Caravaggio e la questione del disegno

Alessandro Zuccari

Still open Caravaggio related issues include the fresh attention currently being given to his use of drawings which had been thrown into doubt by the absence of sheets which can be traced with any certainty to Merisi. On the strength of an inappropriate interpretation of the literary sources, many scholars argued throughout the twentieth century that Caravaggio painted without the assistance of preliminary plans. This hypothesis has been refuted by a more accurate analysis of the archive and literary sources (it was not his first biographers who perceived this but Bellori and Scannelli, fervent supporters of classicism and academic procedures) and by new data on the painter’s technique which has emerged from recent diagnostic enquiries. Underdrawings have been traced in his earlier work (graphic traces in Ragazzo con canestra di frutta in the Borghese) and in his mature work (for example the painting design in the two versions of the Martirio di san Matteo. This and other data, added to the use of “incisions” which have long been traced in Caravaggio’s work, show careful and complex planning which was modified over time moving away from customary procedures without ever, however, abandoning the use of drawings. On the other hand it is possible that Merisi – introduced by Peterzano to the use of drawings and to the Lombard-Veneto school – was inspired by theories on «Lumi» in the writings of his fellow countryman Giovan Paolo Lomazzo in his achievement of the painting formula which Longhi appropriately called «plastico luminosa»