Of humble origin, Antonio Tempesta was a pupil of Giovanni Stradano, the Flemish artist who collaborated with Giorgio Vasari on frescoes in Florence's Palazzo Vecchio, and later participated in the decoration himself. The experience of the triumphal frescoes in the Salone dei Cinquecento perhaps gave him the taste for the battle scenes for which he became renowned in later years. A member of the Accademia del Disegno in Florence from 1576, he had already begun commissions for Roman patrons including Pope Gregory XIII, for whom he frescoed parts of the Vatican Loggie in the company of Matthijs Bril. In the late 1570s and early 1580s he decorated rooms for country retreats of members of the Papal court, returning to the city in 1583 to fresco walls and a chapel in the church of Santo Stefano Rotondo. From the late 1580s, however, his energies were directed towards panel paintings and more importantly prints, of which he made over a thousand before his death in 1630. Well-respected as examples for other artists, his invenzioni brought him membership in the Accademia dei Virtuosi al Pantheon and in the Accademia di San Luca late in his career.
"All'occhio dei poco pratici appariscono strapazzati, confusi e del tutto informi [To inexperienced eyes they appear scrambled, confused and without form]."(1) Thus Filippo Baldinucci described Tempesta's drawings, while praising the depth of knowledge they transmitted to artists and connoisseurs. Though criticized for intermittent lighting in his prints, Tempesta nonetheless earned esteem for the visual variety he brought to his multifigured compositions, especially battle scenes, and for his unique facility in depicting horses naturally from all angles and in all poses. For some time the perceived crudeness of some of his prints overshadowed the intellectual skill with which they and his frescoes are composed, though Michael Bury and Eckhard Leuschner have done much to reassess the importance of his oeuvre.(2)
In the case of Tempesta's drawings themselves, the preponderance of battle scenes and his often hard line have led to a somewhat one-sided view of his draughtsmanship. The Crocker drawing, however, is an exception: the open, gestural style and the skill with which the artist manipulates the masses of clashing horses and men in a still-legible whole go beyond their ultimate expression in his prints. Here the light, to the left and slightly behind the viewer, is unified; here too the legible jumble of chalk, ink and wash in the foreground contrasts with the spare lines that characterize the landscape beyond. Tempesta's invenzione is given shape by the compositional devices of arch and tree that channel the clash of armies winding back to the besieged fortress in the distance, armies themselves puncuated by soldiers falling almost into the viewer's space, rearing horses, and pikes and flags bristling in every direction. Tempesta's prints of battles rarely approach this complexity, since they are often part of narrative series requiring a visual hierarchy to distinguish the various characters.
A useful point of reference is the Battle of the Amalekites and Israelites print of 1613.(3) Two drawings are related to the composition, one now in the National Gallery of Scotland.(4) Based on similarities with the warrior in left foreground attacked by a sword-wielding horseman, a second drawing now in the British Museum was proposed by Nicholas Turner.(5) The Crocker drawing, looser in execution than either of these, shares with both drawings the rearing horse at lower left serving as a repoussoir (seen in the print at right) and, a little closer to center, the supine warrior, while a prone figure at right appears in the same direction as in the print.
Given Tempesta's habitual reuse of certain motifs in his battle scenes, however, it is hazardous to propose the Crocker drawing as an early preparatory drawing for the Battle of the Amalekites and Israelites. To this writer it represents an invenzione, elaborated in part from motifs the artist found effective, which perhaps remained unused because of its visual complexity. It seems best, nevertheless, to date the drawing to the mid-teens of the seventeenth century, close to the print whose motifs it shares.
William Breazeale, in William Breazeale, with Cara Denison, Stacey Sell, and Freyda Spira, A Pioneering Collection: Master Drawings from the Crocker Art Museum, exh. cat. Sacramento and tour, 2010
(1) Eckhard Leuschner, Antonio Tempesta, ein Bahnbrecher des römischen Barock und seine europäische Wirkung, Petersberg, 2005, p. 613
(2) Michael Bury, "Antonio Tempesta as Printmaker: Invention, drawing, and technique," in Drawing 1400–1600, Invention and Innovation, ed. Stuart Currie, Aldershot, 1998, pp. 189-205; Leuschner as in note 1 above.
(3) Bartsch 234 (128)
(4) Keith Andrews, Catalogue of Italian Drawings, National Gallery of Scotland, London, 1968, cat. and inv. no. D788.
(5) Nicholas Turner, Florentine Drawings of the Sixteenth Century, London, 1986, no. 170, inv. no. 1946-7-13-535.
Inscriptions: black ink, bottom margin right: B.F. (cancelled)
Marks: none discernible
Provenance: Edwin Bryant Crocker, Sacramento, by 1871; gift of his widow Margaret to the Museum, 1885
Literature: William Breazeale, with Cara Denison, Stacey Sell, and Freyda Spira, A Pioneering Collection: Master Drawings from the Crocker Art Museum, exh. cat. Sacramento and tour, 2010, no. 6; C. Roxanne Robbin et al., Drawing in Italy from 1550-1650, exh. brochure Sacramento, 2004, p. 40; Jeffrey Ruda, The Art of Drawing, Old Masters from the Crocker Art Museum, Sacramento, California, exh. cat. Flint, 1992, no. 4; Master Drawings from Sacramento, exh. cat. Sacramento and tour, 1971, checklist p. 174; Russell Bohr, The Italian Drawings in the E. B. Crocker Art Gallery Collection, Sacramento, California, unpubl. Ph.D. diss, University of California at Berkeley, 1958, no. 157