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The J. Paul Getty Museum Acquires Italian and Flemish Renaissance Drawings

A series of 20 works by Federico Zuccaro and a rare drawing for a tapestry by Pieter Coecke van Aelst

January 28, 1999

Los Angeles, CA--The J. Paul Getty Museum announced today its acquisition of 20 drawings by one of the artists who dominated Roman painting in the late 1500s, Federico Zuccaro (about 1541-1609), and a newly-discovered drawing by Pieter Coecke van Aelst (1502-1550), who was among the principal masters of the Flemish Renaissance.

The Museum acquired the group of Zuccaro drawings at auction today at Christie’s in New York. Executed in pen and ink and wash around 1590, these drawings of varying sizes and shapes comprise a series illustrating the early artistic struggles of Federico’s elder brother Taddeo in Rome. Coecke’s The Sacrifice at Lystra (about 1534) is a rare study for one of nine tapestries devoted to the life of Saint Paul which are considered to be among the high achievements of the Flemish Renaissance. The drawing by Coecke was acquired at auction at Sotheby’s in New York on Wednesday, January 27.

Lee Hendrix, who was named Curator of Drawings in November, commented:  "These are wonderful additions to the Getty’s collection. The Zuccaros are exceptional and provide us with a means of showing how draftsmen of the past worked and what inspired them to draw.  Alongside our drawings by Michelangelo and Raphael, the series will rank among the most important works in our collection. The Coecke van Aelst will be one of the pillars of our Northern Renaissance holdings."

Deborah Gribbon, Deputy Director and Chief Curator of the Getty Museum, said: "We are very pleased with the auction results.  Both acquisitions are important additions to the collection-a great start for Lee Hendrix as our new curator.

Federico Zuccaro ranks among the major painters of the late 1500s. He was a proponent of the Mannerist style, which formed a bridge between the Renaissance and Baroque periods. He trained in his older brother’s studio, assisting Taddeo on important commissions. Between 1563 and 1565, Federico was in Venice and Florence, returning to Rome in 1566, the year of his brother’s death. He worked on the cupola frescoes of the Duomo in Florence, and became court painter to Philip II of Spain.

Federico Zuccaro’s drawings document the hardships of his brother’s mistreatment at the cruel hands of his masters in Rome and culminates in his first successful commission, at age 18, to paint the facade of the Palazzo Mattei. The series vividly conveys a sense of an artist’s life in Renaissance Rome, providing fascinating details of such studio practices as grinding paints. It also includes precise renderings of such locations as the Belvedere Court of the Vatican where Taddeo is seen drawing the Laocoön, and the Sistine Chapel where he sketches Michelangelo’s Last Judgment. The scene of Taddeo painting the Palazzo Mattei shows Michelangelo marveling at Taddeo’s skill and Giorgio Vasari expounding on his achievement. Federico Zuccaro’s account of Taddeo’s travails and ultimate triumph closely follows the text of Vasari’s "Life of Taddeo Zuccaro" in his "Lives of the Painters, Sculptors, and Architects" (Florence, 1568).

The newly acquired series provides a focal point for the Getty Museum’s collection of Italian Renaissance drawings, which includes four examples by Taddeo, among them a rare facade design for the Palazzo Mattei.

The subject of Coecke van Aelst’s The Sacrifice at Lystra is taken from the Book of Acts in the Bible. The drawing conveys the distress of Saint Paul and Barnabas upon discovering that the people of the city of Lystra, to whom they preached the gospel, have begun to worship them as pagan gods. The main drama unfolds before a magnificent temple housing a statue of Jupiter, where a priest and followers converge upon an ornately carved altar with sacrificial animals. Paul, with an anguished expression strides toward the crowd as he tears his robe, while Barnabas rushes dramatically, his arms outstretched in anger. The drawing contains two other vignettes from Paul’s life, including one that shows Paul being stoned and dragged outside the city and one in which he heals a man who had never walked.

A large-scale work measuring 11 x 18 inches, The Sacrifice at Lystra was executed in pen and brown ink and wash with white gouache heightening. With its Raphaelesque poses and its brilliant white highlights largely intact, the drawing is considered to be among the finest of Coecke’s remaining designs for the tapestries depicting the life of Saint Paul.

"This is a supremely important drawing that was discovered in a private collection," Lee Hendrix said. "It encapsulates the key role Coecke played in combining the expressive power of Italian masters with the jewel-like technical brilliance of the art of northern Europe."

Pieter Coecke was born in the Flemish town of Aelst. He studied art in Antwerp and Brussels where he is thought to have worked under Bernard van Orley. He visited Italy between 1525 and 1526 and Constantinople in about 1533-34. Later he became court painter to Emperor Charles V and also ran a thriving studio that probably included his son-in-law, Pieter Breughel the Elder. Coecke was one of the most important designers of Flemish tapestries and a prolific painter. He was instrumental in introducing the ideas and formal vocabulary of the Italian Renaissance to the North. Coecke’s tapestries illustrating scenes from the life of Saint Paul were clearly inspired by the famous tapestries woven in Brussels after the cartoons of Raphael (Victoria and Albert Museum, London). As demonstrated by Coecke’s drawing for The Sacrifice at Lystra, the arrival of Raphael’s cartoons in Brussels had enormous impact upon northern artists.

The Sacrifice at Lystra is the second drawing by Coecke to enter the collection of the Museum, where it joins his tapestry design for the story of The Prodigal Son. In addition to complementing the Getty’s Raphael drawing of the same subject, Coecke’s The Sacrifice at Lystra also relates to a recently-acquired study for one of the famous Nassau Genealogy tapestries by Bernard van Orley, who exerted a major influence on Coecke’s style.

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The J. Paul Getty Museum collects in seven distinct areas, including Greek and Roman antiquities, European paintings, drawings, manuscripts, sculpture, and decorative arts, and European and American photographs. The Museum's mission is to make the collection meaningful and attractive to a broad audience by presenting and interpreting the works of art through educational programs, special exhibitions, publications, conservation, and research.