The finest figure study in the collection is the penned anatomical study of arm muscles, the skin flayed away, made by the young Flemish painter Peter Paul Rubens during his 1600 to 1605 sojourn in Mantua, Italy (Fig. 1). Calligraphic in character and carefully crosshatched to give the swelling forms a more powerful sculptural dimension, this is one of eleven surviving drawings that may have been intended as models for an engraved anatomy book that was never completed.
One of Brock’s favorite drawings is the chalk study of a head of a young man in Figure 4 by the eighteenth-century Venetian painter Giovanni Battista Piazzetta, who was equal in celebrity to Tiepolo. At a time when drawings framed and hung on the wall were first coming into fashion, Piazzetta’s chalk studies of the heads of idealized youths, maidens, and venerable elders were greatly sought after. While many of them subsequently suffered from mounting and exposure, this example, drawn in black and white chalks on a fibrous buff paper, is noteworthy for being quite well preserved.
Many of the drawings in the Brock Collection are models for works to be executed in other mediums: painting, architecture, decorative arts, and sculpture. In the eighteenth century the formal gardens of palaces were decorated with sculptures and monumental urns that were not only divertingly decorative but allegorical or symbolic. A splendid example is the pen drawing of an urn with chained lions by the French court sculptor René-Michel Slodtz (Fig. 3). The motif of the captive lions is undoubtedly a flattering allusion to the might and power of the prince or monarch who commissioned the design. A drawing for a relief sculpture by another French sculptor, André-Jean Le Brun, who was active at the Polish court in the late eighteenth century, is executed in wonderfully fluid and luminous golden washes (Fig. 10). It shows a profile portrait of King Stanislaw II August being elevated by the figure of Fame, supported by the Arts, triumphing over the toppled figure of Father Time with his lethal scythe and relentless hourglass.
Brock’s lively spectrum of master drawings constitutes a richly nuanced backdrop for his opulent and refined collection of furniture and decorative arts. These are the very images that were once present in the consciousness of those who commissioned the elegant furniture and fanciful objects executed in rare materials that adorn his collection.
Splendor and Elegance: European Decorative Arts and Drawings from the Horace Wood Brock Collection will be on view at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, through May 19. In next month’s issue of Antiques, Rebecca Tilles will examine a group of fine French and English clocks from the collection.
CLIFFORD S. ACKLEY is the chair of Prints, Drawings, and Photographs and the Ruth and Carl J. Shapiro Curator of Prints and Drawings at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston.