Study for an ignudo

Annibale Carracci(1598-1599)

National Gallery of Victoria

National Gallery of Victoria

This celebrated drawing by Annibale Carracci is a study for a painted naked youth (known as an ignudo) to the left of the fresco Venus and Anchises, in the Farnese Gallery in Rome. Begun around 1597 by Annibale and his brother Agostino, the fresco cycle forms part of the decorative scheme for a room designed to exhibit Cardinal Odoardo Farnese’s collection of antique sculpture. Annibale’s inventive response to the commission became one of the masterpieces of Baroque art. The originality of the scheme lies in Annibale’s witty engagement with the antique sculptures displayed in the room, as well as with Michelangelo’s decoration of the Sistine Chapel. The monumental ignudo takes inspiration from both these sources, the pose of the figure being especially reminiscent of Michelangelo’s Prophet Jonah.

In the drawing Annibale explores the upward play of light across the figure as it would be seen by a spectator looking up at the ceiling. The impression of the ignudo’s massive bulk is enhanced by this view, the body a surface of rippling muscles. Famous for his insistence on drawing from nature, Annibale most probably sketched a model from life. The physique of the ignudo, however, conforms to the idealised proportions of classical sculpture. Seamlessly, the artist fuses his observation from life with this recognised canon of beauty. The figure’s monumentality is achieved by the most economical of means. Rapidly applied black chalk describes the contours of the model, while passages of smudged chalk convey an extraordinary sense of three-dimensionality. Varying the pressure on the chalk, Annibale achieves a range of effects, from the heavy line that defines the contour of the figure’s back, to feather-light strokes for the sloping right shoulder. The character of the strokes combines with the figure’s pose to give the appearance of movement, as though the escapades of Venus and Anchises, over his left shoulder, have caught his eye.

Text by Maria Zagala from Prints and Drawings in the International Collection of the National Gallery of Victoria, National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne, 2003, p. 39

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  • Title: Study for an ignudo
  • Creator: Annibale Carracci
  • Date Created: (1598-1599)
  • Provenance: Collection of Sir Thomas Lawrence (1769–1830) (Lugt 2445, 2446); his collection sold by Samuel Woodburn (1786–1853), London, to Lord Francis Egerton (1800–57), 1st Earl of Ellesmere (Lugt 2710B); by descent to John Egerton (1915–2000), 5th Earl of Ellesmere and 6th Duke of Sutherland; Ellesmere sale, Sotheby's, London, 11 July 1972, no. 66; from where purchased for the NGV, 1972
  • Physical Dimensions: w326 x h377 cm (Sheet)
  • Additional information: The Farnese Gallery, with its juxtaposition of sculpture and painting, provided Annibale with an ideal opportunity to explore the relative merits of painting and sculpture, which were currently being debated in artistic circles. Ultimately, the artist demonstrated, through his extraordinary skill, the primacy of painting. Annibale’s skills as a draughtsman reached such a level of fluency in his preparatory studies for the ceiling decorations of the Farnese Gallery that they are considered the masterpieces of his oeuvre.
  • Type: Drawings
  • Rights: National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne Purchased with the assistance of a State Government grant, 1972, © National Gallery of Victoria
  • External Link: National Gallery of Victoria
  • Medium: black chalk heightened with white, squared up for enlargement in black chalk, on faded blue paper; laid down