The present drawing is a detailed study for the head of one of the apostles in the foreground of Raphael's final masterpiece, the Transfiguration. It is one of only two sheets of this kind by Raphael still in private hands.
The commission for the Transfiguration pitted Raphael - at one remove - against his old rival and enemy, Michelangelo. Their mutual antipathy was to prove an inspiration.
The idea of artistic competition is indissolubly linked with the birth of the Renaissance. Ghiberti and Brunelleschi, among others, produced trial reliefs for the bronze doors of the Baptistery in Florence, and both are preserved in the Bargello. It was soon recognized, however, that commissioning artists to create finished works in competition could prove even more satisfactory as a means of inspiring them to excel. The fifteenth century frescoes in the Sistine Chapel were a case in point, although the rivalry between Leonardo and Michelangelo in the Palazzo Vecchio is a rare exception which had the opposite effect, since neither artist completed his allotted task.
Around 1516 Cardinal Giulio de' Medici, later Pope Clement VII, commissioned two altarpieces for the Cathedral of Narbonne (his titular see). Raphael was to paint the Transfiguration (Vatican Gallery), while Sebastiano del Piombo - with the help of drawings provided by Michelangelo - was to paint The Raising of Lazarus (now in the National Gallery). Raphael clearly responded to the challenge, and the sheer number of surviving sheets indicates that - as he had earlier with the Borghese Entombment and the fresco of the Disputa in the Vatican - he prepared himself even more meticulously than usual.
Copies of lost drawings reveal that Raphael soon realized that the only way to produce a highly dramatic multi-figured composition to rival the Raising of Lazarus was to combine a scene of the Apostles' failure to heal a paralytic boy in the foreground (in the Gospel according to Saint Matthew, the account of this follows on from the Transfiguration narrative, and Christ heals the boy when he come down from the mountain) with the Transfiguration above. Various studies reveal him evolving the basic arrangement of the figures before studying them all in the nude in order to give conviction to the forms underlying the draperies, as had been recommended in Alberti's treatise, On Painting.
The present sheet is one of the auxiliary cartoons for the heads of the apostles in the foreground scene. Auxiliary cartoons, which were part of Raphael's practice from at least as early as the Oddi Coronation of the Virgin of c. 1503, involved pouncing of details from a cartoon - usually heads, and occasionally hands and feet - in order to re-study them one final time. It is not inconceivable that Raphael worked on them during the painting process, and on occasion he ended up preferring his initial idea. This is the case with the positioning of the fingers here. Peter, James and John witnessed the Transfiguration, which left nine apostles below. One of them is seen from the rear, so cannot have required an auxiliary cartoon, but for the rest only one study is missing. They appear to be drawn on sheets from the same 'spur' of imperial paper (maximum size 74 x 50cm.) as the majority - if not all - have horizontal drying folds. A sheet in the Ashmolean Museum has two heads and four hands on it, but the present drawing is the only other one to include a hand. The remaining studies are of single heads: one is at Chatsworth, two are in the British Museum (both formerly in the Devonshire Collection before being given to Sir Thomas Lawrence by the 6th Duke), and the final one is in the Albertina, Vienna.
Raphael died on Good Friday 1520, which helped to confirm the notion of his divinely-inspired genius. The Transfiguration was all but complete, and Vasari records that Raphael's dead body was placed below it. By 1523 it had been installed as the high altarpiece in the Roman church of S. Pietro in Montorio, while Sebastiano's Raising of Lazarus was sent to Narbonne. Even before Vasari's eulogy of the Transfiguration (G. Vasari, Lives of the Painters, Sculptors and Architects, trans. G. de Vere, with an introduction by D. Ekserdjian, vol. I, p. 740 'And, indeed, he made therein figures and heads so fine in their novelty and variety, to say nothing of their extraordinary beauty, that it is the common opinion of all craftsmen that this work, among the vast number that he painted, is the most glorious, the most lovely, and the most divine'), the foreground scene was singled out for praise by Paolo Giovio in his biography of Raphael (ed. P. Barocchi, Scritti d'Arte del Cinquecento - Generalia, I, Turin, 1977, pp. 14-15 'In it is to be admired a boy possessed by an evil spirit, whose staring and distracted eyes reveal the disordered state of his mind'), and it has remained one of his most admired accomplishments over the centuries. A recent cleaning has restored it to something very close to its original splendour, but to modern sensibilities the combination of intense scrutiny and freshness of touch found in drawings such as this one, which has the additional advantage of being extremely well preserved, is even more irresistible than the perfection of the finished altarpiece.
Study for the Head and Hand of an Apostle
Black chalk over dotted under-drawing pounced through
THE PROPERTY OF A PRIVATE COLLECTOR
Raffaello Sanzio, called Raphael
London, The Arts Council of Great Britain, An exhibition of Old Master Drawings from Chatsworth, 1949, no. 17, illustrated.
Washington, National Gallery of Art and elsewhere, Old Master Drawings from Chatsworth, 1962-3, no. 56, illustrated.
Jerusalem, The Israel Museum, Old Master Drawings, a loan from the collection of the Duke of Devonshire, 1977, no. 24, illustrated.
Richmond, Virginia, 1979-80, no. 61.
London, The British Museum, Drawings by Raphael from English Collections, 1983-4, no. 177.
New York, Pierpont Morgan Library, Raphael and his Circle from British and North American Collections (catalogue by J.A. Gere), 1987, pp. 145-7, no. 38.
Warsaw, The Royal Castle, 10 April-23 Sept. 1990, and Vaduz, Liechtensteinische Staatliche Kunstsammlung, 15 Feb.-30 Sept. 1991, Opus Sacrum, pp. 140-3, no. 23, illustrated in colour.
14¼ x 13½in. (36.3 x 34.6cm.)
C. Ruland, The Works of Raphael Santi da Urbino as represented in the Royal Library at Windsor Castle, 1876, p. 29, 76.
J.A. Crowe and G.B. Cavalcaselle, Raphael, His Life and Works, 1882, II, p. 489.
O. Fischel, Raphael's Auxiliary Cartoons, The Burlington Magazine, LXXI, 1937, p. 167f.
F. Hartt, Raphael and Giulio Romano, The Art Bulletin, 1944, p. 87, fig. 45.
O. Fischel, Raphael, 1948, p. 367, as Penni.
K. Oberhuber, Vorzeichnungen zu Raffaels 'Transfiguration', Jahrbuch der Berliner Museum, N.F.IV, 1962, p. 127ff.
P. Pouncey and J.A. Gere, Italian Drawings... in the British Museum, Raphael and his Circle, 1962, p. 34.
A. Forlani-Tempesti, The Drawings in M. Salmi, The Complete Works of Raphael, 1969, no. 173.
J. Pope-Hennessy, Raphael, 1970, p. 75, fig. 65.
L. Dussler, Raphael, A Critical Catalogue of his Pictures, Wall-Paintings and Tapestries, 1971, p. 54.
F. Mancinelli and K. Oberhuber, A Masterpiece in Close-up: The Transfiguration by Raphael, Cambridge (Mass.), 1981.
C. King, The Liturgical and Commemorative Allusions in Raphael's 'Transfiguration and failure to heal', Journal of the Warburg and Courtauld Institutes, XLV, 1982, pp. 148-59.
K. Oberhuber, Raphaels Transfiguration', Stil und Bedeutung, 1982, p. 65, pl. 32.
E. Knab, E. Mitsch and K. Oberhuber, Raphael, Die Zeichnungen, 1983, no. 612.
P. Joannides, The Drawings of Raphael, 1983, no. 435.
R. Jones and N. Penny, Raphael, 1983, fig. 266.
F. Ames-Lewis, The Draftsman Raphael, New Haven and London, 1986, pp. 136-49.
L.D. Ettlinger, Raphael, Oxford, 1987, pp. 220-8.
M. Jaffé, The Devonshire Collection of Italian Drawings - Roman and Neapolitan Drawings, London, 1996, pp. 192-3, no. 320 (66*).
William Cavendish, 2nd Duke of Devonshire (L. 718), and by descent.
The Trustees of the Chatsworth Settlement; Christie's, London, 3 July 1984, lot 39.