Giovanni Girolamo Savoldo, Study for Saint Peter

Artist | Giovanni Girolamo Savoldo (ca. 1480–after 1548)  
TitleStudy for Saint Peter 
Date | ca. 1533  
Medium | Black and white chalk on discoloured blue paper 
Dimensions | 305 x 168 mm 
Institution | The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles
Credit line |  The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles
Theme | The Celestial Realm 
Museum number | 2017.80

Giovanni Girolamo Savoldo (ca. 1480–after 1548), also called Girolamo da Brescia, was active in Venice from around 1521 until his death. He is not known to have lived or work in Brescia, so his name may simply refer to his family provenance. Therefore, Savoldo is stylistically considered a Venetian painter. In his treatise Dialogodipittura (1548), Savoldo’s former student Paolo Pino (1534–1565) mentions that Savoldo was employed by Francesco Sforza, Duke of Milan (1495–1535). The naturalism observable in Savoldo’s paintings alludes to the influence of the Lombard tradition. However, it is also possible that he was trained in the older Venetian style exemplified by Alvise Vivarini (1446–1502). Nonetheless, recent scholarship contends that Savoldo’s oeuvre, comprising roughly 47 paintings and 10 drawings, visibly anticipates Caravaggio’s work in the treatment of colour. Unlike most of his contemporaries, such as Lorenzo Lotto (ca. 1480–1556), Savoldo produced a limited number of altarpieces. Rather, he specialized in painting single figures or small compositions. His drawings consist principally of heads in black chalk on blue paper. The Study for St Peter, 1533 in the J. Paul Getty Museum is paradigmatic of his use of blue paper for preliminary studies. It was executed in preparation for a major commission: The Madonna and Child in Glory, with Saints Peter, Bernard, Zeno and Paul in the Church of Santa Maria in Organo, Verona, dated 1533. The drawing exemplifies Savoldo’s masterful treatment of the human figure. Although the blue colour of the paper has faded, it provided a useful mid-tone for the black shadows and white highlights, resulting in a carefully modelled study of the subject.  The chalk marks surrounding the figure are indications of scale.