Landscape with the Ruins of an Archway

ca. 1495-1508

Pen and brown ink
Inv. No. 16240 a

20.2 × 28.4 cm

zur  Biographie

This pen drawing, which depicts a section of landscape, is distinguished by its sketchy, unfinished quality. An isolated archway is to be seen on a wooded hill, towering above a steep hollow. This unusual motif was apparently neither borrowed nor invented, but rather an actual view that the artist had drawn from nature. Fra Bartolommeo made a second drawing of the same hill – the picture is in the Boymans van Beuningen Museum in Rotterdam – and in that version he elaborated it with additional details, for instance a few distant buildings, two wayfarers, and more trees and bushes. The earlier sketch, the one in the Städel Museum collection, was evidently executed directly from nature and served as the basis for the other, more finished version, which was probably carried out in the studio. The trial pen-strokes at the edge of the Städel drawing are another indication that it was an immediate, spontaneous response to the actual scene.


In Italian painting around 1500, landscape had not yet become a subject in its own right, but painters were starting to show an interest in exploring it. The approach taken by Fra Bartolommeo, who became a Dominican monk in about 1500, is very distinctive. While Leonardo da Vinci, for example, attempts to capture the untamed forces of nature in his drawings, and other artists depict well-tended gardens in which nature has been subjugated by man (making them appropriate settings for figural depictions), Bartolommeo approaches landscape with an unprepossessed readiness for experience that is unique for his time. In his work one finds nature observed with spontaneity, and man – often represented by a small-scale figure in the picture – is shown in reciprocal relationship with it. Only a very few of the artist’s numerous landscape drawings (106 are listed in the inventory of works he left behind at his death) served as studies for his paintings. He seems to have executed the majority of them simply for his own pleasure.

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