A two-sided sheet of studies for the first version of the statue of the Risen Christ in the church of Santa Maria sopra Minerva, Rome. The work was commissioned by Bernardo Cencio, Canon of Saint Peter's, Mario Scarppucci and Metello Vari and the contract signed on 14 June 1514. For a sum of 200 ducats, Michelangelo was to carve a lifesize figure of Christ, in the nude and holding the Cross. G. Soergel Panofsky established that the statue was meant to be placed above the tomb of the Porcari on an altar donated in 1512 by Marta Porcari, Metello Vari's aunt, G. Soergel Panofsky, 'Die Ikonographie von Michelangelo's "Christus" in Santa Maria sopra Minerva in Rom', Münchner Jahrbuch der Bildenden Kunst, 3rd series, 1988, XXXIX, pp. 89-1128. Michelangelo was given four years to complete the work, and yet it was only on 27 December 1521 that after a long and most eventful process the statue was unveiled. In the intervening period, a first version of the statue had been abandoned, and its intended location within the church changed three times. Moreover, its eventual completion required the intervention of Cardinal Giulio de'Medici, the future Pope Clement VII, and caused in Michelangelo a great deal of frustration. The result was, however, a statue which became one of the most admired pieces of sculpture in 16th Century Rome, described by Vasari as a figura mirabilissima or miracolossima (fig. ).
The Ford sheet is the only surviving study related to the entire project, apart from a very linear sketch for the tabernacle in which it was originally meant to be placed (fig. ), P. Barocchi, Michelangelo e la sua scuola, Florence, 1964, p. 103-4, no. 348. The drawing can safely be connected with the earlier stage of the commission for two reasons: first, the bend of the waist is slightly more accentuated on the drawing than it was to become in the final carved version; second, and more importantly, the drawing shows the artist working his way up from the legs to the abdomen leaving the shoulders and head lightly indicated. For the first two years of the project Michelangelo proceeded without major problems. Then, in the summer of 1516, he came across a black vein in the marble while he was carving the face. So extreme was the flaw that he almost abandoned the commission. Metello Vari became aware of the danger a year later and started sending pleading letters. It took him two years to induce Michelangelo to resume work on a new block.
It is often forgotten how much the carving of a monumental statue is dependent on sheer luck. Michelangelo's fame originated as much from his uncanny ability to choose pure marbles in the quarries at Carrara, as from his virtuosity in exploiting to the full the dimensions of these blocks. His celebrated David was known to have been carved from a particularly awkward block. Michelangelo was therefore the victim of circumstance and all of the subsequent delays in the completion of the statue resulted from the flaw in the marble. On papal orders Michelangelo left Rome to return to Florence and work on the façade of the Church of San Lorenzo. He was therefore forced to produce the second version in Florence, and to entrust the finishing to the hands of assistants in Rome, Pietro Urbano and Federigo Frizzi. It was customary for a sculptor to leave a statue unpolished until it reached its final location, as the statue's surface had to be harmonized with that of its architectural setting. Distance made it impossible for Michelangelo to complete the work himself and his choice of assistants proved unfortunate. Urbano did not carve the head properly and Frizzi's efforts to rectify this did not come up to Michelangelo's expectations. To the end of his life the master prided himself on never operating a studio. Although he employed stonecutters for his architectural projects, he rarely delegated work on the carving of his figures. The Risen Christ, together with the statue of Giulio de'Medici in the Medici Chapel which Montorsoli finished on his behalf, were among the very few exceptions that the master sanctioned. Despite the instant success of the Risen Christ, Michelangelo remained unhappy with the work of his helpers, and exorcised his frustration by sending the first version to Metello Vari as a gift. The sculpture was recorded in Vari's garden in the mid 16th Century and is now lost.
While the technique of this intricate study on paper now inspires the connoisseur, it was the concept of the Risen Christ as the embodiment of classical beauty that was most revolutionary to Michelangelo's contemporaries. The contract gave the artist unusual freedom of conception, and without doubt authorisation to depict Christ naked was a lure to secure Michelangelo's agreement to accept the commission. Yet, to carve a Risen Christ which was not only nude but did not gesture triumphantly and stood pensively embracing the Cross in a tender and self-absorbed gesture, was a radical departure from the traditional iconography. The absence of the wounds of His Passion was even more startling. It is no surprise that with the rise of the Counter-Reformation, wounds were added to the sculpture and a loincloth added in 1579. Michelangelo's concentration for the human form was soon to bring him into conflict with the revised dogma of the Church. A year after the Risen Christ was unveiled, Pope Hadrian VI attempted to whitewash the frescoes of the Sistine Chapel, describing it as a stufa d'ignudi. For the rest of his life, the issue of nudity in his art remained a source of trouble for Michelangelo. In order to find acceptable channels of expression for his creative powers so openly centred on the male figure, Michelangelo, as a fervent Catholic, was forced to reach a compromise with the Church. A few weeks before he died, the fresco of the Last Judgement was retouched by Daniele da Volterra, who added a loincloth to each figure.
Considering Michelangelo's Risen Christ in the context of early 16th Century Rome helps us to understand why it was one of the master's most celebrated works well into the 18th Century. Michelangelo's radically new idea of a Risen Christ depicted in all the vitality of classical youth was an unprecedented sight for Romans deeply influenced by the Antique, and unaware of the impending storms of the Reformation. Pope Julius II had created a space within the Vatican entirely dedicated to the display of antique sculpture: the statues were presented in niches, which in 1523 reminded the Venetian ambassador of chapels and the bases of altars, J. Poeschke, Michelangelo and his World, New York, 1996, p. 16. The Risen Christ was in many respects created to compete with the masterpieces of Antiquity, and it must be remembered that it is no longer seen in its original setting, where it was designed to be viewed in a manner similar to that of the sculptures in the Belvedere Courtyard. The Laocöon, the masterpiece of Pope Julius II's collection and one of Michelangelo's favourite sculptures, had been discovered only eight years before he signed the contract for the Risen Christ. The sculptures exhibited in the Belvedere Courtyard were among those described by the Elder Pliny as the masterpieces of their age. Antiquity became a yardstick of quality for the great sculptors of the High Renaissance and a natural challenge to Michelangelo.
THE ELABORATION OF THE IDEA
Michelangelo's emulation of the Antique is rooted in the great Florentine studio tradition. He believed wholeheartedly in the pre-eminence of draughtsmanship during the creation of a work of art. The technical virtuosity we see displayed in his drawings was for Michelangelo a natural means of expression as he wrestled with his ideas. Throughout his career Michelangelo's letters reveal his obsession with the fate of his preparatory drawings, and often convey contradictory instructions to his father and later to his studio assistants either to preserve or to destroy them. Shortly before his death in 1564, Michelangelo burnt several porfolios. According to Vasari, this prolific draughtsman was anxious to destroy material that revealed too much of his creative processes. What was most probably intended at the time as protection against plagiarism has resulted today in a comparative scarcity of elaborate studies. In no area of Michelangelo's oeuvre is this loss more apparent than in the studies connected with sculpture: only 35 drawings connected to known marbles survive, of which the present sheet is a superb example.
The intricacy of the studies on both recto and verso of the Ford sheet offers a rare insight into the creative process which led Michelangelo to develop the figure of Risen Christ. However, establishing a chronology for the series of sketches is a complex undertaking and at best speculative.
What has been traditionally regarded as the verso was probably the first side of the sheet on which the artist worked. The most prominent study is a pair of legs drawn in pen and ink, worked up from a rich red chalk underdrawing which concentrates on the modelling of the knee and its ligaments. Although they are drawn in the same media, the effect created by the two legs is contrasted. With the left leg, Michelangelo concentrates on delicate shading and the use of supple crosshatching is close to that of the abdomen on the recto. This study is reminiscent of that of a leg on a sheet of studies in the Louvre (fig. xx) dated 1505 and connected to one of the Slaves for Pope Julius II's tomb, J. Poeschke, op. cit., fig. 25. The artist seems to have been happy with the position of the left leg from the start, and it remains unchanged as the weight-bearing leg throughout the project. The right leg appears to have given more trouble. In this first study it is therefore sketched with the more energetic and cursive contours typical of the small linear sketches which Michelangelo used to express his first thoughts. Careful examination of the relative position of these two legs reveals that the master had initially wanted to depict Christ stepping forward triumphantly. Had Michelangelo retained this arrangement of the legs, the figure would have been similar, though in reverse, to both that of of Christ at the Column and of the man scourging Him in the drawing from the Britsh Museum made by the master for Sebastiano del Piombo to serve as a basis for the latter's Flagellation in the Church of San Pietro in Montonio (fig. xx). Michelangelo seems to have rejected this option at an early stage and crossed out both legs. We are grateful to Michael Hirst for pointing out another example of a study rejected by the master in this way.
The faint red chalk studies of the legs seen in profile on the left edge of the verso give the first indication of the solution which Michelangelo finally adopts. The legs are drawn in broad red chalk outlines similar to those of écorché drawings at Windsor (fig. xx). The left leg remains in the same position, while the right leg is now brought forward. A slight alteration is evident in areas of hatching along the calf which indicate that the right leg is given an extra twist affecting all of the musculature in order to turn the foot inwards. A similar thought had occurred to Michelangelo when positioning the left foot of the David.
On the opposite edge of the verso, but drawn the other way up, is a study in red chalk of the whole figure of Christ. It has been suggested that this is a study after a wax model. Vasari records that in the normal process of the elaboration of his sculpture, Michelangelo made wax models from the poses he had devised in his drawings. From these he would often develop large scale models which he used to work through the difficulties he expected to encounter when carving the actual block. Two features of the study support this suggestion: the elevated angle from which the model is considered, which differs from the other studies on the sheet, and the curious anatomy of the legs which part below the knees in a distinctive way. A comparable study of a similar type of figure, seen from behind, is on the verso of a drawing at the British Museum, J. Wilde, op. cit., no. 57, pl. CXXXIV, which displays the same characteristics (fig. xx).
At a this point in the creative process, Michelangelo seems to have turned the sheet over. Before examining the spectacular pen and ink study of Christ's lower torso, another study of a leg accompanied by a subsidiary study of the foot, on the left edge of the paper must be addressed. Both sketches are studies in reverse of the right foot of Christ. The foot, with its toes distinctly pointed downwards, is similar to that realised in the statue.
The study of Christ's torso is radically different in technique from those already executed. The figure of Christ, with its intricately spiralling pose, is outlined clearly and without any hesitation. Such a drawing could only date from an advanced stage in the development of the project, possibly after Michelangelo has started carving. He is no longer concerned with the concetto, but instead starts to define the details of the modelling. The study is evenly balanced between the areas of elaborate crosshatching on the abdomen and those of the arm, shoulders and head of Christ which are simply but expressively outlined. The play of light over the musculature of the abdomen provides a point of focus, indicating that Michelangelo has already decided the angle from which the statue will be viewed in the Porcari Chapel.
The technique of crosshatching is one which Michelangelo had learned from his early years of apprenticeship in Domenico Ghirlandaio's studio. The Ford drawing is the last known example of the use of this technique in the artist's corpus. Indeed the spirit of the crosshatching differs from that of his early years. The lines are longer, the curves more supple and the general effect more refined; they recall the chisel's bite on the marble, an effect which Michelangelo left visible in many areas of even his most polished sculpture. Other details of the drawing also display a sculptor's practical concern with carving, for example the double line below the arm of Christ that leaves a white margin between the crosshatching of the abdomen and the arm itself. This corresponds with the necessary envelope of stone, known in the craft as the 'skin', which remains around the sculpted form until the artist completes the final modelling. No doubt Michelangelo would have studied the musculature of the arm and the chest just as he had that of the abdomen. All of these points reveal how much the Ford drawing remains a working tool full of the sculptural sense that governed Michelangelo even as a draughtsman.
Some of these indications, however, remain mysterious, such as the curious tracing of the figure of Christ in red chalk on the verso through the recto. This tracing is so lightly sketched that it is hardly noticeable, yet it is executed with such speed and confidence that it could only be from the hand of the master. Similarly, the pen and ink legs on the verso have been traced on the other side of the sheet in black chalk and are clearly visible across the chest of Christ.
The drawing bears the collector's mark of Jean-Denis Lempereur (1701-1779) who with Pierre-Jean Mariette, stands out as one of the best connoisseurs of his time. The leading diamond dealer in Paris, he was eagerly sought after for the quality of his judgement on works of art. Cochin asked his advice on many purchases he made for the King's collection at the Mariette sale. His taste for sculpture was well known and, as a friend of Edmé Bouchardon, he owned most of that sculptor's studies for the equestrian statue of King Louis XV, erected on what would become the Place de la Concorde in Paris. Lempereur owned another double-sided drawing by Michelangelo whith an inscription similar to that on the present drawing and also apparently by the hand of the collector himself, J. Wilde, Italian drawings in the British Museum, Michelangelo and his studio, London, 1953, no. 3. The present drawing figured in a sale which the collector organised in his own lifetime under lot 126, described as 'Deux études du Christ sur une même feuille'.
The drawing must have entered a British collection in the course of the 19th Century. It bears the mark of William Sharp, a collector from Manchester. We have not been able to trace the drawing in any of his sales, but more importantly, it belonged to two great collectors at the turn of that century, John Postle Heseltine (1843-1929), whose collection contained as many French and Dutch as Italian drawings. His most significant Italian drawings were acquired in 1912 by Henry Oppenheimer (1859-1932), who housed his collection in Kensington Palace Gardens. Oppenheimer was the first president of the National Art Collections Fund. Michelangelo's drawing was one of the most important sheets offered at his sale in these Rooms in 1936 where the young Brinsley Ford aged 28, acquired it for the then remarkable sum of 3,400 guineas through P & D Colnaghi. Fending off the initial consternation of his family at what appeared to be an extravagant purchase, he treasured the drawing all his life. Many scholarly publications have since endorsed Sir Brinsley's foresight and connoisseurship, which followed a tradition of collecting that has secured more than two-fifths of Michelangelo's surviving drawings for British collections.
The Risen Christ: a three-quarter length nude , looking down to the right, drawn over subsidiary studies of a leg and foot sketched the other way up (recto); A study of the same figure and subsidiary studies of his legs (verso) seen frontally and in profile to the left sketched the other way up over a red chalk tracing of the figure of Christ on the other side of the sheet (verso)
Red and black chalk, pen and brown ink , watermark indistinct, the upper corners made up
The drawing is displayed in a Louis XIII frame originally belonging to Richard Ford (1796-1858), great-grandfather of Sir Brinsley, which is being retained by the family.
Michelangelo Buonarroti, called Michelangelo
London, Royal Academy, An Exhibition of Works by the Old Masters, 1879, no. 261.
London, Burlington Fine Arts Club, 1917.
London, Royal Academy, Italian Art, 1930, no. 488.
Exeter, Royal Albert Memorial Museum, Works of Art from the Ford Collection, 1946, no. 117.
London, Royal Academy, Works by Holbein and Other Masters of the 16th and 17th Centuries, 1950, no. 278.
London, British Museum, Drawings by Michelangelo, 1953, no. 24.
London, Royal Academy, Diploma Gallery, Drawings by the Old Masters, 1953, no. 266.
London, Agnew's Loan Exhibition, Art Historians and Critics as Collectors, 1965, no. 33.
London, Christie, Manson & Woods, Bicentenary Exhibition, 1967, no. 50.
London, British Museum, Drawings by Michelangelo, 1975, no. 32.
235 x 207 mm.
J.A. Symonds, The Life of Michelangelo Buonarroti, London, 1893, I, p. 361, illustrated.
B. Berenson, The Drawings of the Florentine Painters, London, 1903, II, no. 1543, III, fig. 657.
K. Frey, Die Handzeichnungen Michelangelos Buonarroti, Berlin, 1909-11, II, pls. 36-7, III, pp. 23-4.
H. Thode, Michelangelo, Kritische Untersuchungen über seine Werke, Berlin, 1913, III, no. 372.
Original Drawings by Old Masters of the Italian School, forming part of the Collection of J.P.H.(eseltine), printed privately, London, 1913, nos. 7-8.
The Oppenheimer Collection, The Vasari Society for the Reproduction of Drawings by the Old Masters, Second Series, Part II, Oxford, 1921, no. 6.
A.E. Popp. 'Garzoni Michelangelos', Belvedere, 1925, pp.23ff.
K. Tolnai, 'Die Handzeichnungen Michelangelos im Codex Vaticanus', Repertorium, XLVIII, 1927, p. 192.
A.E. Popham, Italian Drawings, London, 1931, no. 217, pl. 182.
C. de Tolnay, Michelangelo, Princeton, 1948, III, p. 177, figs. 126-7.
L. Goldscheider, Michelangelo Drawings, London, 1951, p. 34, no. 36.
J. Wilde, Italian Drawings in the Department of Prints and Drawings in the British Museum. Michelangelo and his Studio, London, 1953, p. 94.
L. Düssler, Die Handzeichnungen des Michelangelo, Berlin, 1959, no. 182, fig. 183.
C. de Tolnay, Michelangelo; The Medici Chapel, Princeton, 1970, III, pp. 212-213.
F. Hartt, The Drawings of Michelangelo, London, 1971, nos. 296-7.
C. de Tolnay, Corpus dei Disegni di Michelangelo, Novara, 1975, I, no. 94.
C. de Tolnay, Michelangelo, Sculptor, Painter, Architect, Princeton, 1975, p. 36.
G. Jackson-Stops, 'The Apollo Portrait: Sir Brinsley Ford' in Apollo, 1987, CXXV, p. 368.
M. Hirst, Michelangelo and His Drawings, New Haven and London, 1988, pp. 26, 63, 68, fig. 131.
G. Soergel Panofsky, 'Die Ikonographie von Michelangelo's "Christus" in Santa Maria sopra Minerva in Rom' in Münchner Jahrbuch der Bildenden Kunst, 3rd series, 1988, XXXIX, pp. 89-112.
A. Perrig, Michelangelo's Drawings, the Science of Attribution, New Haven and London, 1991, p, 120, no. 55, as 'by the young Cellini'.
J. Poeschke, Michelangelo and his World, New York, 1996, p. 100, fig. 27.
J. Ingamells ed., 'The Ford Collection I' in The Walpole Society, 1998, LX, p. 25 (by Sir B. Ford), pl. 5.
J. Ingamells ed., 'The Ford Collection II' in The Walpole Society, 1998, LX, pp. 96-97 (by Sir B. Ford), p. 162 (by F. Russell), and pp. 168-9 (by H. Chapman), pl. 51.
Jean-Denis Lempereur (L. 1740), with his attribution 'Michel-Ange' and probably his mount; Paris, 24 May 1773, lot 126.
William Sharp (L. 2650).
John Postle Heseltine (L.1507).
Henry Oppenheimer; Christie's, 10 July 1936, lot 123 (3,400 gns. to Colnaghi for Brinsley Ford).