Taddeo Zuccaro (1529-66)
Alexander and Bucephalus (recto), Designs for a wall decoration (verso) (early 1550s)
Pen and bistre wash, over indications in black chalk
Taddeo Zuccaro was a highly influential artist in Rome during the late sixteenth century. Tempted by Rome and the possibilities it presented to work on prestigious projects, he moved to the city at the age of fourteen to make his career as an artist. Hailed as a genius by following generations, Taddeo had a hand in almost every artistic project in and around Rome during his lifetime. He worked principally on large scale frescoes and the decoration of palace façades. The size and visibility of Taddeo’s work earned him increasing numbers of commissions from rich patrons, including the popes.
This drawing depicts an episode from the life of Alexander the Great and is characteristic of Taddeo’s rapid and energetic style. The speed with which the artist executed this drawing is marked by the loose, wiry line which brings a vibrancy and liveliness to the scene. The turbulent penwork is especially noticeable in the hair and drapery of the figures, as well as in Taddeo’s depiction of Bucephalus (the horse of Alexander the Great). Strong effects of light and shade are produced by the application of thinly layered brown wash which adds a painterly quality to the drawing. Taddeo’s loose handling of the medium of pen and wash throughout this drawing is perfectly suited to his dynamic style and demonstrate his proficiency as a draughtsman.
The drawing might have been a preparatory study for one of the many commissions Taddeo received to depict scenes from the life of Alexander. The account of Alexander the Great’s life, as told by the Greek writer Plutarch, helped to disseminate the accomplishments of one of the most successful kings and military leaders in history. Seeking association with such a victorious and heroic character made it a sought after topic for powerful patrons.
The drawing does not directly relate to any surviving work by Taddeo, however, the likely interpretation of this scene is the meeting of Alexander and the family of Darius. The mother, the wife and two daughters of the Persian king were captured by Alexander’s troops after the battle of Issus. Though they were the family of his enemy, Alexander displayed forgiveness in his victory and saw that no harm came to them.
On the back of this sheet are several sketches for a wall decoration. The designs are of varying levels of finish and demonstrate the quickness and fluidity of Taddeo’s penwork.
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