A study of Saint John the Baptist in a landscape by Jacopo Negretti, called Palma Il Giovane


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A study of Saint John the Baptist in a landscape by Jacopo Negretti, called Palma Il Giovane.

Jacopo Negretti, called Palma Il Giovane

Venice 1544 – 1628

A study of Saint John the Baptist in a landscape

Inscribed with pen and ink, lower left JP and on the verso J Romano.

Black chalk, pen and brown ink, brown wash. On the verso, black chalk sketches of shoulders.

225 x 101 mm – 8 7/8 x 3 31/32 in.

Provenance – Artemis & C.G. Boerner, 2004 ; private collection.

Literature – Artemis & C. G. Boerner, exhibition catalogue, 2004, n° 7.


This vertical drawing represents Saint John the Baptist holding the cross and leaning against a rock, with his eyes turned towards the sky in a penitent attitude. It is a preparatory study for the pala (altar painting) of one of the six votive chapels in the Sanctuary of the Seven Churches in Monselice, near Padova (fig. 1)


In 1592, the Venetian patrician Francesco Duodo received Pope Clemente VIII’s authorization to demolish the old church of San Giorgio on the Della Rocca pass and build a villa in exchange for the edification of a new pilgrimage site. Such an action was consistent with Counter-Reformation measures and befitted the image and reputation of this important family of diplomats serving the papacy. Architect Vincenzo Scamozzi was entrusted with the project and he conceived an architectural complex intended to be a miniature reflection of the Holy City (fig. 2).

After having crossed the Porta sacra, a monumental gate crowned with the inscription “Romans Basilicis Pares,” one follows a road called via romana and bordered with six chapels dedicated to the great basilicas of Rome (Santa Maria Maggiore, San Giovanni in Laterano, Santa Croce di Gerusalemme, San Lorenzo fuori le mura, San Sebastiano et San Polo fuori le mura). It leads to the church of San Giorgio, which shelters the relics of the first Christian martyrs. Pope Paul V agreed to grant the pilgrims coming to this new sanctuary the same indulgences as they could receive by visiting the Roman basilicas. This agreement provided an alternative to the devotees who could not go to Rome. 


Fig.2 MONSELICE – Sette chiesette

  It is Pietro Duodo, Francesco’s son and Venice ambassador to Rome, who commissioned to Palma, in 1611, a painting for each altar of the six votive chapels (see Stefania Mason Rinaldi, Palma il Giovane, L’Opera completa, Milan, 1984, p. 95, n° 164-169). The Venetian painter executed five of them: The Assumption of the Virgin, Saint John the Baptist, Saint Helen, San Lorenzo, and Saint Sebastien. The sixth pala is nowadays attributed to his pupil, the Bavarian painter Giovanni Carlo Loth.


Our drawing is a modello for the pala’s final composition in the second chapel, the one dedicated to Saint John the Baptist and named after the Roman basilica San Giovanni in Laterano. There are very few differences between the drawing and the altar painting; only the background landscape presents some differences. The mighty tree placed on the right-hand side in the drawing has been moved to the left-hand side of the painting, which allows the saint’s head to stand out against the bright sky.


One of the most important exponents of mannerism, Palma Il Giovane, draws the saint’s body in an elongated and twisted manner. By contrasting the paper in reserve and the brown wash, a technique he particularly likes to use, he enhances the contrasts between shadow and light and thus, anticipates the Baroque period. Other preparatory studies for the saint’s figure, albeit in different poses, are in London British Museum (inv. 1862.0809.14) and Venice Museo Correr (Inv. CI. III n° 8561 and CI. III n° 8557).


Other preparatory drawings related to Monselice altar paintings are known, such as Saint Sebastien in the Paris École Nationale Supérieure des Beaux-Arts (Inv. EBA 214) and Saint Lawrence from the Zanetti album, now in Museo Correr (inv. CL III n° 8513).


Condition report – Fixed by the four edges on a modern mount. very good overall condition.