In the Gabinetto dei Disegni of Sforza Castle is a sheet of parchment bearing a pen and ink drawing on both sides, dating from the first ten years of the sixteenth century. Critics agree that it is the work of Amico Aspertini, an eccentric and eclectic Italian Renaissance painter, leading exponent of the Bologna school, active in the first half of the 16th century.

This extraordinary work, along with another three sheets of parchment also in the Gabinetto dei Disegni, were most likely part of a sketchbook, now dismantled, which was one of many used by the artist around Northern Italy to sketch everything that caught his fancy. At one point of their long collection history, these four sheets drawn by Amico Aspertini came into the huge, varied corpus of drawings held in the sacristy of the Milan sanctuary of Santa Maria dei Miracoli presso San Celso, before being purchased by the Municipality of Milan in 1924.

But what is depicted on both sides of the sheet on display? The pictorial prototype for the scene depicted on the back has been identified as a detail – freely interpreted by Amico Aspertini - from the fresco Journey of the Magi by Giovanni da Modena in the Bolognini chapel, in the church of San Petronio, Bologna.

The interpretation of the image on the front is less certain. Most critics recognise a scene showing the Presentation of the chalice, which may be seen as a detail from the broader context of a possible Adoration of the Magi. No specific painting, recognisable as a source, has come down to us. However, it appears certain that, towards the end of the first decade of the sixteenth century, graphic models derived from Pisanello (in turn, taken from pictorial models) were used by Amico Aspertini as exercises and sources of inspiration. The drawing shown here may derive from one of these compositions and creations circulating around Pisanello. Follow the outlines of the figures drawn on both sides of the parchment sheet. Which characters can you recognise?

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