Traces of the Hand: Master Drawings from the Collection of Frederick and Lucy S. Herman
The Arrest of Christ, c. 1570–1575
Pen and brown ink with wash
13 1/2 x 17 1/2 in, 34.29 x 44.45 cm (sheet)
Provenance: Jonathan Richardson Jr. (Lugt 2170), before 1772; acquired from The Contemporaries Gallery, New York, 1966
Gift of The Frederick and Lucy S. Herman Foundation, 2006.11.12
Luca Cambiaso was a prolific draftsman who worked in a variety of styles, illustrated in the Herman Collection with two drawings. One of these, a study of two figures, is in his more dynamic and fluid manner; and the other, The Arrest of Christ, exemplifies his blocky, stereometric handling of figures, a stylization that makes such drawings by him immediately identifiable.
Cambiaso’s idiosyncratic draftsmanship seems to have originated in the mid-sixteenth century from the combination of two techniques. One of these was the stereometric system of drawing that very likely derived from the use of wooden mannequins in the studio. Exploited as a means of understanding the body and its movements, this geometric stylization had been used by Albrecht Dürer and was described in Erhard Schön and Heinrich Vogtherr’s artist’s handbook in 1538, which was available to Cambiaso through reprints and translations.1 Cambiaso’s use of this technique is distinguished by his application of numerous washes and seems most likely to stem from his friendship with the architect G. B. Castello, for whom Cambiaso executed architectural drawings in the early 1550s.2The Arrest of Christ belongs to a group of drawings that has been dated to about 1570–1575, all of which deal with the story of the Passion of Christ: The Betrayal of Christ in the Ashmolean Museum, Oxford; four drawings in the Uffizi depicting Christ being led from the Garden of Gethsemane; and a nearly identical, though smaller and less complete Arrest of Christ in the Städelsches Kunstinstitut in Frankfurt.3 The existence of this near-replica results both from Cambiaso’s practice of working out compositions in multiple versions, as well as from his apparent use of his drawings for instructing his assistants. In addition, his drawings were in great demand.4
The Herman drawing illustrates a rarely depicted episode in the Gospel of John (18:5–6), in which Christ in the Garden of Gethsemane identifies himself to the men come to seize him, who promptly fall backwards to the ground. This choice of subject, like his equally unusual depictions of Christ being led away from the Garden, and his interest in nocturnal lighting effects, seems to put into practice a recommendation of art theorists of the period. Writing in 1557, Lodovico Dolce states that the "painter [must] not be satisfied with a single invention when it comes to his trying out in preliminary sketches…but [should] evolve several of these and then pick out the one which succeeds best." The Arrest of Christ and the other drawings to which it relates are not associated with a finished work of art, but rather demonstrate Cambiaso’s meditative, exploratory use of drawing, which in this regard anticipates the drawing practice of Rembrandt.
1. Edward J. Olszewski, "Drawings by Luca Cambiaso as a Late Renaissance Model of Invenzione," Cleveland Studies in the History of Art, 5, 2000, 30.
2. Olszewski, "Drawings by Luca Cambiaso," 20–23.
3. Konrad Oberhuber and Dean Walker, Sixteenth-Century Italian Drawings from the Collection of Janos Scholz, Washington, DC: National Gallery of Art, 1973, 49–50, no. 39. Thomas P. Fasser, in Chappell, Form, Function, and Finesse, 62. Bertina Suida Manning noted the differences between the Herman Collection and Städel versions of the Arrest, and commented on the high quality of the former (letter to Frederick Herman, 18 June 1974, Museum curatorial files).
4. Oberhuber and Walker, Sixteenth-Century Italian Drawings, 50. Olszewski, "Drawings by Luca Cambiaso," 24.
5. Lodovico Dolce, L'Aretino, 1557, quoted in Olszewski, "Drawings by Luca Cambiaso," 33.