Tintoretto's Underdrawing for 'Saint George and the Dragon', Jill

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  • NATIONALGALLERY TECHNICAL BULLETINVOLUME 28, 2007

    National Gallery Company

    Limited

    Distributed by

    Yale University Press

    02 TB 28 pp001-096 5 low res_REV_TB 27 Prelims.qxd 11/03/2011 14:25 Page 1

  • This volume of the Technical Bulletin has been funded by the American Friends of the National Gallery,London with a generous donation from Mrs Charles Wrightsman.

    Series editor Ashok Roy

    National Gallery Company Limited 2007

    All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic ormechanical, including photocopy, recording, or any information storage and retrieval system, without the prior permission in writing of the publisher.

    First published in Great Britain in 2007 by National Gallery Company LimitedSt Vincent House, 30 Orange StreetLondon wc2h 7hh

    www.nationalgallery.co.uk

    British Library Cataloguing in Publication DataA catalogue record for this journal is available from the British Library

    isbn 978 1 85709 357 5

    issn 0140 7430

    525049

    Publisher Kate BellProject manager Jan GreenEditor Diana DaviesDesigner Tim HarveyPicture research Suzanne BosmanProduction Jane Hyne and Penny Le TissierRepro by Alta Image, London

    Printed in Italy by Conti Tipocolor

    FRONT COVER

    Claude-Oscar Monet, Irises (NG 6383), detail of plate 2, page 59.TITLE PAGE

    Bernardo Daddi, Four Musical Angels, Oxford, Christ Church,detail of plate 2, page 5.

    02 TB 28 pp001-096 5 low res_REV_TB 27 Prelims.qxd 11/03/2011 14:25 Page 2

  • Photographic creditsAll photographs reproduced in this Bulletin are The National Gallery, London, unless credited otherwise below.

    ALTENBURG/THRINGENLindenau Museum Altenburg Lindenau Museum Altenburg. Photo Sinterhauf: p. 21, pl. 28; p. 22, pl. 29

    BRADFORDSociety of Dyers and Colorists Photo courtesy of the Society of Dyers and Colorists: p. 69, pl. 1

    CAMBRIDGEFitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge The Fitzwilliam Museum, University of Cambridge: p. 22, pl. 30

    EDINBURGHDuke of Sutherland Collection, on loan to theNational Gallery of Scotland, Edinburgh National Galleries of Scotland: p. 41, pl. 7National Gallery of Scotland National Galleries of Scotland: p. 43, pl. 10

    FLORENCEGalleria dellAccademia Photo Bridgeman Art Library, London: p. 8, pl. 6Santa Croce, Florence Photo Bridgeman Art Library, London: p. 8, pl. 5

    LONDON British Museum The British Museum: p. 38, fig. 2Christies Images, London Courtesy Christies Images, London: p. 16, fig. 5The Royal CollectionThe Royal Collection 2006, Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II: p. 7, pl. 3

    MADRIDMuseo Nacional del Prado, Madrid Bridgeman Art Library, London: p. 38, pl. 4 Museo Nacional del Prado, Madrid: p. 39, pl. 6

    PARISDurand-Ruel Archives Durand-Ruel: p. 60, fig. 2 Archives Durand-Ruel, droits rservs: p. 60, fig. 1Muse du Louvre, Paris. Cabinet des Dessins RMN, Paris. Photo Jean-Gilles Berizzi: p. 34, pl. 3

    SAN FRANCISCOFine Arts Museums of San Francisco, California Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco, California: p. 45, fig. 6

    SIENAPinacoteca Nazionale, Siena The Art Archive, London: p. 16, pl. 19

    ST PETERSBURGThe State Hermitage Museum, St Petersburg With permission from The State Hermitage Museum, St Petersburg: p. 30, pl. 2

    STAMFORDBurghley House: p. 39, pl. 5

    WASHINGTON, DCNational Gallery of Art, Washington, DC National Gallery of Art, Washington, DC. Image 2006Board of Trustees: p. 38, pl. 3

  • Jacopo Tintorettos arch-topped painting ofSaint George and the Dragon (NG 16; plate 1) isthought to be a small altarpiece, probably painted fora private chapel. It is first recorded by Carlo Ridolfiin 1648 in the palace of Pietro Correr (for whosefamily it may well originally have been painted).Ridolfi singled out for special praise alcuni corpi demorti di rarissima forma, a prescient mistake sinceonly one dead body is visible. In recent NationalGallery catalogues the painting has been dated to the1560s, or even later, but many have placed it ratherearlier and a good case can be made for a date ofaround 1555.1 With its relatively light and brilliantpalette and the dry zigzags of the brushwork on thedraperies (especially the cloak of the princess), itseems to fit well in the group of paintings thatdemonstrate Tintorettos response to the arrival andsuccess in Venice of his great rival Veronese.

    When Joyce Plesters came to study Saint Georgeand the Dragon in the late 1970s as part of her pioneer-ing investigation into Tintorettos painting methods,2

    the technical photography available to her consisted ofno more than a few X-ray plates of specific areas suchas the figure of the princess and the spandrels in theupper corners, together with infrared photographs ofthe dragon and his victim. These were no doubt takenin the hope of revealing traces of underdrawing thatmight demonstrate the connection with the well-known and beautiful drawing for the dead man in theCabinet des Dessins of the Muse du Louvre (seeplate 3) which has long been recognised as a studyfor the National Gallery painting. However, as JoycePlesters pointed out, the black pigment present in thefinal touches of paint around the contours of thefigure was always likely to obscure any possible under-drawing in an infrared photograph, but she observedin a few cross-sections scattered particles of charcoalbetween the ground and the first paint layer, an indi-cation of the existence of some form of underdrawing.

    Although infrared reflectography with its betterpenetration of the paint layers has now been in use forsome forty years, it is only latterly that improvementsin the technology for scanning paintings have made it

    practical for larger paintings to be investigated in thisway3 Saint George and the Dragon is of course a rela-tively small work in comparison with most ofTintorettos output, but nevertheless an examinationusing earlier techniques based on mosaics of imageswould have been time-consuming and laborious. Inaddition, the general belief that drawing and under-drawing played a less important part in the productionof paintings in sixteenth-century Venice than in paint-ings from the previous century has meant thatpaintings of this period have not usually been givenpriority for investigation by infrared reflectography.However, recent infrared examination of paintings byTitian has produced significant results, especially onearlier works. Since a much larger body of drawingson paper survives for Tintoretto than for Titian, hispaintings become obvious candidates for the analysisof the relationship between preliminary studies andthe execution of the painting itself. Unfortunately,much of Tintorettos later output was painted ondark-coloured preparations, which makes detectionwith infrared methods of any underdrawing executedin a black material more problematic. In any case, onthe darkest surfaces, for example the black ground ofChrist washing His Disciples Feet (NG 1130), black lineswould never have shown and so Tintoretto sketchedout and adjusted his design with lines of lead whitepaint, now revealed by X-radiography and in placesvisible on the surface of the painting itself.4

    Saint George and the Dragon, as an earlier work, hasa simple gesso ground, just sufficiently thick to coverthe raised threads of the fine tabby-weave canvas.5 Inaddition, it is notably refined in execution and withrelatively thin paint layers which improve the chancesof penetration by infrared. Consequently the results ofexamination by infrared reflectography are remark-able, both for the clarity of the image and for theinsights into Tintorettos working process that theysupply (fig. 1). In order to understand the sequence ofpainting and the alterations to the design a full X-raymosaic has also been made (fig. 2).

    Essentially the entire design was roughed out bydrawing on the prepared canvas, the extent and char-

    26 | NATIONAL GALLERY TECHNICAL BULLETIN VOLUME 28

    Tintorettos Underdrawing for Saint George and the Dragon

    jill dunkerton

  • Tintorettos Underdrawing for Saint George and the Dragon

    NATIONAL GALLERY TECHNICAL BULLETIN VOLUME 28 | 27

    plate 1 Jacopo Tintoretto, Saint George and the Dragon (NG 16), c.155560. Oil on canvas, 158.3 100.5 cm.

  • Jill Dunkerton

    28 | NATIONAL GALLERY TECHNICAL BULLETIN VOLUME 28

    fig. 1 Saint George and the Dragon, digital infrared reflectogram.

  • Tintorettos Underdrawing for Saint George and the Dragon

    NATIONAL GALLERY TECHNICAL BULLETIN VOLUME 28 | 29

    fig. 2 Saint George and the Dragon, X-ray mosaic.

  • acter of the underdrawing seeming to vary accordingto Tintorettos utilisation of studies on paper. The onlydetail that was not drawn is the figure of God theFather who emerges from the swirling clouds, eitheran afterthought or too evanescent to be fixed bydrawing. The first lines to be drawn were probablythose that mark out the picture area: the drawn curveof the arch can be seen on the right, as well as anintermittent line down the right side. The infraredimage confirms that there is a black painted border aswell as black paint in the spandrels, but mostlycovered by later repaint, which was left following thelast cleaning in 1962. Black borders, which may havebeen intended to be partly visible when the paintingwas framed or set in panelling, have been noted onworks by several sixteenth-century Venetian painters,including Tintoretto.6

    The principal orthogonals of the city walls weredrawn approximately in perspective, the vanishingpoint actually just above the horizon and slightly tothe right of the black border. These lines, in commonwith the rest of the underdrawing, seem to have beenmade with a brush and a black paint that presumablycontains the charcoal noted in t