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Bartolomeo Passarotti

(1529–1592, Bologna)

Attributed. Study of a Man’s Hand Holding a Book. Pen and brown ink. 31.6 x 27.7 cm. “BS” inscribed in pen and brown ink (probably in a different hand).

This impressive and highly evocative hand study was first attributed to the Bolognese painter and draughtsman, Bartolomeo Passarotti, by Arthur E. Popham on the grounds of stylistic criteria. Active in the second half of the Cinquecento, Passarotti became known primarily for his portraits, religious depictions and genre scenes, the hallmark of which was their close psychological observation. Moreover, he was also a very prolific draughtsman who in the course of his career developed a highly personal, unmistakable drawing style. He had a particular predilection for pen-and-ink drawings, using for the most part brown ink. Passarotti employed a very disciplined system of stark cross and parallel hatchings, the forcefulness of which brings the style of an engraving to mind and produces a visually very striking graphic pattern. Some of his works are faintly reminiscent of the so-called “Federkunststücke” of the Goltzius school.

In 16th century Italian portrait art, great significance was attached to the depiction of the hands of the sitter, since the form and position of the hand were considered to express noble-minded­ness and strength of character. Outstanding examples are the famous portraits by Agnolo Bronzino and the Lombard portraitist, Gianbattista Moroni. Numerous hand studies drawn by Passarotti have survived. Most of the works in this category have been drawn in a more animated and agitated manner, whereas the style of the present sheet creates a more stable and statuesque impression. However, in a detailed written statement issued on 29 October 2023 M. Haddjeri points out that these latter stylistic features are frequently to be found in Passarotti’s large-format study sheets, which served as a means of prepa­ration for altar pieces (for instance, the monumental altar piece The Crucifixion with Saints Philip, James and Mary Magdalene, Chiesa Santi Filippo e Giacomo, Bologna). Notwithstanding the unresolved questions regarding Passarotti’s authorship, the quality of the draughtsmanship and the visual appeal of the present drawing are beyond dispute. The quiet grandeur and the simplicity of the subject matter give the print a remark­able expressiveness.

Provenance: collection of John Skippe (1742–1811), with his mounting; Catalog of a Collection of Paintings and Drawings Formed by the Late Mr. Henry M. Knight (1903–1970); Nystad Antiquairs & Th. Laurentius. Amsterdam 1972.

15.000 €

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