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Study of a Sleeping Shepherd

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Title Study of a Sleeping Shepherd
Material and technique Black chalk, heightened with white, on yellow-brown prepared paper
Object type
Drawing > Two-dimensional object > Art object
Location This object is in storage
Dimensions Height 196 mm
Width 374 mm
Artists Draughtsman: Jacopo Bassano (Jacopo da Ponte)
Accession number I 52 (PK)
Credits Loan Stichting Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen (former Koenigs collection), 1940
Department Drawings & Prints
Acquisition date 1940
Creation date in circa 1555-1560
Watermark poorly visible, unidentifiable, possibly Crown (ca. 40 x 34 mm, upright, upside down, lying to left or right, on P3 of 14P). [see image]
Inscriptions 'B.B. no:24' (verso, top centre, pen and brown ink)
Collector Collector / Franz Koenigs
Mark Z. Sagredo (L.2103a) inv. B.B. no:24, F.W. Koenigs (L.1023a)
Provenance Zaccaria Sagredo (1653-1729, L.2103a, inv. 'B.B.no:24' in dorso), Venice; - ; Franz W. Koenigs (1881-1941, L.1023a), Haarlem, acquired in 1927; D.G. van Beuningen (1877-1955), Rotterdam, acquired with the Koenigs Collection in 1940 and donated to Stichting Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen
Exhibitions Venice/Florence 1985, no. 31; Rotterdam 2010 (coll 2 kw 6)
Internal exhibitions De Collectie Twee - wissel VI, Prenten & Tekeningen (2010)
Research Show research Italian Drawings 1400-1600
Literature Tietze/Tietze-Conrat 1944, no. 149 (Jacopo Bassano), Arslan 1960, no. I 367 (Francesco Bassano), Aikema/Meijer 1985, no. 31, ill. (Jacopo Bassano)
Highlight > Painting technique > Technique > Material and technique
Geographical origin Italy > Southern Europe > Europe
Place of manufacture Venice > Veneto region > Italy > Southern Europe > Europe

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Entry catalogue Italian Drawings 1400-1600

Author: Esmé van der Krieke

The contours of a reclining male figure have been set down on paper with swift lines in this drawing. The pose, with raised knees and head thrown back, leaning on the right arm, suggests that the man is sleeping or resting. The paper is fragile and, to judge by the ragged edges and the cropping on the left side, the sheet must originally have been larger. A number of details in the drawing indicate that the work was made in Jacopo Bassano’s workshop.

The inscription ‘B.B. no. 24’ can be read on the verso of the drawing. This inscription occurs on drawings that come from the collection of Zaccaria Sagredo (1653-1729).[1] He was the nephew of the Venetian doge Nicolò Sagredo (1606-1676) who acquired a large proportion of drawings directly from the Bassano family’s studio in 1651.[2] The two letters stand for Bottega Bassanese, the Bassano family workshop that Jacopo Bassano established in the middle of the sixteenth century. It is to him that the original compositions can often be attributed, while his four sons Francesco (1549-1592), Giambattista (1553-1613), Leandro (1557-1622) and Girolamo (1566-1621) continued to execute and copy his ideas until well into the seventeenth century. All these different hands mean that it is often difficult to identify the actual maker of a work – this is true of both the paintings and the many drawings that have survived.[3] All the same, Jacopo’s drawings can clearly be distinguished from the others through the rapid handling of line, the scant attention to the head and the foreshortening of the limbs. Comparisons with drawings in Cambridge and Paris confirm this.[4] Tietze/Tietze-Conrat (1944) and Aikema/Meijer (1985) consequently attributed the Rotterdam drawing to Jacopo on the basis of these stylistic characteristics.[5]

Lying or sitting figures like this can be seen in the foreground of many of Jacopo’s paintings, placed there to create spatial depth and perspective. There are also comparable preliminary studies for such figures with bent legs by his hand, for instance one in Frankfurt and one in Paris.[6] Rearick (1968) recognized the figure in this latter drawing as a preliminary study for a sleeping St John the Evangelist pictured in many versions of The Agony in the Garden of Gethsemane by the Bassano workshop.[7] Given the slightly different attitude and form, Aikema/Meijer (1985) suggested that the figure in the Rotterdam study was more likely to be a shepherd.[8] He appears to be wearing boots and a tunic that comes down to just above the knee. In many of Jacopo’s paintings on the subject of the annunciation to the shepherds, such a figure can be seen in the foreground, always pictured in the same reclining pose with legs drawn up and bare knees. In the Rotterdam drawing it is particularly the head thrown back that appears to recur in one of Jacopo’s paintings – The Annunciation to the Shepherds (c.1575) now in Prague.[9] In that work it is a sleeping shepherd pictured on the right in the foreground. His head lolls back and the position of his arms also corresponds with the pose in the drawing. The shepherd in the painting is in mirror image to the boy in our drawing, which might suggest that the workshop had a whole stock of studies of different poses that could be used and reversed for paintings like this.

It is impossible to establish for certain whether our study of a sleeping shepherd served as a preliminary study for the specific figure in the painting in Prague. It is, though, highly likely that the drawing came from the Bassano workshop. Given the foreshortening, the flowing lines and, above all, the high artistic quality, the attribution to the paterfamilias Jacopo is the most logical in this case.


[1] Lugt Online, L. 2103a.

[2] Rearick 1995, p. 132.

[3] Corsato 2010, p. 41.

[4] Fitzwilliam Museum, inv. 1980; Musée du Louvre, inv. 2897.

[5] Tietze/Tietze-Conrat 1944, p. 51, no. 149; Aikema/Meijer 1985, p. 51.

[6] Städel Museum, inv. 15216 (Tietze/Tietze-Conrat 1944, p. 51, no. 148); Musée du Louvre, inv. 2897.

[7] Rearick 1968, p. 246.

[8] Aikema/Meijer 1985, p. 50.

[9] Národní galerie, inv. O 9026.

Show research Italian Drawings 1400-1600
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Jacopo Bassano (Jacopo da Ponte)

Bassano del Grappa circa 1510 - Venetië 1592

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