Cesare FRANCHI called Il Pollino (Perugia? vers 1560 – Perugia, 1598)

Deposition of Christ

9.5 x 11 cm. (3 ¾ x 4 38 in.)
c. 1590. Pen and brown ink, brown wash over red chalk lines on beige paper. Framing line in brown ink. Traces of an inscription in brown ink on the former mount.

• Sir Charles Bigot (1781-1843) Collection, Ambassador for Great Britain in France and Russia, and then Governor of Canada, London (Lugt 493 on old mount).
• Undetermined collection, probably Henri de Bourbon-Parme, Count of Bardi (1851-1905) (Lugt 336, stamped mark forming a crowned B and placed across the mount and the paper).
• Belgium, Private Collection.

With rare dramatic intensity despite its small size, our drawing appears to be a very personal reflection on the Deposition of Christ, one of the themes the most frequently handled by Renaissance artists. The protagonists among whom can be recognized Mary Magdalene with her thin hair, and the Virgin leaning on Saint John and Joseph of Arimathea who holds Christ’s legs, form a compact group traced with a twirling and sure hand. It is heightened with a powerful nervous wash which overflows the lines of the drawing. The instability of the poses, exaggerated gestures, tangle of forms, material effects, the very particular facial types, as well as the preliminary line in red chalk, are characteristic of the graphic style of one of the most singular artists of the 16th century School of Perugia dominated by Federico Barocci: Cesare Franchi.

Born in Perugia, Franchi or Francia was nicknamed Il Pollino very early on account of his weak vision, this nickname being derived from pullus, “deprived of.” His life is relatively poorly known, but Lione Pascoli, in his Vite de pittori, scultori, et architetti Perugini published in Rome in 1732, assures that he “served many princes, a lot of cardinals, some pontifs, who treated him with distinction.” According to Cesare Cripolti’s Prugia augusta descritta published in 1648, the artist split his activity between Perugia and Rome, and practiced drawing, painting, and miniature. In 1598, several famous Roman miniaturists, including Paris Nogari and Giulio Stella, tried to intervene with Pope Clement VIII and Cardinal Pietro Aldobrandini, in order to save the life of “Cesare di Francesco, painter from Perugia,” convicted of homicide of a masked person during the Perugia Carnival and condemned to death. Alas, the request of Franchi’s friends did not succeed.

A set of miniatures with religious subjects by Pollino is conserved. Five of eight of them were offered by Cardinal Scipion Borghese to the Oratory dei Nobili in Perugia (National Gallery of Umbria) and two to the Augusta Communal Library of Perugia, as well as three Adorations of the Names of Jesus and the Virgin (incorrectly entitled Rounds of Dancing Putti) shared between the British Library in London and a private collection. However the bulk of the artist’s work is constituted of pen and wash drawings regrouped around the sheets in the National Gallery of Scotland in Edinburg, the Staatliche Graphische Sammlung in Munich (inv. 2228 Z-ZZ31 Z), and the Louvre which Philip Pouncy attributed to Cesare Franchi in 1958. Since then, Pollino’s graphic corpus has constantly increased. Thus his drawings are now identified in the collections of the Magnin Museum in Dijon, the Uffizi, The Metropolitan Museum, and the Albertina.

Of various dimensions and without any established link to a painted work, all have the mark of his easily recognizable style, which mixes the memory of Raphael through the prism of Giulio Romano and Marcantonio Raimondi, with borrowings from Michelangelo, influences from Barocci and Giulio Clovio, and Nordic sources of inspiration. Franchi’s compositions arise out of overlaying a complex interlacing of lines in red chalk and a calligraphic tracing in pen, which is finished by brushwork concentrating on the hollows in the faces, ample draperies, and projected shadows. In an approach which is the antithesis of a miniaturist’s attention to minute details, the artist schematizes, hurries, breaks contours, and is happy with a few convolutions to indicate eyeballs or knees.

Certain themes seem to have obsessed Pollino in particular, such as the Holy Family, of which several versions exist. In addition to ours, two other sheets concern the Deposition of Christ, conserved in the Louvre (inv. 14650, 11.3 x 20 cm.) and the Giorgio Cini Foundation in Venice (inv. 31094). But if the first is a very interpretative renewal of Raphael’s famous Deposition of Christ, the central part of the Baglione Altarpiece painted in 1507 (Rome, Borghese Gallery), that of Venus, with its multiple figures, and our drawing, strong and sombre, move away from it and deliberately liberate all of Pollino’s inventiveness and Mannerist expression.

General Literature (Unpublished Work)
Mario DI GIAMPAOLO, “Cesare Franchi detto il Pollino (Perugia, 1560 circa - Roma, 1598),” A. M. Ambrosini Massari and M. Cellini (dir.), Nel segno di Barocci: Allievi e seguaci tra le Marche, Umbria, Siena, Urbino, 2005.
Bruno TOSCANO, “Il Pollino tra Roma e Perugi,” A. Forlani Tempesti and S. Prosperi Valenti Rodinò (dir.), Per Luigi Grassi. Disegno e Disegni, Rimini, 1998, pp. 156-167.

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