Reuniting a drawing by Giovanni Battista Foggini

Separation and Reunion

Blades clash and scrape. Bodies thud to the ground. Limbs become entangled and mouths gape in terror. Above the fray, ancient trophies are held on high and flags proudly billow. Such is the tumultuous battle scene that Giovanni Battista Foggini (1652–1725) lays out for us in his drawing, dated to around 1673–76 (Fig. 1).

The work entered The Courtauld’s collection in 1952, having formerly belonged to Sir Robert Witt (1872–1952). It has always posed a mystery. Clearly a fragment, the sheet’s edges cut off distant buildings and bodies midway. The large and small arcs that encase the composition span a 90° angle, and suggest that the drawing could represent one quarter of a design for a round object, likely a silver dish.

Figure 1. Giovanni Battista Foggini (1652–1725), A battle scene outside a walled city, c. 1673–76, black chalk, pen and brown ink, brown wash, compass and stylus; 26.3 x 24.8 cm, © The Courtauld Gallery Trust, London. Accession number D.1952.RW.3586

In 2018, a further piece of the puzzle — or perhaps in our case, a further slice of the dish — came to light. Experts at a London auction house got in touch with The Courtauld, announcing that the right-hand counterpart to the drawing already in our collection would soon be offered for sale (Fig. 2).

Figure 2. Foggini, A battle scene outside a walled city, c. 1673–1676, black chalk, pen and brown ink, brown wash, compass and stylus; 24.5 x 25.6 cm, © The Courtauld Gallery Trust, London. Accession number D.2018.XX.3

It is easy to tell that the newly surfaced drawing also hails from Witt’s collection, since it bears his collector’s mark (Fig. 3).

Figure 3. Sir Robert Witt’s collector’s mark

This is a kind of small stamp, often consisting of a symbol or set of initials, used historically by owners of works on paper to record their guardianship of a particular artwork. Unlike the drawing that entered The Courtauld in 1952, the drawing that was up for sale was removed from Witt’s own collection in unknown circumstances before landing eventually in the hands of the American collector who wished to sell it at auction. Luckily, The Courtauld Gallery was able to acquire the drawing, bringing the two designs under the same roof once again.

Now reunited, the two sheets have had a transformative effect on one another. The incision that once divided them has not since been much altered, so they can be realigned with almost no loss of content (Fig. 4). Juxtaposing these fragments provides a powerful demonstration of the effect that light exposure can have on works on paper. Damage of this kind has caused the right half of the composition to yellow to a greater extent than its left-hand counterpart.

Figure 4. Reconstructed image of Figs. 1 and 2 reunited

The dense mass of writhing bodies to the left of the joined composition is now balanced on the right by a barren battlefield that recedes to a cityscape background. The town’s defenders had more to protect than we had previously understood, as the newly acquired drawing reveals a majestic fortress with turrets and crenelated walls. We learn that the victory of the foremost soldier on the left sheet, who plunges an elongated spear into a gasping cavalryman, will be short-lived. With the arrival of the discovered counterpart, it becomes clear that he will imminently fall prey to the arrow of one of the turbaned archers on the right. Similarly, the extent of the chaos and brutality soon to befall the orderly troops in the background to the right becomes all the more foreboding when the violence of the left-hand sheet is introduced.

Foggini, Draughtsman of Conflict


Figure 5. Vincenzo Foggini (b. 1692), Portrait of Giovanni Battista Foggini, 1729, black and white chalk on blue paper; 36.2 x 24.1 cm, © Philadelphia Museum of Art, Philadelphia

The majority of the actors and locations depicted within Foggini’s battle drawings remain unidentified, as is the case with our design. He often drew battle scenes like this one, particularly during his studies at the new Accademia Fiorentina in Rome, which took place between 1673–76. The artist was originally from Florence, where his first artistic training took place. Foggini’s distinction among his peers led the Grand Duke of Tuscany, Cosimo III de’ Medici (1642–1723), to send him to Rome where he was one of the Academy’s first scholarship holders. There, the artist became the sculptural apprentice of Ercole Ferrata (1610–86) and received training in draughtsmanship by the institution’s director, Ciro Ferri (1634–89). Foggini’s pivotal position in the Florentine art world was solidified when he was appointed ‘Grand Ducal sculptor’ in 1687 and ‘Court Architect’ seven years later. Renowned for his opulent bronze statuary and marble busts, Foggini’s artistic versatility also enabled him to make designs for architectural structures, interiors and the decorative arts.

Members of the Florentine ruling classes such as the Medici family made up a critical mass within Foggini’s patronage base. He received major commissions towards the end of his lifetime for religious and civic buildings in Florence and Livorno, the latter of which is an important Tuscan port. After Foggini’s death in 1725, his influence lived on in the artworks of his many pupils, ensuring that his characteristic style was still practised well into the middle of the eighteenth century.

Foggini’s Baroque, painterly style comes to the fore in his rendering of drapery and flesh. In the Courtauld drawings, he dynamically opposes the smooth, muscular flesh of the fallen horses with the rippling, creased drapery of the soldiers’ mantles. A body of Foggini’s battle drawings is also at the Istituto Nazionale per la Grafica in Rome. The objects within this group share a similar technique to our drawings, whereby the artist has reinforced some lines in ink in order to establish a focal point, while leaving a faint chalk landscape in the background.

The pervasiveness of Battle imagery within Foggini’s career can be seen in further examples, such as the Battle scene with elephants and Orientals at the Statens Museum for Kunst in Copenhagen, Denmark. It has been tentatively suggested that the drawing in the Statens Museum illustrates the Battle of Zama, an episode from the Second Punic War. Perhaps the Courtauld design might also depict an episode from the Punic Wars. These conflicts occurred between the Romans and Carthaginians between 264 to 146 BCE. Even across genres such as mythological compositions, Foggini can be seen recycling his forms and techniques. In the Death of the Children of Niobe, the collapsed horse is almost identical to the one in the foreground of our united sheet.

Dish or Decoration?

Foggini was a prolific draughtsman, producing designs for the frescoes, metalwork and furniture that were destined for the luxurious interiors of his luminary patrons. As mentioned above, the curved format of The Courtauld’s works, drawn precisely with a compass, gives the impression that the artist was mapping out the design for a silver dish. Comparable silver dishes depicting warfare were given to Cosimo III de’ Medici throughout his lifetime, and the surviving plaster casts of these can be found at the Museo degli Argenti, located within the Palazzo Pitti in Florence.

Foggini, however, is not known to have provided designs for this purpose, despite his appointment as the head of the Grand Ducal workshops in 1695. The design is unusual for a silver dish because it is not concentric — the framing arcs do not share the same centre. Although the shape of the joined drawings resembles a fan, we can safely rule out this idea, as a battle scene would hardly be an ideal subject for such leisurely use. One remaining potential alternative, raised by Foggini drawings specialist Dr. Kira d’Albuquerque, is that our work could be a design for a semi-circular component to a wall or ceiling decoration.

Figure 6. Reverse side of Fig. 1

Whatever the larger project, we know that these designs are not independent, but were made in the context of planning another product. The evidence needed to draw this conclusion comes from a close physical examination of the sheets. Their backs have been blackened with chalk, and then the lines of the drawing have been incised — gone over — with a stylus, leaving grooves in the paper (Fig. 6). During the incision process, the sheet would be resting, chalk side down, on the fresh surface of the object onto which the design is to be copied. The pressure from the stylus would shift the black chalk from the paper to the object, thus replicating its design. This transfer method was commonly used for creating guidelines for engraving on a printing plate or on silverware. Alas, we still do not know whether a surviving printed version of this drawing still exists, or whether the final project for which Foggini’s design was made reached completion.

For now, these questions remain unanswered. Hopefully in decades to come, another serendipitous discovery might bring a new twist to the Foggini story.


By Jasmine Clark and Saskia Rubin (Courtauld PhD Students and Print Room Assistants)

Artist at work: Marysa Dowling

In response to our Artists at Work exhibition in the Drawings Gallery we wanted to shed some light on the artists among our colleagues at The Courtauld. Here we have Marysa Dowling a freelance educator in our Public Programmes team discussing her practices.

Conceal Mexico 2017 #1

Could you tell us about your practice – what media you work in, what subject matter you focus on, what inspires you?

My photographic practice is participatory and rooted within portraiture. Many of my projects have an international focus as I work across several communities and cultures simultaneously to explore universal, human and democratic themes of communication, interaction and connection to place. Participation and collaborative possibilities are vital to my process.  Works are an exploration and observation of how people co-exist, relate to and interact with each other and the various environments they inhabit. I use photography as a tool to articulate experiences about our lives, how we live them and how we choose to represent ourselves. Working in both gallery and non-gallery spaces I aim to create thoughtful and playful photographic works, that come into being through social interaction. Recent projects have centred on journeys, the use of objects and human bodies as a form of performance through photography. Currently I am developing projects in the UK and Mexico firstly considering women’s roles in activism and change making, secondly how we use our hands to communicate, make and learn and using photography as a form of exchange. I am also working on my first book of a 10-year portraiture project with Smith Design.

Tell us about your working environment(s) and do you work anywhere other than, or in addition to, a studio – and if so, where?

My working environment varies hugely from job to job depending on the kind of project or where I am working. I can be based in a museum, gallery, school, studio, hospital, offices or out on location in the UK or other countries. An average week will involve working with people in a many different settings, as well as some time spent in my office or studio plus going to meetings. Currently I am an Artist in residence with GOSH Arts at Great Ormond Street Hospital, a unique and constantly changing environment to work in. This can involve working on a one to one basis with patients on wards or at bedsides or with larger groups in outpatients. You can see my studio in the photographs, but you will find out more about where I work from the locations and settings in my portraits. I love that things are constantly changing in my work. I find it stimulating to constantly meet new people to share ideas and make art with. As well as short term projects I develop ongoing projects to build long term relationships with individuals, communities and organisations.

How does your working environment affect your art (if at all)?

The environments I work in very much influence my art. Place, space and locations are often part of how and why I make my work and connect to the themes of each project. The location can dictate how the portrait and images will or can be made. Location often becomes relevant to part of the narrative I’m telling with my subject, both in my personal, participatory and education work.

Are there any particular tools or objects you feel particularly passionate about and/or are central to your work?

The concept and theme of the project will very much dictate the camera or cameras along with the methodology I use. My main tool is a Mamyia RZ 67 medium format analogue camera although I use various others such as a Canon DSLR 35mm digital, a wooden pinhole camera that takes medium format film, apps on a phone, scanners and paper-based image resources. When working on education projects having a little 6×4” printer with me encourages instant discussion and editing processes.

How do you deal with creative block? 

I start by going back to previous projects and begin to look again both at ideas, techniques and context. Trying to look afresh gives me to opportunity to ask myself what I get from the images now, what narratives, meaning and context is showing itself after some time away from the work. When I look again I start to see how themes and ideas are connecting. This usually gives me a way in to develop new ideas. I also play with laying out images to make connection and new narratives to spark ideas, simultaneously looking through my book collection and reading texts about my current interest. Sometimes getting out a camera I haven’t used for a while to experiment with techniques helps too.

Great Ormond Street Hospital (GOSH) Arts Exchange

Great Ormond Street Hospital (GOSH) Arts Exchange

Conceal Mexico #3 2017


Conceal Mexico 2015 #8

Conceal Mexico #9 2017

Discover more of Marysa’s work:

Twitter:  @marysadowling

Instagram:  @marysadowling



Courtauld Artist At Work: Matthew Krishanu

Our Artists at Work exhibition in the Drawings Gallery is in full swing. We thought it would be a fantastic opportunity to shed some light on the artists among our colleagues at The Courtauld. Here we have Matthew Krishanu, Artist Educator in our Public Programmes team discussing his practices.

Matthew Krishanu with Weapons 2018, 2, photo by Peter Mallet

Could you tell us about your practice – what media you work in, what subject matter you focus on, what inspires you?

I am a painter – I work primarily in oils, although I also love acrylics and watercolours. I find I use each medium in a different way. Over the last six years I have been building up a body of work that explores my childhood experiences of growing up between Bangladesh, India and Britain. I am currently showing thirty-three of these paintings (including ten large-scale works) in my solo show The Sun Never Sets, at Huddersfield Art Gallery (until 15 September 2018).

The show centres on ‘two boys’ – my brother and myself, who feature in most of the paintings. The exhibition title comes from my interest in the role of the British Empire in India (which at its height was known as ‘the empire on which the sun never sets’), and how aspects of the past empire are experienced by the two boys. There is also the fact that the sun never sets in a painting – that a painted scene captures a moment or a memory and freezes it in time.

My work is partly inspired by the novelist LP Hartley’s line ‘The past is a foreign country: they do things differently there’. I’ve always liked the idea that our past selves continue to exist as if in a foreign land. With that in mind, the paintings are like windows onto the past (or another country), animated in paint.

Tell us about your working environment(s).

I have worked in a wonderful bright large studio in East London since 2013. It is south-facing, so has good sunlight throughout the day. My painting wall is four metres long, and it is here that I have worked on my largest paintings over the last five years (up to three metres wide). I usually have several paintings on the go, both large and small works. I work in layers of paint, allowing time to dry between layers, so paintings usually take several weeks or months to complete.

I have a painting table on wheels, allowing me to move my paints and palette around the studio to position myself in front of several different works. I love the peace of working in my space – it is a quiet studio group, with few interruptions. I particularly like arriving early in the morning, to paint with the first light (particularly in summer). Later in the day I find I make more mistakes in paintings – the first hours are always best.

Studio, photo Jens Marott

Do you work anywhere other than, or in addition to, a studio – and if so, where?

I sometimes work with watercolour and drawings at home, but always paint in the studio when working with oil paint (it’s fine to create a mess there). I generate a lot of the source material away from the studio – whether that is selecting or taking photographs as subject matter for paintings, working up ideas in sketchbooks, or drawing from observation. That said, the vast majority of my creative time and work takes place in the studio – it is where I am most focussed and productive.

How does your working environment affect your art (if at all)?

The transition to a large space (previously I worked in a smaller studio in a live/work space in Bow) allowed me to scale up my paintings, and was the catalyst for making my first large works. There is enough space for me to work on up to three large paintings in the studio at a time. In addition to space, I need light (sunlight is ideal) and uninterrupted time – whether I listen to music or work in silence, I need the time to be able to work for several hours without distractions. These include emails and social media – ideally when in the studio I only check my phone for messages when all brushes are washed and the painting session is finished.

Are there any particular tools or objects you feel particularly passionate about and/or are central to your work?

I love my brushes – I could not paint effectively without a great range of different shapes, sizes and styles of brushes. I particularly like wide, flat bristle brushes (four to six inches wide is ideal) – allowing me to apply large areas of blocked-in thinned paint to the canvas surface. I like the way the diluted paint then drips and runs, and I can wipe it back or change the tilt of the canvas to affect the drips.

I have a wide range of colours and brands in oil paint. I usually put out twenty colours on my palette (always in the same order), so that I can reach for any tone I need when painting, and don’t need to stop to squeeze out more paint.I require odour-free solvents (I use a mineral spirit called Shellsol T) to thin my paints – turpentine and white spirit give me headaches. My medium of choice is Stand Oil – I like the luscious, thick texture of it, which is ideal when building up fat layers of oil paint (although most of my paintings are made up of thinner glazes).

I also like puppets and dolls – particularly ones with national or cultural significance (like my Rajasthani puppets) – which I keep in my studio.

How do you deal with creative block?

I feel a lot of the creative blocks were earlier in my practice – when I was really trying to find a voice and subject for my work (through my BA, MA and for a couple of years after). Since 2012 (when I began my Another Country series of paintings of the two boys) I have had far more ideas and paintings than I could realise in the time – I will be working with this material for many years to come. In the next few years I also plan to re-visit India and Bangladesh to paint, draw and take photographs there – this will feed into my source material and offer a new wealth of subject matter.

Boat, 2018, oil on canvas 200 x 300cm (photo Peter Mallet)

Skeleton, 2014, oil on canvas, 150 x 200cm, courtesy of the artist and the Arts Council Collection, Southbank Centre, London (photo Peter Mallet)

Discover more of Matthew’s work:

Twitter:  @MatthewKrishanu

Instagram:  @matthewkrishanu

Artists at Work
The Drawings Gallery
Until 15 July 2018

Courtauld Artist at Work: Jessica Akerman

Our Artists at Work exhibition in the Drawings Gallery is in full swing. We thought it would be a fantastic opportunity to shed some light on the artists among our colleagues at The Courtauld. Here we have Jessica Akerman, Event Producer for the Research Forum discussing her practices.


Could you tell us about your practice – what media you work in, what subject matter you focus on, what inspires you?

My work draws on social history, landscape and I work in a variety of media; it depends on the project. My work is inspired by social history – ongoing themes include military architecture, gentrification and women’s working lives. I’m particularly interested in exploring these in relation to British landscape and culture.

I’ve been working with accessories in the last couple of years. Throughout 2018, I’m creating a suffrage patch each month, celebrating different aspects of the suffrage movement. I’ve also just finished as one of 100 female Lead Artists on Processions 2018, making a banner for the Cardiff procession, a live activist artwork. My banner (and accompanying cardboard armour) was inspired by dazzle ships and the homemade armour of suffragettes. And I’ve been using leather offcuts to make foil-embossed jewellery inspired by surveillance and Early Warning System architecture.

Tell us about your working environment(s).

I’m currently working mostly in my home studio in Bristol (where I’ve recently moved). It’s useful being able to carry on working at home in the evenings, and also to be able to make more of a mess than I did when I shared my studio space (on Ridley Road in Dalston)! I’m making small objects at the moment so don’t need masses of space. I send off my suffrage patch digital designs to my embroiderers, Lacemarket Embroidery in Nottingham, and they make them up, send them back, and I trim them. It’s great working with craftspeople who are enthusiastic about the project, and understand the nuances of working on artist projects as well as with commercial clients. (They work for Paul Smith, Grayson Perry and others.)


Do you work anywhere other than, or in addition to, a studio – and if so, where?

I’ve just finished working with Made in Roath, a community art organisation, in their shop front studio in Cardiff. Here we made the banner for Processions 2018. It was nice working just off a local high street and have curious people walk past and pop in to see what all our geometric, fluorescent fabrics were about. I use J.T. Bachelor’s and Little Workshop in Hackney for embossing and punching leather. I’m currently programming the Engage conference which is on art, health and wellbeing, and will be at The Whitworth in Manchester in November, so I have occasional meetings there with their inspiring engagement team.

How does your working environment affect your art (if at all)?

When I was studying sculpture at Chelsea I did lots of wood turning, and sometimes made larger structures, because I had lots of space and access to workshops. Since then I’ve worked in smaller studios and at times from home, when my children were very small. That, and having limited funds inevitably made my work less ambitious in scale, but not in concept! I have collaborated with other artists a lot in the last few years, including with filmmaker Abbe Leigh Fletcher and folk singer Frankie Armstrong. Making live, filmed or performance pieces is partially a response to constrained studio space.

Are there any particular tools or objects you feel particularly passionate about and/or are central to your work?

I have a real love of craft processes and materials, and like to use my basic knowledge to experiment with them. My materials work as tools to drive my ideas. Sustainable and waste materials, like leather offcuts, cork, wood veneers and fluorescent papers keep popping up in different guises, such as in cuir bouilli (boiled leather) and marquetry. I’m saving up for my own hot foil embossing machine.

How do you deal with creative block?

I tend to have the opposite problem – too many ideas and too little time! I know from experience that if I’m not working on anything in particular, it’s probably because I’m about to embark on a period of intensely juggling lots of projects at once. Inactivity or feeling stuck tends to right itself. There are always peaks and troughs with the creative process.

Discover more of Jessica’s work:

Instagram: @jessicaakerman 


Artists at Work
The Drawings Gallery
Until 15 July 2018  

Courtauld Artist at Work: Christine Maria La Carbonara

Our Artists at Work exhibition in the Drawings Gallery is in full swing. We thought it would be a fantastic opportunity to shed some light on the artists among our colleagues at The Courtauld. Here we have Christine Maria La Carbonara, Retail Digital / E commerce Manager for The Courtauld Shop discussing her practices.

Could you tell us about your practice – what media you work in, what subject matter you focus on, what inspires you?

I work with different mediums. Oil painting is my primary method of expression. I also experiment with photography and painting with acrylics on various surfaces: including terracotta and wood. I am inspired by the trivial, the banalities that I only imagine many people interpret as the quotidian. Life excites me. I love documenting everything. Adding form, whether figurative or abstract, to a sensation or to  encapsulate a remarkable moment in time. The latter of course which holds meaning to me. I only hope that others will see or feel what I try to convey through my works.

Tell us about your working environment(s).

I do not have a studio.  The world around me is my studio. 

Do you work anywhere other than, or in addition to, a studio – and if so, where?

I have worked across three countries. Sometimes with an easel, sometimes painting a canvas that I’m simply embracing physically.

How does your working environment affect your art (if at all)?

I would love to have a dedicated space to create works of art. However, I find it challenging and exploratory creating a space for creation.

Are there any particular tools or objects you feel particularly passionate about and/or are central to your work?

Colour!! I need colour for my works.

How do you deal with creative block?

Creative block is something that happens, in my opinion, when we’ve platuead emotionally, psychologically, sentimentally. Take a trip! Approach a stranger for a random conversation. You’ll find inspiration once more.

Discover more of Christine’s work:

Instagram: @solarskyify

Facebook: /solarskyify

Twitter: /solarskyify

Artists at Work
The Drawings Gallery
Until 15 July 2018