Verona School, Sixteenth Century

The Judgment of Solomon, Design for a Ceiling Fresco

pen, brown ink, and wash on paper

4 5/8 x 5 5/8 inches (11.7 x 14.3 cm)

Provenance:   

John Arthur Giles Gere, London.
Suida-Manning Collection, New York.
Private Collection, USA.

This striking design for a ceiling fresco and its architectural surrounds is the work of an anonymous draughtsman active in the sixteenth century. It has traditionally been regarded as the work of an artist from Verona. An attribution to Battista del Moro has previously been proposed, but del Moro is unlikely to have produced this work given differences in style and technique from his securely attributed works. Philip Pouncey dated the work to the second half of the sixteenth-century, suggesting that it was probably by someone in the generation after Domenico Campagnola, but no hand has yet been identified.

This drawing depicts the episode of the Judgement of Solomon (1 Kings 3:16–28) unfolding in an urban setting. In this Old Testament tale, King Solomon of Israel plays the part of the impartial judge. Two women have claimed to be the mother of a young child, here shown lying on the step beneath Solomon’s throne. Solomon tests their emotional connection to the child by threatening to cut it in two with a sword, with each woman receiving a half. While one of the women agrees this, the true mother of the child, presumably the one shown kneeling, reveals herself by crying out to stop Solomon’s order.

Taking its cue from classical architecture found in Verona and in Rome, the central episode includes several buildings that are entirely consistent with Veronese works of this period. The tiered steps leading up to Solomon’s throne helps creating a strong diagonal from the king in the upper left to the women in the lower right, while also serving as a setting for several eye-catching onlookers, like the soldier shown lounging on the lowest level with his sword resting against his shoulder.

This drawing may have been the preparatory design for a ceiling in a palazzo in Verona. The artist has approached the architectural details with careful precision, revealed particularly by the ruled lines and careful hatching used to execute the elaborate geometric design along the bottom. The cornice that frames the narrative scene has also been meticulously rendered. Particularly intriguing are the bust of a girl (on the left) and a boy (on the right) that sit atop corbels on the outer edge of paper, facing away from the central scene.