Publius Mutius Condemning His Colleagues to be Burnt (a); Male Figure Study (b)
7 7/16 in. x 11 1/4 in. (18.9 cm. x 28.5 cm.)
Medium and Support
red chalk on paper
Bequest of the Honorable James Bowdoin III
The Sienese artist Beccafumi learned Mannerist devices from studying the works of Michelangelo in Rome. A master of red-chalk drawing, Beccafumi created his own distinctive style. In this drawing for a fresco cycle in Siena’s governmental hall, the Palazzo Pubblico, Beccafumi captures the moment when the Roman Tribune Publius Mutius condemns his treasonous colleagues to death. Publius Mutius, at center, twists his body sharply, telegraphing his determination to execute strict justice. Even though his body tapers down to tiny pointed feet, a typical Mannerist artifice, Publius Mutius’ fierce enforcement of law comes through in the stark torsion of his body and in Beccafumi’s vigorous red chalk strokes. Lightly outlined and barely visible at lower left, a spritely dog brings a stick to add to the fire that burns the traitors in a combination of whimsy and horror that colors this scene of grim justice.
A preparatory sketch for a ceiling fresco in the Sala del Concistoro of the Palazzo Pubblico, Siena, Beccafumi’s drawing depicts the Roman politician Publius Mucius as he prepares to burn his fellow tribunes for alleged crimes against the state. This drawing develops the main composition and light effects of the 1535 painting without resolving specific details. Beccafumi brilliantly uses the soft red chalk to imitate the visual effects of smoke and fire. As a mural in the town hall, his illustration of the classical narrative served as an ominous reminder to the leaders of the Sienese republic to uphold their civic duties.