View of a fortified island with mooring galleons and galleys

Gherardo Cibo

(Genova 1512 – Roca Contrada [Arcevia] 1600) Sold

  • Pen and black ink, polychrome tempera, possibly based on an underdrawing in black chalk. Pasted on an old mount and surrounded by a black line in bodycolor.
  • 110 × 160 mm (4.3 × 6.3 inches).

Edited by Luca Giunta Baroni

In his seminal 1969 article on the artist, Jaap Bolten defined Gherardo Cibo (still known at the time under the fictional name of Ulisse Severino da Cingoli) ‘a Bypath in the History of Art’1. Gherardo stands out, in fact, as one of the most autonomous and original draughtsmen of the 16th century, closer, in his botanical and alchemical interests, to Northern Europe than to the brilliant Italian Renaissance world to which he belonged 2.

Born in 1512 to a Genoese aristocratic family related to Pope Innocenzo VIII (1483-1492), Gherardo was educated as a gentleman, first in Rome and them during the long diplomatic missions that took him to Germany, France and Flanders. Around 1540 he decided to retire in the bucolic village of Rocca Contrada (today Arcevia), in the Marche region, not far from Ancona, and to devote himself entirely to his greatest passions: botany, geology, music and drawing.

His most notable achievements are the composition of the first-known herbarium (Rome, Biblioteca Angelica) and the illustration of Pietro Andrea Mattioli’s De Re Medica after Dioscorides (London, British Library), considered as one of the most interesting and beautiful works of the history of botany and scientific illustration.

Gherardo’s vast production of drawings is intimately connected with his scientific research and with his early contacts with northern Europe. Alongside his studies of rocks, plants, clouds and real landscapes, a small but significant segment of his production is devoted to fantasy landscapes executed for his own pleasure and accurately refined with bright colours.

The tiny drawing discussed here represents a fortified island with, all around, some moored galleons and galleys. A similar subject can be found in a page of Mattioli’s De Re Medica (a transfigured view of the fortress of San Marino, near Rimini), on the ‘Fishing trip’ preserved in the Biblioteca Passionei in Fossombrone, and in a sketch of a ‘Natural port’ in a private collection 3. Furthermore, the interest for representing the poetic purple colour that characterizes the dawn on the Adriatic coast (where the sun comes out of the horizon line into the sea) can be found in a View of a Fortified Headland in the Morgan Library (fig. 1).

Gherardo Cibo, View of a Fortified Headland. Pen and brown ink and watercolour on blue paper, 197 × 285 mm. New York, The Morgan Library and Museum | 1962.13.
Fig. 1. Gherardo Cibo, View of a Fortified Headland. Pen and brown ink and watercolour on blue paper, 197 × 285 mm. New York, The Morgan Library and Museum | 1962.13.

Even if the general composition of our View stems from the imagination, the presence of the recognizable shape of a Venetian galley attests that the drawing is based on first-hand observations, as is typical of Cibo’ s brilliant scientific gaze.

1 Bolten 1969.

2 The reference text on Cibo is the catalogue of the exhibition curated by Arnold Nesselrath in Cingoli in 1989, to be considered together with Bolten’s review (Bolten 1990, pp. 193-196). Among the subsequent recent studies see Monaci Moran 1989, pp. 77-84; Eiche 2001, pp. 161-163; Giannotti 2016, pp. 77-84.

3 Gherardo Cibo, Gladiolus Italicus (from the De Re Medica of Pietro Andrea Mattioli). Black chalk, watercolor and body colour (?), 265 × 195 mm. London, The British Library, inv. Additional 22332, f. 72; Gherardo Cibo, Fishing Trip. Black chalk, watercolor and opaque watercolor on blue paper, 280 × 210 mm. Fossom- brone, Biblioteca Comunale ‘Passionei’. The drawing in a priv. coll. is reproduced and commented in Cingoli 1989, p. 134, cat. 47.

Cingoli 1989, p. 135, cat. 48 (illustrated).

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