GIOVANNI BATTISTA PAGGI (Genoa, 1554-1627)
Venus Mourning the Death of Adonis
pen, brown ink, and brown wash on paper
9 1/3 x 8 1/3 inches (23.7 x 21 cm)
inscribed in the lower right corner: “P. Rubens”
Private Collection, New York.
“Temi Nobili e Quotidiani nel disegno in Italia,” Rome, Galleria Guido Del Borgo, November 1983-January 1984, no. 26, as Luca Cambiaso.
This expressive drawing is the work of the Genoese artist Giovanni Battista Paggi. The son of a nobleman, Paggi received a humanist education and was self-taught as an artist. According to Paggi’s first biographer, Raffaele Soprani, it was only after encountering Luca Cambiaso and being praised by him that Paggi decided to pursue a career as a painter, against the wishes of his father. Paggi entered the workshop of Cambiaso, the leading artistic personality in Genoa in the sixteenth-century and the founder of the Genoese school, becoming one of his most faithful and important pupils.
Paggi was a superb draughtsman, and his technical skill is abundantly apparent in this work. The drawing of Venus and Adonis is a copy made after a lost original by Luca Cambiaso that dates from late in the elder artist’s career, sometime after 1565, during which period he became increasingly interested in representing mythological subjects. The subject of Venus and the hunter Adonis derives from Ovid’s Metamorphoses, and it was treated by Cambiaso in several paintings (most notably, those in the Galleria Borghese and Palazzo Barberini in Rome) and numerous drawings throughout the late 1560’s and 1570’s.
Cambiaso’s mature period is defined by his “serene style,” in which compositions became more focused and reduced to their essential elements. Paggi has here deftly emulated his master’s design. Adonis lays dying in the center of the composition, his spear and horn discarded on the ground. The figures are grouped tightly together, filling the entire visual field. They are executed with spontaneous and nervous lines that lends a certain dynamism to this tragic scene. Paggi has also masterfully applied the wash, creating a subtle play of light and shadow across the figures.
This drawing was formerly attributed to Luca Cambiaso by Bertina Suida-Manning (verbal communication to the previous owner). It was then thought to be the original drawing by Cambiaso on which this and several other known copies are based. There are two additional copies of the present composition, one in the Louvre (fig. 1) and one in the Princeton Art Museums (fig. 2), which are of lesser quality and cannot be connected to one particularly artistic personality in Cambiaso’s circle. As Suida-Manning noted in the catalogue for the 1958 Cambiaso exhibition, many copies after Cambiaso’s various drawings of Venus and Adonis were done by his scolari, and the number of surviving copies demonstrates that the lost original drawing of this composition must have been kept in Cambiaso’s workshop and frequently imitated by his pupils. It is not known whether the versions at the Louvre or at Princeton are based on the lost drawing by Cambiaso or on the present version by Paggi.
We are grateful to Dr. Jonathan Bober for confirming the attribution of this drawing to Giovanni Battista Paggi based on firsthand inspection (29 January 2019). Bober dates this drawing to Paggi’s earliest period--before his departure for Florence in 1581--while he still was in the workshop of Luca Cambiaso.
 For a general discussion of these paintings and drawings, see: Piero Boccardo and Jonathan Bober, Luca Cambiaso: Un Maestro del Cinquecento Europeo, pp. 248, 306, under cat. nos. 22 and 51.
 For the Louvre drawing, see: Bertina Suida-Manning and William Suida, Luca Cambiaso, Milan, 1958, p. 176, fig. 124; and http://arts-graphiques.louvre.fr/detail/oeuvres/3/6400-Venus-pleurant-Adonis-max. For the Princeton drawing, see: Felton Gibbons, Catalogue of Italian Drawings in the Art Museum, Princeton University, Princeton, 1977, vol. I, p. 47, no. 127, vol. II, fig. 127; https://artmuseum.princeton.edu/collections/objects/8107.
 Bertina Suida-Manning and William Suida, Luca Cambiaso, Milan, 1958, p. 147.