Drawings Gallery Archive

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)

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 

Courtauld Artists At Work: Nadine Mahoney

With the opening of Artists at Work in our Drawings Gallery we thought it would be a fantastic opportunity to shed some light on the artists among our colleagues at The Courtauld. Here we have Nadine Mahoney, Artist Educator in our Public Programmes team 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 practice is very process driven. I love the stuff of paint, and made my own paints from oils to watercolour and acrylic, on a range of supports from aluminium to canvas and panel. I am interested in identity, perception and the human condition. Working between abstraction and figuration, the history of portraiture is a big source of inspiration from lockets, to old masters, death masks and instagram selfies.

Tell us about your working environment(s).

My studio is like a second home. I have a collection of pigments in various old jars, piles of drawings, rows of unfinished paintings. I work on many paintings at once, so tend to have works in progress on the floor, the walls and my table. It’s an organised chaos.

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

I need my studio. When I became a mother I hoped I could work on the kitchen table but I just couldn’t paint or draw that way. It made me realise just how sacred the studio is to my practice.

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

Environment and routine are important. I am a creature of habit, so need to have a regular workspace. I am currently working in a studio in Brooklyn New York, and it took me at about 4 months to get the studio working properly.

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

I make my own paint, from watercolours to oils. This process is central to my practice. It started of as a way to have high quality materials inexpensively but now I can’t imagine making the work I do without it. My collection of pigments in glass jars are essential. Making the paint in the mornings offers a type of meditation, it helps me switch into studio mode.

How do you deal with creative block?

My practice is anchored through an obsessive curiosity of materials, so I’ve never really had creative block; there is always something I want to experiment with. Also, I work on multiple paintings, so if I get stuck, I’ll just move onto another one. That doesn’t mean all paintings are a success!

Discover more of Nadine’s work:

www.nadinemahoney.com

Instagram: nadine_mahoney

Artists at Work
The Drawings Gallery
Until 15 July 2018

 

Courtauld Artists At Work: Grace A Williams

With the opening of Artists at Work in our Drawings Gallery we thought it would be a fantastic opportunity to shed some light on the artists among our colleagues at The Courtauld. Here we have Grace A Williams, Research Forum Digital Project Officer in our 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?

I’m an interdisciplinary artist with a focus on photography and installation. I often work with archival and found material to explore feminist power dynamics in the history of magic, mythology and the occult. I have collaborated with some of the world’s leading specialist collections to uncover hidden or maligned female histories, including the psychic mediums photographically documented manifesting Ectoplasm in the T G Hamilton collection at The University of Manitoba, Canada and the legacy of Sally Ryan within the Jacob Epstein Archive at The New Art Gallery Walsall.

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

My working environment greatly varies depending upon the project. I had a studio in Birmingham before moving to London and now I work from temporary studios for larger projects. I often work on site-specific projects, so in the next few months my studio will be a preserved 1920s National Trust Property!

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

I enjoy the flexibility of working in different environments but having a permanent studio is something that long term I would like to establish. My husband is an architect and together we’d like to have a space that can be functional for both our practices.

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

I couldn’t live without my laptop, working with lens based and digital media means I’m constantly running Adobe suite. In total contrast to this I also collect early analogue technology from the history of photography and film. I have just purchased a number of traditional magic lantern projectors that will feature in my next solo show at The New Art Gallery Walsall in August. I’m fascinated by early approaches to creating spectral images and I’ve had a long term project that explores the Nipkow disc as the basis of television broadcasting.

 

How do you deal with creative block?

I tend to work on several projects at the same time which keeps me inspired and motivated. If I ever feel a little slumped, going to the cinema, walking and sleeping help – surprisingly I have solved several major project worries at night.

 

Discover more of Grace’s work:

Grace A Williams: Intermission
The New Art Gallery Walsall, 10 August — 11 November 2018

www.grace-a-williams.com

Twitter: @GraceANagle

Artists at Work
The Drawings Gallery
Until 15 July 2018

Courtauld Artists at Work: Millie Nice

With the opening of Artists at Work in our Drawings Gallery we thought it would be a fantastic opportunity to shed some light on the artists among our colleagues at The Courtauld.

First up we have Millie Nice who is an Educator working with our Public Programmes team.

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

I’m an illustrator so the I use the media that responds best to the job; it can be digital, coloured pencils, markers or an enormous painted mural! But at the centre of it I just really love to draw so anything that I can make a good line with suits me. When I started I would only ever draw in pens or markers that wouldn’t allow me to hesitate or change my mind and I still tend to make work this way. It often means you have to draw something multiple times to get to the right one! I use my History of Art background a lot in my work, re-drawing objects and artworks from the past. I’m inspired by history but I like to bring in as much humour and character as I can and encourage people to laugh and have fun with artworks from the past.

Tell us about your working environment(s).

I have a small studio at home with a drawing table, a scanner and a computer; it’s very simple but I can be fairly messy so the less space I have the better! I also work from a print collective studios in south London which has been brilliant for working alongside other creatives. Being freelance and working from home is a fairly intense experience so it’s great to be able to work with other people and support each other in the ups and downs that come with making what you love.

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

Because I draw from museum objects and artworks a lot I often end up in museums in galleries; I will always draw from life where I can. It’s easier to absorb more of an object’s character if you sit with it for a while and I love watching other people react to the artworks in the gallery; I suppose it’s like a kind of audience research for me!

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

When I was young it affected me in a very practical way; I was an art student working part-time as a museum steward and I would draw in the galleries when I was at work. I could only ever use pencils and I worked in small notebooks that I could quickly slip in my pocket and not get caught! I still carry a small notebook and pencil with  me all the time and they are mostly full of quick little ideas I might come back to or work up in the studio. Over time I realised I’d enjoyed drawing at work the most out of everything I’d created while I was studying and it taught me to love all the strange and unexpected things that happen when you’re drawing quickly on location and to appreciate all you can do with a simple pencil.

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

I try not to get too attached to any particular material, I like to be adaptable and I enjoy that you can make a drawing with even the simplest of tools. I feel pretty passionate about my phone as a creative tool but only because I think it’s terrible! I often have to work from photographs as reference material and it’s never as engaging as the real thing. When I first got my phone I was constantly taking photos of things I didn’t have time to draw but I never ended up going back to them. Now I operate a strict ‘sketch it or forget it’ policy!

How do you deal with creative block?

I find a good deadline sorts that out fairly quickly! If I get stuck it’s usually because I’m worrying about details so I try to make things as simply and quickly as possible. I try to give all my ideas an immediate rough try like a sketch or a small test. If an idea is weak then a quick rough is all it really needs and then I put it aside; the stronger ideas are the ones I enjoy and I want to keep working on.

Discover more of Millie’s work: 

www.millienice.com 

Twitter @millieknice
Instagram @millie.nice

Artists at Work
The Drawings Gallery
Until 15 July 2018