(Montefortino, 1787-1863)

A Standing Saint

pen, black ink and wash on paper

10 1/2 x 7 5/8 inches
(26.7 x 19.4 cm)

watermark “BB” in the upper right


Suida-Manning Collection, New York.
Private Collection, USA.

This eccentric and spirited drawing is the work of Fortunato Duranti, one of the most original and unconventional artists in early nineteenth-century Italy. Duranti was born in a small town in the Marches, and having shown early promise as a draughtsman, was sent to study with a Camaldolese monk in the monastery of Grotte di Massacio while still a boy. He was later brought to Rome under the care of Cardinal Luigi Ercolani, where he came into contact with the leading proponents of Roman neo-classicism and romanticism, including Tommaso Minardi and Felice Giani. Duranti travelled frequently between Rome and his native Montefortino, eventually settling there in 1840 for the remainder of his life.

Duranti is frequently described as a mysterious artist. Having practiced his art in relative provincial seclusion, not much is known about his life and his works.  Although relatively few paintings by him have survived, he was extremely prolific as a draughtsman, creating thousands of lively and expressive sketches. The majority of these drawing are now spread across a small group of public collections, with few remaining in private hands.[1] The function of many of his drawings is unclear—rather than preparatory studies for painted projects or training exercises, his corpus of drawings is characterized by continuous musing on primarily religious themes. They have fittingly been described as “the residue of private fantasy… an endless monologue carried on in a void.”[2]

Fig. 1. Fortunato Duranti, Saint in Flight, pen, ink, and wash on paper, 9 4/5 x 7 ½ inches (25 x 19 cm), Fermo, Biblioteca Comunale, inv. 1504.

The present drawing depicts a standing saint holding a book with a holy figure crouching below. Duranti has devoted great attention and care to the drawing of the standing saint, using lines of varying thickness to define his features and applying different tones of the wash to create layers of shadow. By contrast, the figure crouched below is rather more summarily done, with very few, swiftly executed lines defining its basic form. These figures are surrounded by Duranti’s enigmatic inscriptions—completely unrelated to the drawing—which refer to several Old Testament episodes, including the Crossing of the Red Sea and Sodom and Gomorrah. Duranti frequently scrawled such notes across his sheets. A similar example with a large figure surrounded by text is in the Biblioteca Comunale in Fermo (fig. 1), which holds one of the largest collections of his drawings.[3]

The chronology of Duranti’s graphic works has not yet been securely established by scholars. However, the present study seems to fit into the works of his middle phase, from around 1830 to 1840, during which period his drawings are characterized by oversized figures and the free use of washes.[4] Duranti’s drawings are surprisingly contemporary in their combination of figure and text into a vibrant composition. While the inscribed words clearly had personal significance to the artist, they can be seen by the viewer as purely decorative elements and an integral part of its compelling design.

[1] These include the Biblioteca Comunale in Fermo, the Pinacotecas of Ascoli and Montefortino, the Fondazione Roberto Longhi in Florence, the Cooper Hewitt Museum of Design in New York, the Gabinetto Nazionale dei Diegni e delle Stampe in Rome, the Museums of Basel, Switzerland, and the Museum of the Rhode Island School of Design in Providence.

[2] Lorenz Eitner, Fortunato Duranti, 1787-1863, Stanford, 1965, unpaginated.

[3] For this drawing, see: Stefano Papetti, Fortunato Duranti, 1787-1863: Disegni dalle Collezioni Pubbliche e Private della Provincia di Fermo, Milan, 2012, p. 194, no. 1081.

[4] Alessandra Pino, Tenebre e luci: l'arte del Duranti, Milan, 1977, p. 17.