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The Rest on the Flight into Egypt. Pen and reddish-brown ink over a light preliminary drawing in black chalk, reddish-brown wash. 16.3 x 23.8 cm. “Carracci (?)” inscribed in pen and brown ink in a different old hand. Circa 1593.
Since this superbly executed drawing is so far the only known preliminary study for Gerrit Pietersz.’s etching The Rest on the Flight into Egypt (Hollstein 4, see comparative ill. opposite page) of 1593, it can justifiably be said to represent a significant art historical discovery. Drawings by Gerrit Pietersz. that have come down to us are few and far between. Only a handful of his works from the early 1590s in an emphatically mannerist style have survived.
A sound point of departure in any attempt to gain a better understanding of Pietersz.’s artistic language is the drawing Merry Group of People Outdoors (Staatliche Graphische Sammlung, Munich, inv. no. 1035). Dated 1593 and signed with a monogram, it is strikingly similar to the present work in stylistic respects. Common to both sheets is the same vigorous and highly reductive manner of drawing. Broad washes applied with seemingly effortless accuracy produce a warm, glowing chiaroscuro in both drawings and give them a very distinctive patina. Note should also be taken of the bulging shape of the tree trunks – a very characteristic feature of Pietersz.’s work – as well as the fleetingly sketched leaves that appear oddly deformed.
The drawing in reverse on offer here is the departure point of Pietersz.’s impressive etching. The artist has produced an extremely condensed version of the canonical flight into Egypt. The sheet may have been slightly trimmed all the way round in the course of its existence or its appearance could be the result of a conscious decision on the part of the artist, given that certain details were altered or added in the final etched version. Among the missing features are the heavy, flowing drapery in the background, the setting sun on the right at the back, and anecdotal details such as St. Joseph’s walking stick and travel bag. This immensely spirited drawing radiates a fluent lucidity and makes effective use of the white paper tone, while the tonal values in the etching are the product of a dense network of cross-hatching. Pietersz.’ unswerving focus on the essentials of form and content has enabled him to create a poignant and touching image. This work is a veritable gem of late 16th century mannerist draughtsmanship from the Netherlands.
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