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Dancing cherubs

Author
Giovanni Antonio de' Sacchis, detto il Pordenone (Pordenone 1483/1484 – Ferrara 1539)
Date
1530-1532 ca.
Technique
Black chalk, white chalk on faded cerulean blue paper
Size
202 x 357 mm
Inventory
no. 729 E

The chosen subject and its extremely precise execution suggest that this allegorical or decorative drawing can be considered as a work in its own right rather than simply a study for a future painting. The scene is formed of three distinct yet skilfully linked focal points: the ring of dancers, the group of musicians and, in the foreground, the three children playing with a dog. The theme of cherubs or cupids, explored to the full in this drawing, was very popular in the 1520s and Il Pordenone had access to numerous visual models while developing this complex and original composition. For example, he may have been aware of the famous engraving by Marcantonio Raimondi featuring a large ring of dancing cherubs after a work by Raphael dated between 1517 and 1520. Similarly, upon his arrival in Venice in 1528, the artist may also have observed similar works: a print by Domenico Campagnola, an artist active in the city of Venice during this period, also depicts cherubs who dance and play music and whose appearances and movements are similar to those depicted by Titian in the Assumption (1515-1518 ca., Basilica di Santa Maria Gloriosa dei Frari) and The Worship of Venus (1518-1519, Madrid, Museo Nacional del Prado). From a stylistic perspective, the black chalk is masterfully applied. The soft interplay of chiaroscuro, which emphasizes the shapes of the figures with pronounced but fluid outlines, is characterized by a grainy, almost pointillistic style, while the background is distinguished by a rapid yet uniform parallel hatched effect. The pronounced pictorial quality of the work, indicative of the artist's interest in Titian’s style, most likely dates the drawing around the same time as the frescoes painted by the artist between 1530 and 1532 in the church of Santa Maria di Campagna in Piacenza.

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