Illustration of Erasmus' adage 'To pull a horse's tail slowly'
pen and brown ink
614 x 414 in. (16 x 10.8 cm)
Anonymous sale; Sotheby’s, London, 13 July 1937, part of lot 64 (as School of Hans Holbein the Younger).
Anonymous sale; Sotheby’s, London, 15-17 December 1937, part of lot 546 (as School of Hans Holbein the Younger).
with Maggs Bros., London (French Books and Pints. Catalogue 709, 1941, part of no. 30).
J.M. Massing, ‘The influence of Erasmus. Text and image in a French pre-emblematic manuscript’, in Manuscripts in the fifty years after the invention of printing, London, 1983, p. 77.
Jean Michel Massing (Erasmian Wit and Proverbial Wisdom. An Illustrated Moral Compendium for François I, London, 1995, pp. 23, 87, ill.
Sale Room Notice
Published by Jean Michel Massing (Erasmian Wit and Proverbial Wisdom. An illustrated moral Compendium for François I, London, 1995, pp. 23, 87, ill.), this drawing was until at least 1937 bound with a copy of a 1511 edition of William of Conches’s Dogma moralium philosophorum(Paris, 1511), together with 36 other drawings by the same hand, some with watercolor. The volume was acquired by the London bookdealer Maggs Bros. (see Provenance), and dismembered by 1941. Most of the drawings, acquired by Ian Woodner from the William H. Schab Gallery, New York, were donated in 2006 to the National Gallery of Art, Washington (inv. 2006.11.29-2006.11.59; see Jean Michel Massing, in Master Drawings. The Woodner Collection, exhib. cat., London, Royal Academy of Arts, 1987, nos. 90A-90C, ill.; and M. Morgan Grasselli, Renaissance to Revolution. French Drawings from the National Gallery of Art 1500-1800, exhib. cat., Washington, National Gallery of Art, 2009-2010, pp. 20-23, ill.); one sheet is at the Morgan Library and Museum (inv. 1974.11).

The anonymous author of the drawings (previously associated with the Master of the Clubfeet, active in Lyons in 1508, and, more fancifully, with Hans Holbein) worked around 1512 and 1515 under the direction of the Franciscan monk François Demoulins, tutor of the young François d’Angoulême, the later Francis I (1494-1547). The drawings were intended as a ‘speculum principis’ for the dauphin(crown prince), a compendium for the future king’s moral instruction of the future king. The majority of the drawings are inspired by Erasmus’s Adagia, and are a rare example of the Dutch humanist’s influence on the visual arts, preceding Holbein’s famous illustrations from 1515 of the Praise of follyin the Kupferstichkabinett, Basel. In many of the illustrations, as in the present sheet, dolphins refer to the illustrious recipient of the manuscript.
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Lot Essay

Among the most widely read books of the sixteenth century, the Adagiaby the Dutch humanist Desiderius Erasmus (1469-1536) is a collection of Greek and Latin proverbs. A first edition appeared in 1500, which the author continued to expand until the end of his life. The present drawing illustrates an expression, borrowed from Horatius and based on a story told by Suetonius, with the meaning that something that cannot be achieved quickly and violently should be done slowly (‘Caudae pilos equinae paulatim vellere’, included in Adagiorum chiliades tres, Venice, 1508, p. 93, no. 804).
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