The Nativity with Attendant Angels

Alessandro Magnasco, also called Lissandro and Lissandrino, Italian (active Genoa, Milan, Venice, and Florence) 1667 - 1749


Brush and black and gray washes heightened with white opaque watercolor on laid paper

Sheet: 12 13/16 x 7 7/8 inches (32.5 x 20 cm)

Curatorial Department:
Prints, Drawings, and Photographs

Object Location:

Currently not on view

Accession Number:

Credit Line:
Purchased with the W. P. Wilstach Fund, 1950

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A Genoese painter who often depicted exotic or macabre subjects in canvases marked by dramatic-even stormy-contrasts of light and dark, Magnasco was also a prolific draughtsman who liked to work, as here, with a brush on paper instead of with pen and ink.

Additional information:
  • PublicationItalian Master Drawings at the Philadelphia Museum of Art

    Magnasco was a prolific draughtsman, and fortunately many of his drawings survive. They include figure studies in black or red chalk and far less common compositional studies like the present sheet, which is one of a group of four such complete studies formerly in the collection of Feruccio Ildebrando Bossi in Genoa. Of this group, The Flight into Egypt is now in the Cleveland Museum of Art, Ohio (Geiger 1949, pl. 214); The Mystic Marriage of Saint Catherine is in the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art in Kansas City, Missouri (Geiger 1949, pl. 213); and the location of The Visitation (Geiger 1949, pl. 212) is currently unknown. None of these drawings has been firmly related to a finished painting. Maria Pospisil suggests a chronological development for Magnasco’s drawings (without ever mentioning a specific year) and considers this group to have been done at the beginning of his fourth period, from which one might deduce a date of around 1730-35 (see Pospisil 1944, pp. xlvii-l). The present drawing may have served as preparatory for a painting of the same subject formerly in the Vico Viganò collection in Milan; however, there the figure of Joseph, though identical, is reversed and on the right side (Geiger 1949, pls. 2 16-17). Studies such as this, typically done with brush rather than pen and ink, are stylistically so close to Magnasco’s paintings that they have been referred to as “little paintings,” with the characteristic light brush stroke he used described as al tocco. The artist’s propensity for clutter is demonstrated by the objects scattered about on the floor, some of which are antique, such as the Corinthian column capital and what appears to be an overturned urn, standard references to the old order that the birth of Christ will replace. The inclusion of other objects is inexplicable, for example the boxlike form on the floor beneath the manger (an hourglass?) and what appear to be broken wagon wheels. Mary Newcome Schleier has called attention to a replica, or variant, of the composition, possibly not by Magnasco’s hand, that was sold at Christie’s, London, on 6 July 1993 (lot 77; correspondence, Newcome Schleier to Ann Percy and John Ittmann, 7 January 1996). Mimi Cazort, from Italian Master Drawings at the Philadelphia Museum of Art (2004), cat. 36.

    Pospisil, Maria, ed. Magnasco. Florence: Fratelli Alinari, 1944, pl. 267;
    Geiger, Benno. Magnasco. Bergamo: Istituto Italiano d'Arti Grafiche, 1949., pp. 16-17, 163, pl. 215;
    Philadelphia Museum of Art. Masterpieces of Drawing: Diamond Jubilee Exhibition. Exhibition catalogue by Carl Zigrosser. Philadelphia: Philadelphia Museum of Art, 1950., no. 61, repro.;
    Newark, New Jersey, The Newark Museum. Old Master Drawings. Exhibition catalogue. Newark, N.J.: The Newark Museum, 1960., no. 49, repro.;
    Ames, Winslow. Drawings of the Masters: Italian Drawings from the 15th to the 19th Century. New York: Shorewood, 1963, pl. 89;
    Milan, Palazzo Reale. Alessandro Magnasco, 1667- 1749. Exhibition catalogue coordinated by Marco Bona Castellotti. Milan: Electa, 1996., p. 276, repro.