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Beheading of St. John the Baptist / A Variant Study for the Same Composition
Benso, Giulio
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Benso, Giulio

Pieve di Teco, Liguria, 1592 - Pieve di Teco, Liguria, 1668

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Beheading of St. John the Baptist / A Variant Study for the Same Composition

First half of the XVII century. Wash, Pencil, Pencil ground, Grey-brown ink on yellow paper. Not on display

Traditionally placed as the work of Luca Cambiaso (1527-1585), this drawing is characteristic of the exu­berant and rather chaotic style of drawing practiced by his distant follower Giulio Benso, a prolific draftsman who often gave free rein to his imagination in large-sized compositional studies of this sort. In fact, Benso´s euphoric manner more closely resembles the drawings of his master Giovanni Battista Paggi than those of Cambiaso. A clear difference in tempo distinguishes the frantic line-work of Benso´s busy inventions from Cambiaso´s more lucid, carefully controlled designs.

A number of pen-and-wash drawings by Benso may be adduced for comparison, including the Martyrdom of St. Agatha in the Uffizi, Florence (inv. no. 7349). Like the Prado drawing, those in Florence and Paris are likewise di getto (done spontaneously), and their compo­sitional space similarly densely populated with stocky figures with large, cubic heads and curiously globular, staring eyes.

Benso has taken liberties in the handling of the Beheading of St. John the Baptist as in the interpretation of his subject, apparently to maximize the dramatic effect of his composition. The bearded saint about to be behead­ed must be St. John the Baptist, on account of his attri­bute, the lamb, crouching on the ground in front of him. Yet the saint seems older than St. John is normally depicted; he does not wear his standard animal-fur attire, which distinguishes him from other saints; and as he kneels on the ground, he appears to be kissing a crucifix, which he holds up to his lips with both hands. Also atypical in representations of the beheading of the saint is the outdoor situation, peopled by a large crowd, since by tradition his execution is held to have taken place inside a prison yard. In this latter setting St. John is invariably represented with his hands bound behind his back and with King Herod´s daughter Herodias looking on.

Fortunately, clarification of the subject matter is to be found in the verso study, where the kneeling figure is unquestionably St. John the Baptist, for he holds his long-handled reed cross in his right hand and an animal that is more credibly a lamb approaches him from the side. Moreover, in the background, at a table behind the central doorway, are two seated figures, perhaps Herod and his wife Herodias, while Salome, wearing a tall headdress, descend the stairway to the left, flanked by two escorts.

Turner, Nicholas, From Michelangelo to Annibale Carracci. A century of Italian drawings from the Prado, Chicago, Art Services International, 2008, p.190-193, 218

Technical data

Inventory number
D001880
Author
Benso, Giulio
Title
Beheading of St. John the Baptist / A Variant Study for the Same Composition
Date
First half of the XVII century
Technique
Wash; Pencil; Pencil ground; Grey-brown ink
Support
Yellow paper
Dimension
Height: 350 mm.; Width: 240 mm.
Provenance
Bequest of Pedro Fernández Durán y Bernaldo de Quirós, 1931

Bibliography +

Villaronga, Leandre, Corpus Nummun Hispaniae Ante Agusti Aetatem, José A.Herrero, Madrid, 1994, pp. 148, nº 49.

Museo Nacional del Prado, Catálogo de dibujos. Dibujos italianos del siglo XVI (por Nicholas Turner, con la colaboración de José Manuel Matilla), V, Museo Nacional del Prado, Madrid, 2004, pp. 190-193, 218.

Turner, Nicholas, From Michelangelo to Annibale Carracci. A century of Italian drawings from the Prado, Art Services International, Chicago, 2008, pp. 190-193, 218.

Other inventories +

Inv. Legado Pedro Fernández Durán, 1931. Núm. 2310.

Exhibitions +

De Miguel Ángel a Annibale Carracci. Un siglo de Dibujos Italianos en el Museo del Prado
25.10.2008 - 26.07.2009

Un siglo de dibujos italianos en el Museo del Prado. De Miguel Ángel a Annibale Carracci
Madrid
23.11.2004 - 13.02.2005

Update date: 30-07-2020 | Registry created on 28-04-2015

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