The J. Paul Getty Museum

Massacre of the Innocents

Object Details


Massacre of the Innocents


Amico Aspertini (Italian, 1474/1475 - 1552)




Italy (Place Created)


about 1510–1520


Red and black chalk, with traces of brown ink, heightened with white heightening

Object Number:



27.9 × 42.7 cm (11 × 16 13/16 in.)

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Object Description

On learning of the birth of Christ, whom the Magi called "the King of the Jews," King Herod felt his throne was in jeopardy. Knowing only that the baby was somewhere in Bethlehem, the king ordered Jewish boys around Bethlehem under two years old to be murdered. Alerted by angels, Christ's parents fled to Egypt and saved him.

For this drawing, Amico Aspertini borrowed from the ancient Roman sculpture that he had seen in Rome five or ten years before. The intertwining figures at right parallel those on ancient Roman sarcophagi. Aspertini's art also included unidealized shapes and awkward bodies. Original and unconventional for the date, his figures look like local peasants rather than ideal types. Aspertini's draftsmanship characteristically included encrusted white highlights, squat figures, and manic energy. Between about 1510 and 1520, he often used this colorful combination of red and black chalk with white bodycolor. His extreme white heightening lends the drawing a feeling of near three-dimensionality.


Unknown Collector
Note: Collector's mark consisting of a flower with five petals, with between them five pistons and five inner petals, within a circle somewhat similar to Lugt 2833, the stamp believed to be that of Hugh Howard.


Nathaniel Hone, Irish, 1718 - 1784


Sir Sir Joseph C. Robinson, Bt. , British, 1824-1913, British


John Malcolm , Poltalloch, British, 1805 - 1893, given by Malcolm to the Hon. Alfred E. Gathorne-Hardy.

1976 -

Hon. Alfred E. Gathorne-Hardy , Donington Priory, Berkshire [sale, Sotheby's, 28 April 1976, lot 19]

Italian Sixteenth-Century Drawings from British Private Collections (August 23 to September 13, 1969)
  • Scottish Arts Council, Merchants Hall (Edinburgh), August 23 to September 13, 1969
Loan Exhibition of Drawings by Old Masters from the Collection of Mr. Geoffrey Gathorne-Hardy (October 12, 1971 to January 2, 1972)
  • P. & D. Colnaghi & Co., Ltd., London, October 12 to November 5, 1971
  • The Ashmolean Museum of Art and Archaeology, University of Oxford, November 20, 1971 to January 2, 1972
Hazlitt, Gooden & Fox (November 1991 to January 1992)
  • Hazlitt, Gooden & Fox Ltd. (London), November to December 1991
  • Hazlitt, Gooden and Fox, Ltd. (New York), January to January 1992
Two Centuries of Drawings from Bologna (December 15, 1998 to February 28, 1999)
  • The J. Paul Getty Museum at the Getty Center (Los Angeles), December 15, 1998 to February 28, 1999
Amico Aspertini (September 27, 2008 to January 26, 2009)
  • Pinacoteca Nazionale (Bologna), September 27, 2008 to January 26, 2009