(Florence 1610 - Florence 1664)

A Cavalry Skirmish

Pen and brown ink, over an underdrawing in black chalk.
Laid down.
71 x 215 mm. (2 3/4 x 8 7/8 in.)

A preparatory study for an etching by Stefano della Bella of a cavalry battle (De Vesme & Massar 267), part of a series of six prints published in Paris as Divers dessins tant pour la paix que pour la guerre (‘Various drawings both for peace and war’), and datable between 1638 and 1643.

Among stylistically comparable drawings by Della Bella is a study of a battle scene in the collection of the Biblioteca Marucelliana in Florence.

The drawing bears the drystamp of the German photographer and collector Herbert List (1903-1975), who began collecting drawings in the late 1950s and eventually came to own some 1,100 sheets, of which around 650 were Italian. In 1972 List made an arrangement to sell the entire collection of drawings to Ursula Ratjen, for the benefit of her son, the collector Wolfgang Ratjen (1943-1997).


A gifted draughtsman and designer, Stefano della Bella was born into a family of artists. Apprenticed to a goldsmith, he later entered the workshop of the painter Giovanni Battista Vanni, and also received training in etching from Remigio Cantagallina. He came to be particularly influenced by the work of Jacques Callot, although it is unlikely that the two artists ever actually met. Della Bella’s first prints date to around 1627, and he eventually succeeded Callot as Medici court designer and printmaker, his commissions including etchings of public festivals, tournaments and banquets hosted by the Medici in Florence. Under the patronage of the Medici, Della Bella was sent in 1633 to Rome, where he made drawings after antique and Renaissance masters, landscapes and scenes of everyday life.

In 1639 he accompanied the Medici ambassador to the Parisian court of Louis XIII, and remained in France for ten years. Della Bella established a flourishing career in Paris, publishing numerous prints and obtaining significant commissions from Cardinals Richelieu and Mazarin, as well as other members of the court and the aristocracy. Indeed, the majority of his prints date from this fertile Parisian period, and include scenes of life at the French court. After his return to Florence in 1650, Della Bella continued to enjoy Medici patronage. Over the next few years he produced drawings of the gardens of the Medici villa at Pratolino, the port of Livorno and the Villa Medici in Rome, and also became the drawing master to the future Duke, Cosimo III. He was also active as a designer of costumes for the various pageants, masquerades and ballets of the Medici court. After suffering a stroke in 1661, Della Bella appears to have worked very little before his death three years later.

Only a handful of paintings by Della Bella survive to this day, and it is as a graphic artist that he is best known. A hugely talented and prolific printmaker and draughtsman, he produced works of considerable energy and inventiveness, with an oeuvre numbering over a thousand etchings, and many times more drawings and studies. Significant groups of drawings by Della Bella are today in several public collections, with around six hundred sheets in both the Uffizi and the Louvre, and approximately 150 drawings apiece in the Istituto Nazionale per la Grafica in Rome and the Royal Collection at Windsor Castle.


Anonymous sale (‘The Property of a Gentleman’), London, Christie’s, 4 July 1972, lot 76 (bt. List for 240 gns.)
Herbert List, Munich (Lugt 4063), his drystamp at the lower right
Acquired in 1972 with the rest of List’s collection of drawings by Ursula Ratjen, Vaduz, Liechtenstein, for Wolfgang Ratjen, Munich
The Stiftung Ratjen, Vaduz, Liechtenstein
Katrin Bellinger / Colnaghi, London, in 2006
Private collection, New York.


A Cavalry Skirmish