jacopo Vignola. In Rome the young artist was to be strongly influenced by the work of Taddeo Zuccaro, who became his second teacher. It is now generally accepted that the etchings of the apostle series are based on preliminary drawings by Zuccaro, of which two have been preserved in New York (Pierpont Morgan Library) and Oxford (Ashmolean Museum).

Passarotti was a productive and gifted draughtsman whose works were much in demand during his lifetime. His drawings, often executed in pen and intended as autonomous works of art, are distinguished by very dynamic and robust linework. Passarotti had a predilection for strong, simple hatching patterns which did not aim at linear refinement, but in a typical Mannerist way served to reinforce the expressiveness of his pictorial inventions. In Passarotti’s small but innovative printed œuvre the artist managed to retain the immediacy and spontaneity of his drawings. The free, almost rudimentary etching technique gives these creations an undeniably experimental character.

In its almost provocative simplicity and down-to-earthness Christ Giving the Benediction illustrates all the essential features of Passarotti’s style. The figure of the Saviour dominates the picture plane and stands in front of a flat background defined by simple horizontal hatching, while any spatial or descriptive references have been deliberately omitted. The sweeping, heavy folds of his garments emphasize the mass of the body, which shows a very pronounced contrapposto and displays an air of statuesque solidity. The intense light emanating from top right dramatically enhances the chiaroscuro effect of the drapes and illuminates the right half of the face of the salvator mundi, who raises his left hand in a benedictory gesture and holds a victory banner with his right.

Passarotti deliberately uses a limited repertoire of hatching patterns and, despite – or rather because of – this modesty in the choice of artistic means, he manages to attain a high degree of expressiveness and trueness to life. The face of Christ is surrounded by a bright, star-shaped halo, while small, broken strokes emphasize the ethereal nature of the vibrant light. Short parallel lines and swift little strokes and stippling combine to produce a pattern of great graphic appeal, whose effect is wonderfully elemental and never artificial, thus making the figure of Christ seem both visionary and astonishingly lifelike.

A superb, tonal impression with narrow margins around the borderline. Minimal defects (old pencil annotations on the verso), otherwise in very good condition.

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