The Seduction of Drawing

From Gherardo Cibo to Vincenzo Camuccini

10 December – 18 December 2021

Cortona Fine Art, Milan Italy

Exhibited Art

Edited by Luca Giunta Baroni

At the beginning of the 17th century, the habit of collecting drawings in Italy was so well established that it had already originated to a proper etiquette. As exposed by the learned surgeon, collector, and dilettante Giulio Mancini (1559-1630) in his Considerazioni sulla pittura, written in 1617-1628, drawing collectors were identified with distinguished private gentlemen who found themselves established with a steady home life and a regular income.

Collecting, Mancini seems to imply, is linked with stability and habit. The ideal collector needs a large house, with a room devoted to a library. It is inside the library, and in the form of a book, that the drawings should be kept, methodically ordered for subject, chronology, size, school and technique. Collecting and studying drawings is a way to explore, to travel in space and time. Works on paper establish with their observer a deep, intimate contact. Exactly as the pages of a book, that are meant to be enjoyed daily, in solitude or with like-minded friends.

Since Mancini's time, the collecting of drawings has expanded beyond Italy, reaching every corner of the world. Today, the liveliest market and collectors are in the United States, France, and Great Britain. During the second half of the 20th century, due to its strict – but vital – export laws, Italy has been somehow cut off from the top levels of the international art market. Fewer and fewer Italian collectors of drawings keep and form their collections within national borders, a situation that affects the market and, on a broader level, research.

In recent years, however, the tide has begun to change. The establishment of international scholarships with grants for the study of old master drawings – some of which have been awarded to Italian institutions and museums – created new research opportunities. Some private collectors have courageously invested both in the acquisition and in the publication of the works on paper in their possession: it should be mentioned the most recent catalogue Cento disegni dalla collezione della Fondazione Marco Brunelli, edited by Cristiana Romalli, that has brought back the glories of a Milanese collecting tradition that began in the 1930s.

The important activity of the Cortona Fine Art Gallery belongs to this new trend. In 2020, during the most difficult months of the pandemic, Enrico and his son Federico Cortona decided to resume the old habit of publishing every year a catalogue of the best old master drawings available in the gallery. This generated new interests and aroused enthusiasm; information and ideas on drawings circulated again and, not to be forgotten, the initiative offered new work and research opportunities for young Italian drawing scholars.

It should be emphasised that, even if supported by the capital generated by the art trade, the primary purpose of these catalogues is not, or not directly, just commercial. The main and long-term goal of the Cortona Fine Art Gallery is in fact to arouse again the interest for drawings in Italy. Buying and selling is the basis of collecting; and collecting, as attested by the great collections amassed by Leopoldo de’ Medici, Federico Ubaldini, Pierre Crozat, Pierre-Jean Mariette, Giovanni Morelli and others, is the basis of scholarship and research.

In order to create the most stimulating and complete catalogue possible, great attention has been paid to the selection of a group of works that stand out not only for their quality and aesthetic values, but also for historical and cultural importance. Some sheets, such as Lorenzo de’ Ferrari’s sketch, restored to us a crucial chapter in their author's career. From others, such as Carlo Biffi's Five head characters, masterfully investigated by Giulio Bora, we can expect that they will play a key role in the future reconstruction of the artist’s graphic oeuvre.

Other drawings, such as the splendid sensual scene by Santino Tagliafichi or the intriguing genre scene by Domenico Guidobono, present to the international market artist still little known but with exceptional inspiration and skills. Within the 21 sheets here selected, an important trend is also represented by the relationship between drawing and engraving – a specific touch conferred to the catalogue by Enrico Cortona’s well known passion in the field.

In conclusion, I hope that The seduction of drawing will be, as expressed in the title, ‘seductive’: attracting more and more people, scholars and collectors to the appreciation of the magical world of master drawings.