(Italy circa 1560 – 1608)
24.0 x 17.0 cm sheet
Andrea Boscoli was a student of Santi di Tito who, in turn, had been a student of Bronzino. He was admitted into the Accademia del Disegno in 1584. He worked primarily in Florence between 1582 and 1600, with brief stays in Siena and Pisa. Boscoli was attracted to the Tuscan Mannerists of an earlier generation, notably Pontormo, Rosso Fiorentino, Beccafumi and Andrea del Sarto, whose figures he sometimes appropriated and adapted for his own compositions. Although he was renowned during his lifetime for his versatility as a painter, the greater part of Boscoli's work has been destroyed or lost, yet his drawings survive in abundance.
This drawing illustrates an episode from the second canto of 'Gerusalemme Liberata' (Jerusalem Delivered), Torquato Tasso's epic poem of the late 16th century. There are five drawings by Boscoli, including the present sheet, depicting scenes from the story of Sophronia and Olindo. Aladin, the Saracen king of Jerusalem, sets out to murder the Christian inhabitants of the city in retaliation for the theft of a statue from a mosque. To save her people, a chaste young Christian woman named Sophronia goes before the king to claim that she stole the statue. When Aladin sentences Sophronia to be burned at the stake, her lover Olindo rushes to the Saracen king to claim responsibility for the theft and save the life of his beloved. (This is the scene depicted in the 3rd drawing of the series, in the Hermitage, St. Petersburg. Another sheet is in the Frits Lugt Collection, Paris). But instead of freeing Sophronia, Aladin orders that both she and Olindo be burned at the stake.
The present sheet shows the young lovers tied to the stake just before the pyre is lit. Clorinda, a female Persian warrior, on horseback, appears and asks an old man in the crowd what is happening. She takes pity on the lovers and gains their freedom by promising in return her services to the king in his defence of Jerusalem against the Crusaders. The final drawing in the series, now in the Kupferstichkabinett, Berlin, shows Sophronia and Olindo released from their bonds and set free.
The inscriptions in the upper and lower margins, almost certainly by the artist himself, are of the relevant lines from Tasso's epic. In the first English edition of the poem, published in 1600, the lines corresponding to those on the present sheet were translated thus: "Come say me, sir", quoth she, "what hard constraint / Would murder here love's queen and beauty's king? / What fault or fare doth to this death them bring?".
Tasso's romantic tale was a popular source for artists, particularly in Italy and France, from the late 16th century to the 18th century. (It was the inspiration for the Gallery's great drawing by Jean-Honoré Fragonard, 'Rinaldo in the Gardens of Armida' 1761-64, presented by James Fairfax in 1993).
All five drawings by Boscoli depicting the story of Sophronia and Olindo once belonged to the 18th-century English collector John Barnard. It is likely that the group was split up sometime between the Barnard sale in 1787 and the middle of the 19th century.
Peter Raissis, Look, 'Gone but not forgotten', pg.12, Newtown, May 2004, 12 (colour illus.).
Old Europe: Prints & drawings from the collection 1500-1800, Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney, 03 Jun 2006–06 Aug 2006
European prints and drawings 1500-1900, Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney, 30 Aug 2014–02 Nov 2014