The J. Paul Getty Museum

Three Studies of Trees

Object Details


Three Studies of Trees




about 1508


Black chalk, point of brush and brown ink

Object Number:



40.8 × 27.5 cm (16 1/16 × 10 13/16 in.)

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Object Description

A tall tree with outstretched branches and a broad canopy of leaves fills the full expanse of this sheet. Fra Bartolommeo captured the trunk's gnarled form using small flecks of black chalk, later carefully reworking the branch at the right in brush and brown ink. He constructed two smaller, bushier trees at the left with broad parallel strokes of chalk that simulate the lacy, atmospheric effect of light passing through leaves.

Fra Bartolommeo was clearly fascinated by the contorted and variegated forms of tree trunks and the patterns and texture of leaves. He produced many tree studies, of which this is the largest one to have survived. One of the first artists to draw nature for its own sake, he worked outdoors with a sketchbook so as to observe in minute detail and understand the effects of light. Although similar trees do appear in the backgrounds of the artist's paintings, this work was probably created as an independent study for his own use and enjoyment. Fra Bartolommeo's nature studies would have been kept in the workshop and used as reference material for painting.

about 1508 - 1517

Fra Bartolommeo (Baccio della Porta), Italian, 1472 - 1517, by bequest to Fra Paolino da Pistoia (Paolo del Signoraccio), 1517

1517 - before 1547

Fra Paolino (Paolo del Signoraccio), Italian, about 1490 - 1547

before 1547 - 1588

Suora Plautilla Nelli, Italian, 1524 - 1588, probably acquired upon her death by the nunnery of St. Catherine of Siena

probably 1588 -

The nunnery of St. Catherine of Siena, Italian, Florence, Piazza San Marco

about 1725 -
1742 -

William Kent, English, 1685 - 1748 (Rome)

1925 -

Private Collection (Great Britain)


Private Collection [sold, Sotheby's London, November 20, 1957, lot 41, to Paul Hatvany.]

1957 - 1980

Baron Paul Hatvany, 1899 - 1977 [sold, Hatvany Collection, Highly Important Old Master Drawings, Christie's, London, June 24, 1980, lot 8, to private collection.]

- 2001

Private Collection [Christie's, New York, January 24, 2001, lot 7, sold to the J. Paul Getty Museum]

Picturing the Natural World (June 17 to September 7, 2003)
  • The J. Paul Getty Museum at the Getty Center (Los Angeles), June 17 to September 7, 2003
Ten Years of Drawings: What, How, and Why (January 29 to May 4, 2008)
  • The J. Paul Getty Museum at the Getty Center (Los Angeles), January 29 to May 4, 2008
From Line to Light: Renaissance Drawing in Florence and Venice (July 20 to October 10, 2010)
  • The J. Paul Getty Museum at the Getty Center (Los Angeles), July 20 to October 10, 2010

Sotheby & Co., London. Catalogue of Drawings of Landscapes and Trees by Fra Bartolommeo. November 20, 1957, pp. xvi, 63, lot 41, ill.

Christie's, London. The Hatvany Collection, Highly Important Old Master Drawings. June 24, 1980, pp. 20-21, lot 8, ill.

Fischer, C. Fra Bartolommeo et son atelier, exh. cat. (Paris: Musée du Louvre, 1994), no. 26.

Christie's, New York. Old Master Drawings. January 24, 2001, pp. 22-23, lot 7, ill.

Borne, François. "A Tree Study by Fra Bartolommeo." Christie's Magazine (January-February 2001), pp. 30-31, ill.