Stefano della Bella (Florence 1610 – 1664 Florence)
Studies of Soldiers Wearing Armour and an Elegant Man Seen from the Back
Graphite, pen and brown ink, 75 x 105 mm (3 x 4.1 inch); tipped onto an 18th or 19th-century collector’s mount with framing lines in brown and ochre
Inscribed ‘Bella (Stephano della), né a Florence en 1610 / mort en 1664. / Dessin acheté 3£ 9s 8 a Londres le Mardi 12 / Juin 1860 à la vente de Woodburn No 1120 du / catalogue / h = 0,071 L = 0,078 / (Collection Dijonval) C Gasc’ (pen and brown ink, verso, in Charles Gasc’s hand)
- Gilbert Paignon-Dijonval (1708–1792); by descent to his grandson:
- Charles-Gilbert Vicomte Morel de Vindé (1759–1842); from whom acquired by:
- Samuel Woodburn (1786–1853); his sale, London, 12 June 1860, lot 1120, where acquired by:
- Thomas Dimsdale (1758–1823)
- Charles Gasc (active c.1850-60), Paris (Lugt 544)
- Private collector, New Jersey, USA, until 2015
M. Bénard, Cabinet de M. Paignon-Dijonval. État détaillé et raisonné des dessins et estampes (…), Paris 1810, p. 15, included in No. 144: ‘Bella (Etienne della). Huit petits dessins sur la même feuille, croquis d’animaux, figures, cartouches, etc., à la plume sur papier blanc; l. de chaque 4 po. sur 3 po.’
The etcher and draftsman Stefano della Bella worked ceaselessly throughout his life, creating one of the largest paper oeuvres in Italian art: his catalogue raisonné numbers 1052 prints, and literally thousands of drawings are preserved in print rooms all over the world, often in sketchbooks.1 Like a devoted photographer intent on capturing the major events of his time, Della Bella recorded the lavish theatrical pageants of Florence's nobility, daily life in Rome and Paris, and the battlefield realities of the Thirty Years War.
Della Bella began his career in the studio of a goldsmith, but apart from this early apprenticeship, the artist was basically self-taught. Before the age of twenty, he had allied himself with the powerful Medici court, which provided him with patronage throughout his career. With the Medici’s support, in 1633, Della Bella travelled to Rome where he remained until 1639. During these six years, he honed his drawing skills. He worked mostly outdoors, recording ancient and modern buildings, the countryside, public spectacles, and the daily activities of the Roman people. Della Bella would later mine his sketchbooks for figures and backgrounds for his prints.
Supported by the Florentine ambassador, in 1639, Della Bella relocated to Paris. For the French nobility, he created a diverse range of prints including battle scenes, architecture, and animals. He moved effortlessly between large, topographically precise landscapes and fanciful works commissioned by Parisian dealers. He returned to Florence in 1650 where he again served the Medici court.
This charming study sheet is executed in Della Bella’s usual techique of a very light brown or golden ink applied by an in this case extremely finely sharpened quill-pen. The masterly handling on such small scale shows Della Bella's origins as a goldsmith. Our drawing is an excellent example of Della Bella’s exceptionally refined draughtsmanship. It can be compared for instance to a drawing of a Group of Women in the British Museum, London (see fig.).2 Like the British Museum drawing, our drawing does not appear to have been directly preparatory for an etching, but would have formed part of Della Bella’s repertoire of visual motifs.
The sheet is from the collection of the 18th-century connoisseur Gilbert Paignon-Dijonval (1708–1792), who started collecting as early as 1724 and attempted to assemble a comprehensive survey of the history of drawing. Charles Gilbert Morel de Vindé commented: ‘Son premier but était de faire, pour ansi dire, l’Historie de l’Art (…) il n’existe aucun cabinet où se trouve moins de lacune à cet régard que dans le sien. Les estampes et les dessins se suivent dans cet esprit, et pour chacune des trois grandes Ecoles, depuis l’origine de l’art jusqu’à nos jours, sans que presque’une seule année se trouve dépourvue de quelque maître ou de quelque production’.3
1. For Della Bella’s drawings, see for instance: A. Blunt, The drawings of G.B. Castiglione and Stefano della Bella in the Collection of Her Majesty the Queen at Windsor Castle, London 1954 and F. Viatte, Dessins de Stefano della Bella, Inventaire général des dessins italiens, Paris 1974.
2. Pen and brown ink, 97 x 128 mm; inscribed ‘disti a Aras nel 1640’; inv. no. 1880,0710.729.
3. In: M. Bénard, Cabinet de M. Paignon-Dijonval. État détaillé et raisonné des dessins et estampes (…), Paris 1810, p. vi-vii. See also Pascal Griener, ‘The Collector's Art Museum as a Symbolic Body’, Res, 52, 2007, p. 193.Request more information »