The Esterházy Heritage

17th-Century Italian Drawings

25 March 2004 - 25 April 2004

The drawing collection of the Museum of Fine Arts in Budapest, comprising some 8000 pieces, is one of the most significant in Central Europe, with numerous artworks from the collection lent to European and American exhibitions over the past few decades. In 2002, for the opening event of the Hungarian Cultural Year in Italy, nearly one hundred pieces from the seventeenth century drawing collection were presented at the Palazzo di Fontana di Trevi in Rome.

In an expanded version of the Rome exhibition, the show in Budapest embraced 126 drawings and 66 etchings. It is owing to the wealth of the collection that the selected works provided a representative picture not only of the leading artistic tendencies, but also informed as to the characteristic range of subjects, the preponderance of religious depictions, and faithfully reflected the general knowledge of the mythological tradition, the popularity of the allegorical mode of expression, and the individual rank of the landscape and the portrait. The head and figure studies, the composition sketches of various degrees of elaboration, documented the path leading to the creation of paintings, frescoes and etchings, and the painstaking graphic preparatory work typical of the Italian artists.

The exhibition presented the graphic art of the largest and, from the perspective of art history, most important Italian regions: Bologna–Emilia, Rome, Florence–Tuscany, Genoa, Naples and Veneto, according to school, and chronologically arranged, keeping in mind the ratios of the collection, as well as the master-student relations, and the overall picture was enriched by numerous newly identified works. With respect to the number of their works as well, such renowned authors stood out as Ludovico, Agostino and Annibale Carracci, considered the forerunners of Baroque art, as well as their students and followers, among them Domenichino, Guido Reni and Francesco Albani. Numerous drawings from the two most singular representatives of the graphic art of Bologna, Guercino and Simone Cantarini, are likewise preserved in the collection, which in large part were displayed within the exhibition. Among the representatives of the Roman school, the works of Giovanni Baglione, Pier Francesco Mola, Pietro da Cortona, Carlo Maratta, Giacinto Calandrucci and Guglielmo Cortese deserve special mention. From the circle of the Lombard artists, the works of Daniele Crespi and Giulio Cesare Procaccini preserved in our collection count as a distinguished accomplishment, also from the perspective of their entire oeuvres. Among the works from Genoa, which are modest in number similarly to the Lombard grouping, those of Giovanni Andrea Ansaldo and Giovanni Benedetto Castiglione are intensive, and their use of colour, which is less customary in Italian graphic art, is consequently the most attractive. Among the most typical representatives of improvisational pen-and-ink drawings, we can include the graphic art of Salvator Rosa of the Naples school, also appreciated in Rome.

Numerous drawings and sketches found today also served for the preparation of frescoes and oil paintings. Annibale Carracci's two celebrated figure studies, the Bacchante and the Cupid, were prepared for the ceiling piece of the Palazzo Farnese Gallery, for the triumphal procession of Bacchus and Ariadne filling the central field of the fresco, and they are included among the most exhibited and best-known artworks in the collection. Domenichino's classicist angel's head is a partial study for the fresco of Saint Cicely in the Polet Chapel of the San Luigi dei Francesi Church in Rome, while Guido Reni's early, Caravaggiesque The Crucifixion of Saint Peter is a composition study in connection with his painting in the Vatican Gallery. One of Giovanni Benedetto Castiglione's drawings, Allegory in Honour of the Mantuan Ruling Couple, is a preliminary study for one of the artist's paintings in a private collection in Genoa.

Guercino's composition drawing depicting The Triumph of David is related to his painting made originally for the collection of the Galleria Colonna in Rome, which is preserved today in the Burghley House Collection in England. Two picturesque, wash composition studies representing to scenes of baptizing by Saint Peter allow an insight into the preparatory work for the paintings intended for Saint Peter's Basilica in Rome by the leading painter of Roman Late Baroque, Carlo Maratta. While mosaics were made of them for the Basilica, the oil paintings executed by his students were installed in the San Francesco Church in Urbino. Salvator Rosa's Prometheus is one of the artist's fresh and spontaneous sketches, which was prepared for his painting in the Galleria Nazionale dell'Arte Antica in Rome.

The greatest portion of the drawings originates in the most important Hungarian private collection, that of the Esterházy princes, and thus, the exhibition received the title, The Esterházy Heritage. In part, the displayed etchings rendered more complete the picture generated by the oeuvres of the artists featured also with drawings; in part, they raised the artists whose drawings are not included in the collection of the Museum into the scope of the audience, such as Stefano della Bella, Jusepe de Ribera and Pietro Testa.

The representative catalogue produced in Italian and Hungarian versions, published by Akadémiai Kiadó (Publishing House of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences), summarises the history of Italian Baroque graphic art, and the antecedents in the collection history of the Italian drawings in Budapest, followed by longer sections of the catalogue analysing the 94 most beautiful drawings exhibited in Rome, accompanied by colour reproductions. A smaller, Hungarian-English catalogue lists all the artworks displayed in Budapest, following a brief introductory essay. Coinciding with the Budapest show, the English complete classified catalogue of the seventeenth century Italian drawing collection of the Museum of Fine Arts was published from the pen of the curator.

Curator of the exhibition: Andrea Czére