Design for a Papal Tomb

WAG 1995.272


The design shows some resemblance to the papal tombs in the Sistine and Pauline chapels of Santa Maria Maggiore in Rome, which commemorated Pope Sixtus V (1585-90) and his predecessor Pius V (1566-72). The 'Sistine Chapel' in Santa Maria Maggiore was designed by the architect Domenico Fontana, and work had begun by 1585. However, the Liverpool drawing does not reproduce either of the tomb monuments as they looked when completed. Instead it seems to be a variant, its panels illustrating different events and the structure embellished with many more sculpted figures. In Santa Maria Maggiore Fontana followed his usual practice of contracting out the production of the sculpture to other artists, one of whom was the elderly Leonardo Sormani (active in Rome from about 1551 to 1589), and mainly known as a restorer of antiquities. Another unexecuted design for a papal tomb, probably that of Pius IV, who died in 1565, is now in the Victoria and Albert Museum (inv.2261) in London, and has been tentatively attributed to Sormani on the basis of a nineteenth-century inscription. The London drawing shares with the Liverpool design the same use of distinctive 'double quotation marks' to indicate the inscriptions on the papal tomb and a similar handling of wash over the spindly figures. It is possible that the Liverpool drawing was Sormani's ambitious trial design for Pius V's tomb, which remained unexecuted when Fontana's was preferred. The V&A's drawing like the Liverpool design was also owned in the eighteenth century by John Talman (1677-1726), a prints and drawings connoisseur and collector, who appears to have wanted to build an ideal 'paper gallery' of papal monuments, collecting copies of the most impressive of them. As a sculptor Sormani had trained with Jacopo Sansovino, the artist whom William Roscoe attributed this drawing. He believed it was a "superb design" for the temporary facade erected for the Cathedral church of Santa Maria del Fiori in Florence to celebrate the triumphal entrance of the Medici Pope Leo X in 1515.