Index of Selected Artists in the Collection

Luca Cambiaso (Italian, Moneglia 1527 - 1585 Madrid)
The Mystic Marriage of Saint Catherine, 1570s
Inscribed in brown ink, upper left: 24Z242; lower left in black ink: Parmigianino; on verso in pencil: Unknown 28
Pen and brown ink, with grey wash on white laid paper
13 5/16 x 9 11/16 in. (33.9 x 24.6 cm)
Mrs. F. F. Prentiss Fund, 1971
AMAM 1971.69

This wash drawing of the Holy Family with Saint Catherine of Alexandria kneeling at the feet of the Christ child is evidently a completely independent work, not a study for any other work of art. The artist's rendition of Catherine's fervent devotion accords with goals of the Catholic Counter Reformation, which intensified during the last decades of the sixteenth century.

The compositional power and directness of Cambiaso's drawing represents a return to canonical High Renaissance groupings of the Holy Family, and a move away from Mannerist complexity. The compact massing of the monumental figures, generously swathed in drapery, ultimately derives from Leonardo da Vinci's figural inventions for devotional subjects, as further developed by Michelangelo and Raphael. 1 The intensity of the figures' gazes--Joseph leaning forward to look at Mary and the Christ child; the Mother and infant bending towards the kneeling, supplicant Catherine--further unifies the composition. The simplicity, clarity, and spiritual impact inherent in this work were qualities sought by artists affected by the goals of the Counter Reformation.

The geometrical, almost blocklike rendering of the figures in the Oberlin drawing is a hallmark of Cambiaso's later drawing style. During the Renaissance, several artists--notably Albrecht Dürer --published treatises claiming a divine systematization in the proportion of human bodies. Cambiaso's geometric execution reflects a reinvestigation of this belief. 2 Because strict, rigorous linearity was often seen as a reflection of spiritual rectitude and purity--as opposed to the aesthetic sensual beauty conveyed by the curving, graceful lines of High Renaissance drawings--this drawing style can also been linked to Cambiaso's interest in the reform of art. 3 Cambiaso's drawings in this geometricizing, simplified style have been tentatively dated to the late 1560s and ‘70s, although there are no dated works to make this supposition a certainty. 4

The Oberlin drawing is an original composition; the pen lines are vividly rendered and there are traces of chalk underdrawing and minor corrections in Mary's right arm and Joseph's staff. It is not a preparatory study for any known work of art, and because of the use of wash, which gives the drawing an impression of completeness, it is likely that it was intended as a finished work of art.

Magnani has noted that Cambiaso often repeated the same composition in more than one drawing; these multiple drawings functioned much as prints. 5 Related to the Oberlin composition are a woodcut, a drawing attributed to Cambiaso in the Louvre, and a drawn copy, perhaps by another artist after the woodcut, in the Collection Frits Lugt, Fondation Custodia, Institut Néerlandais, Paris. 6 Cambiaso also executed a painting of this subject, but it is unrelated to the drawing both iconographically and compositionally. 7

According to medieval legend, Catherine of Alexandria's mystical marriage to Christ--which transpired in a vision after her baptism--was evidence of the extreme devotion of this early Christian martyr. As a consequence of this union, Catherine later refused to marry the emperor Maxentius and was tortured on a spiked wheel before she was beheaded. In sixteenth-century depictions of the subject, the infant Christ is usually represented (as here) in his mother's lap, and the instrument of Catherine's torture is often present, as in the wheel partially visible behind Catherine.

In this drawing, Cambiaso rendered a different instant than the one most common in contemporary renditions. 8 Rather than kneeling to accept the ring, and thus be joined to Christ in marital union, Catherine is shown worshiping the child with clasped hands. 9

Cambiaso also removed all references to Catherine's rank, by leaving out her conventional spiked royal crown and jewelry, and to her physical beauty, by representing her from behind. Instead, he draws attention to her humble, supplicant posture. This emphasis on worship, rather than wealth and privilege, may well reflect Counter Reformation devotional goals.

N. Courtright

The son of a Genoese painter, Cambiaso absorbed developments in Roman High Renaissance and early Mannerist art from the Roman fresco painter Perino del Vaga (1500/1-1547) who was in Genoa in the 1520s, and from his own probable visit to the capital from 1547 to 1550. On Cambiaso's return to Genoa, he painted many fresco cycles in Genoese churches and palaces, as well as altarpieces and some sculpture, and became the most prominent artist in Genoa. His early hard-edged and mannered style was tempered by the influence of Correggio (ca. 1489-1534), Titian (ca. 1485-1576), and Veronese (ca. 1528-1588) during this period.

In the 1570s, Cambiaso executed fewer public commissions and more devotional works for private patrons, depicting evocative nocturnal religious scenes, and other subjects, presented in a simplified style. His interest in Counter-Reformation art may have been stimulated by Jesuit spiritual practices and a visit to Rome in 1582. In 1583 Philip II of Spain invited Cambiaso to Madrid, as a result of an altarpiece the artist had sent from Genoa to the Escorial, a monastery and royal residence, in 1581. In Spain he was mainly occupied with the decoration of the church of San Lorenzo in the Escorial. He died in Madrid two years later and was buried there.

General References
Soprani, Raffaello, ed. Carlo Giuseppe Ratti, Vite de' pittori, scultori, ed architetti genovesi. Vol. 1. Genoa, 1768, pp. 76-97.

Manning, Bertina Suida, and William Suida. Luca Cambiaso, La Vite e le opere. Milan, 1958.

Magnani, Lauro. Luca Cambiaso, Da Genova all'Escorial. Genoa, 1995.

Magnani, Lauro. In The Dictionary of Art. Edited by Jane Turner. Vol. 5. London and New York, 1996, pp. 455-57.

Bartoletti, M. "Cambiaso, Luca." In Saur Allgemeines Künstlerlexikon. Vol. 15. Munich and Leipzig, 1997, pp. 659-60.

With P. and D. Colnaghi, London, from whom purchased in 1971


London, P. and D. Colnaghi, 1971. Old Master Drawings. June - July. Cat. no. 53.

Stechow, Wolfgang. Catalogue of Drawings and Watercolors in the Allen Memorial Art Museum, Oberlin College. Oberlin, 1976, pp. 10-11, fig. 43.

Technical Data
The drawing is executed in iron gall or bister ink applied over traces of graphite underdrawing; the grey-brown ink wash appears slightly faded. The sheet is slightly stained and has suffered a few losses in the lower right-hand corner; it was perhaps washed and pressed in restoration before it came to Oberlin. 10 The unidentified watermark (not in Briquet, Churchill, or Meder) has the letters AM (C?) in a circle, surmounted by a knot.

1. For example, Raphael's Holy Family with Saint Elizabeth and Saint John (Canigiani Holy Family) and Michelangelo's Doni Tondo.

2. Piero Torriti, Luca Cambiaso Disegni (Genoa, 1966), pp. 13-14; Lauro Magnani, Luca Cambiaso, Da Genova all'Escorial (Genoa, 1995), pp. 147-49.

3. Luciana Profumo Müller, "Le Opere ‘geometrizzate' di Luca Cambiaso," Arte Lombarda 15, no. 2 (1970), pp. 33-40; Lauro Magnani, "Luca Cambiaso tra ‘due riforme,'" Arte Lombarda 50 (1978), pp. 87-94; and idem, Luca Cambiaso da Genova (Genoa, 1995), pp. 211-27. See also Nicola Courtright, "Origins and Meanings of Rembrandt's Late Drawing Style," The Art Bulletin 78 (1996), pp. 485-510.

4. Drawings of similar subject and style include: Madonna and Child with the Infant Saint John and Saint Catherine (pen and bister, 31 x 22 cm; Budapest Museum of Fine Arts, inv. 1800); reproduced in Iván Fenyö, North Italian Drawings from the Collection of the Budapest Museum of Fine Arts (Budapest, 1965), p. 77, fig. 41; Mystic Marriage of Saint Catherine (ink, 37.6 x 29 cm; Genoa, Gabinetto Disegni e Stampe, inv. 4628); reproduced in Luca Cambiaso e la sua fortuna (exh. cat., Palazzo Dell'Accademia, Genoa, 1956), cat. no. 77; Madonna and Child with Saint John and a Holy Family; both in Rome, Gabinetto Nazionale della Stampe; reproduced in Giulia Fusconi, Disegni genovesi dal XVI al XVIII secolo (exh. cat., Villa Farnesina, Rome, 1980), p. 15, figs. 1, 2.

5. Lauro Magnani, Luca Cambiaso, Da Genova all'Escorial (Genoa, 1995), p. 147.

6. The woodcut is reproduced in Bertina Suida Manning and William Suida, Luca Cambiaso: La Vita e le opere (Milan, 1958), p. 170, pl. 221, fig. 365. The Cambiaso drawing is in Paris, Musée du Louvre, inv. 9236. For the Lugt drawing, see James Byam Shaw, The Italian Drawings of the Frits Lugt Collection (Paris, 1983), pp. 410-11, pl. 465.

7. Collection Leonetti, Naples; reproduced in Bertina Suida Manning and William Suida, Luca Cambiaso: La Vita e le opere (Milan, 1958), p. 143, pl. 224, fig. 370.

8. For example, Cambiaso's painting in the Leonetti collection, Naples (as in note 7), and his drawing in Genoa (as in note 4); Correggio's painting (ca. 1514; The Detroit Institute of Arts, inv. 26.94), which includes Saint Anne and Saint John the Baptist (reproduced in Cecil Gould, The Paintings of Correggio [Ithaca, N.Y. 1976], pl. I); and Pellegrino Tibaldi's Marriage of Saint Catherine (Bologna, Pinacoteca Nazionale), which includes the same cast of characters (reproduced in Giulio Briganti, Il Manierismo e Pellegrino Tibaldi [Rome, 1945], fig. 102).

9. Another, slightly earlier example of a Holy Family with Catherine worshiping the infant, who returns her intense gaze, is a painting of the 1560s by the Bolognese artist Orazio Samacchini (1532-77), in a private Bolognese collection. Reproduced in The Age of Correggio and the Carracci: Emilian Painting of the Sixteenth and Seventeenth Centuries (exh. cat., National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C., 1986), p. 193, no. 71. Samacchini's painting includes additional saints, however.

10. Report of technical examination by Moyna Stanton (11 April 1995) in museum files.