COSIMO ULIVELLI (Florence 1625 – 1704 Florence)

Cosimo Ulivelli

Cosimo Ulivelli (Florence 1625 – 1704 Florence)

Design for a Ceiling Decoration: Scene from the History of the Order of Santo Stefano

Pen and brown ink and wash over black chalk, watermark lettering, 278 x 320 mm (10.9 x 12.6 inch); laid down onto Richardson’s mount with framing lines in pen and brown ink and brown and ochre wash with remains of gilding, 360 x 395 mm (14.2 x 15.5 inch)

~ Jonathan Richardson, Junior (1694-1771) (Lugt 2170, with his attribution in pen and brown ink on the mount: Cosimo Ulivelli d. il Volterrano. and on the back of the mount: Cosimo Ulivelli, Fiorentino, nato circa 1622. Disc. del Volterrano.);
~ Bears unidentified collector’s mark, probably an 18th-century collector (Lugt 1976);
~ Anonymous sale, London, Christie's, 6 December 1972, lot 8
~ Purchased at the above sale by Ralph Holland (1917-2012), until 2013

Italian and Other Drawings, 1500-1800, Newcastle upon Tyne (Hatton Gallery) 1974, no. 77
Italian and Other Drawings 1500-1800, London (Courtauld Institute Galleries) 1975, no. 50


The Florentine Baroque artist Cosimo Ulivelli was taught by Baldassari Franceschini, called il Volterrano (1611-1698). Ulivelli seems to have enjoyed a considerable reputation during his long life, and decorated vaults and ceilings which can still be seen in many Florentine churches and palazzi.1 Together with Jacopo Chiavistelli and Angelo Gori, Ulivelli frescoed the bays of the third corridor (West Corridor) of the Uffizi Gallery with a pictorial cycle designed to celebrate illustrious Florentine men and institutions. The artist is also known to have painted cartoons for tapestries. Throughout his work, we see the same Cortonesque air that is evident in this drawing, an influence that Ulivelli received via his master, Volterrano.

Jonathan Richardson's attribution to Ulivelli is reinforced by comparison with a Design for the Decoration of a Vault, now at Christ Church, Oxford, which was attributed to Ulivelli by Philip Pouncey and published as such by Keith Andrews and James Byam Shaw.2 Another drawing from Richardson’s collection, with his attribution to Ulivelli, is in Edinburgh,3 while a third sheet by Ulivelli from Richardson’s collection is in the Metropolitan Museum, New York.4 It is likely that our drawing and the two sheets in Edinburgh and New York were acquired en groupe by Richardson.

The scene represented must be an event in the history of the Order of St Stephen Pope and Martyr which was founded in 1561 by Cosimo I de’ Medici to fight the Turks and pirates active in the Mediterranean. Its badge is a red cross with eight points. Our drawing may be a preparatory design for the decoration of one of the buildings belonging to the Order, whose headquarters were located in Pisa, the Palazzo della Carovana, also known as the Palazzo dei Cavalieri, built in 1562-64 by Giorgio Vasari for the Knights of St Stephen.

Drawings by Ulivelli are relatively rare, most known examples are preserved in museum collections. A design for an elaborate dish with Neptune and Amphitrite surrounded by sea gods was sold at Sotheby’s in 2008 from the collection of Jeffrey E. Horvitz.5


1. An account of the painter’s life was published at early date by Domenico Maria Manni, Ricordanze della vita e pitture di Cosimo Ulivelli, cittadino fiorentino e dipintor rinomato, lasciate scritte da un suo contemporaneo, Florence 1772.
2. Inv. no. 1345; J. Byam Shaw, Drawings by Old Masters at Christ Church, Oxford, Oxford 1976, vol. I, p. 103, no. 304, reproduced vol. II, pl. 190
3. K. Andrews, 'Two Drawings by Ulivelli', Master Drawings, VI, no. 3, 1968, pp. 260-61, pls. 27-29
4. Brush, grey wash, highlighted with white gouache, over black chalk, with traces of red chalk, 416 x 257 mm; inv. no. 62.61. See Jacob Bean and Lawrence Turcic, 17th century Italian Drawings in The Metropolitan Museum of Art Art, New York, 1979, cat. no. 375, fig. 375, p. 284, ill.
5. 23 January 2008, lot 62.