Jean - Luc Baroni Ltd



Jacopo da Empoli

Florence 1551-1640

Studies of a Woman in profile, veiled and looking down



Black chalk, heightened with white chalk, on paper washed pink-orange.

Recto: bears number: 17 in pen and brown ink and in another recent hand: M. Beale and verso, in probably an 18th century hand, in pen and brown ink: Empoli/ … 479 - …. 10m -.

Part of a watermark, at bottom margin: an anchor within a circle.

218 x 254mm. (8 ½ x 10 in.)

Empoli’s birth was registered in the parish of San Lorenzo in Florence and he seems barely, if ever, to have left his native city. According to the biographer Baldincucci, he was apprenticed to Maso di San Friano but his master died when Empoli was twenty. Rather than apprenticing himself to another painter, Empoli is said to have educated himself by studying the works of the great Florentine masters, Fra Bartolommeo, Andrea del Sarto and, especially, Pontormo. As recorded by Baldinucci, Empoli made copies for Cardinal Carlo de’ Medici of Fra Bartolommeo’s Resurrection of Christ in the Sant’Annunziata, of Andrea del Sarto’s famous frescoes in the cloisters of the Sant’Annunziata in Florence, and probably in the early 1580s, a copy of Pontormo’s Supper at Emmaus and of the five frescoes of the Life of Christ now in the Museum of the Certosa, during which time he also painted his only surviving fresco, the Sermon on the Mount. The dignity and academic purity of Andrea de’ Sarto remained as a foundation for Empoli’s work who lived to the age of 89 and had a long and successful career. He worked extensively for the Medici and contributed to the decorations for the marriage of Maria de’ Medici with Henry IV of France in 1600 and the engagement of Margherita of Austria in 1608. He was known in his lifetime as an excellent draughtsman and his studies on coloured paper are particularly characteristic. Empoli appears only to have drawn the human figure and the arrangement of figures, thus making careful preparation for his paintings, while the additional details of objects seem generally to have been painting directly on to the support. In the last part of his career, he became one of the first Tuscan artists to paint still lives and to actively promote this form amongst his own pupils. According to Baldinucci, despite his success, Empoli’s final years were spent in poverty, causing the artist himself to sell his drawings, the largest group of which is in the Uffizi, over 362 sheets having come from the collection of Cardinal Carlo de’ Medici1.

This newly found drawing is one of now three known studies, all works on prepared paper, for Empoli’s famous painting, the beautiful 1600 Suzanna Preparing to Bathe, now in the Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna, which may have been a gift from the Medici family to the Hapsburgs2. Riccardo Spinelli, in the monographic exhibition catalogue of 2004, remarks upon the austere tone of the painting in which, unusually, Suzanna is represented fully clothed. This austerity can already been seen in the dignified and rigorous handling of the present work, beautiful for its solemn tone and elegant, almost schematic style. The two other known, connected drawings are in the Uffizi, in black chalk heightened with white on blue-grey paper (409 x 252), again a study for the same standing handmaiden, but full length, and in the Biblioteca Marucelliana (228 x 252), in black chalk and also on rust-coloured prepared paper, a study for the kneeling figure by Suzanna’s side. In the catalogue of the drawings by Empoli in the Uffizi, Anna Forlani writes of the delicacy of the study for Suzanna and the fact that it speaks so clearly of the entirely Tuscan education Empoli underwent, the influence of Andrea del Sarto and Fra Bartolommeo seen in the firmness of the volumes and the portrayal of domestic simplicity which nevertheless is decorous and noble, as well as the soft touches of shading in the face, which bring to mind the work of Sienese artists many of whom were in Florence at around the time Empoli was working on the painting3. These characteristics can all be seen in the present work too, which is also powerful for its depiction of light falling strongly from the right, directly on the face, neck, bodice and raised arm of the serving woman, just as it does in the final painting.

  1. See F. Baldinucci, Delle notizie de' professori del disegno [1681-1728], I-V, Firenze 1845-47, v.II, p.16 and
  2. See, Riccardo Spinelli, in the exhibition catalogue, Jacopo da Empoli, 1551-1640, pittore d’eleganza e devozione, ed. R.C. Proto Pisani, Empoli, 2004, cat.48, p.198.
  3. See, Anna Forlani, Jacopo da Empoli, Mostra di Disegni, Gabinetto Disegni e Stampe degli Uffizi, Florence, 1962, cat.18 and 19.

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