National Gallery of Canada / Musée des beaux-arts du Canada

Annual Bulletin 3, 1979-1980

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A Re-Examination of the "Raphael" 
drawing in the National Gallery of Canada

by Sylvia Ferino

Pages  1  |  2  |  3  |  4   

If we compare the Ottawa youth (fig. I) with the kneeling an gels in Perugino's fresco (fig. 6) and in the Venice sheet (fig. 4), we can easily see a break in the drapery at knee level. This indicates that, before the Ottawa drawing was cut off at the bottom, the youth was kneeling and not standing as has been assumed so far. In the Venice sheet the angel lacks the drapery loop above the left forearm found in the fresco and the Ottawa drawing, and the right wing is spread sideways and not backwards as in the fresco. In the Ottawa sheet the wings are not visible. It was primarily this lack of wings which prevented the youth of the Ottawa drawing from being identified with Perugino's angel in the Foligno Baptism and which consequently led to the attribution of the Ottawa drawing to the young Raphael.

However, even after the discovery of wings in the under-drawing of the Ottawa figure, which I shall now discuss, the motif was wrongly associated with the an gels in Raphael's Coronation of the Virgin in the Vatican. (13) The subtle use of the silverpoint and the free handling might suggest that the drawing was carried out in the course of work preparatory to the painting and not as a copy after the painting was complete, even though the drawing was not done from nature. And, one could argue that the missing wings were not the artist's major concern at this stage when he would probably have been fully occupied with the general pose of the angel.

It is more surprising to find a drawing of the same image carried out in brush and ink wash underneath the cream-coloured preparation of the present silverpoint drawing (fig. 7). In an ultra-violet photograph we can see that the image was winged in the same way as the angel in Perugino's Foligno fresco. It is modelled more carefully than the surface drawing but the pose, outlines and the drapery are otherwise identical. The more careful modelling gives the figure a greater vitality and emphasizes its three-dimensional qualities. The image of the youth on top is bland by comparison. Furthermore, the procedure of covering up a drawing in brush and ink in order to trace over it in metal-point is quite unusual and quite illogical.

Any attempt to explain this procedure rests on one of two basic assumptions: either both the underdrawing and the one on top are by the same hand, or they are the work of two different artists.

If we assume that only one artist was involved, and if we ignore for the moment that the drawing might have been copied and redrawn by a student as an exercise in various techniques, we must also suppose that both layers of the drawing were done by the master also responsible for the painting. Yet why should the master - in this case Perugino - produce an image in one technique then cover it over and repeat it in another medium?

This question is more easily answered if we turn briefly to a similar case: a study carried out in metal-point on a prepared surface, in the Fogg Art Museum, of a standing male figure playing a viola (fig. 8). (14) An infra-red photograph of the Fogg drawing reveals a chalk study of the same figure under the grey preparation (fig. 9). (15) The differences between the two superimposed images, in pose and in certain details of the body, explain why the artist adopted this particular procedure. In the chalk undersketch, the viola player is represented completely nude, with his head tilted straight upwards in strong foreshortening very similar to Perugino's apostles in the S Pietro altarpiece of 1496-98. (16) The forms of the body are more articulated and the pose is more upright and concentrated than in the top drawing. The study appears to be a sketch from nature. In the metal-point drawing on top, the swing of the hip is emphasized, the head is tilted sideways, and the image moves more rhythmically on the plane. This impression is further emphasized by the slight indication of the gracefully draped veil. The whole figure has become more gentle and more suggestive of the act of music making.

While the artist concentrated in the first instance (the chalk sketch) on the correct presentation of the human body in a particular pose, he is concerned in the second drawing with the specific context in which the figure would appear in the finished painting. (17) Instead of starting anew, he corrected the chalk sketch in the most economic manner, using its outlines as a basis for his new image. This method was commonly employed by Perugino who was in the habit of using and re-using his own inventions for a variety of commissions.

This example might seem to offer a plausible explanation for the apparently similar transformation in the Ottawa drawing. But, although there is a certain difference in expression between the two superimposed images in the Ottawa drawing, this is far less marked than in the Fogg drawing and is to a large extent the result of the use of the different techniques rather than of change in the figure form. Consequently, the superimposition in the Ottawa drawing cannot be explained as a simple corrective procedure.

Another possible answer to the question of why the artist should choose to cover up one drawing with another turns on the fact that the angel's wings have been omitted in the second drawing. The angel has thus been transformed into a youth ready to serve as a saint or as some other figure expressing pious devotion. We know that Perugino often re-used the same basic model, transforming male saints into female ones and vice versa merely by altering the relevant attributes. Mary Magdalen in the Fano altarpiece, for instance, appears as John the Baptist in the Senigallia altarpiece. (18) This process of adaptation was quite common in fifteenth and sixteenth-century Italian art and was particularly popular among Perugino's followers. Bacchiacca, for instance, turned Perugino's Apollo and Marsyas into Adam and Eve, (19) and Perugino's Marsyas from the same picture in the Louvre reappears as St Jerome in an anonymous painting formerly in the Goudstikker ColIection. (20) However, it is highly unlikely that a master of Perugino's calibre would have used such a complicated procedure merely in order to turn an angel into a man.

It does not, therefore, seem likely that Perugino was the author of both the wash drawing and the one in metal-point in Ottawa. We should now consider whether, indeed, he could have been responsible for either layer of the drawing.

Unless we assume that Perugino corrected a pupil's copy of his own invention by tracing it - which is quite unlikely since the wash drawing appears to be the better of the two - he could only be the author of the wash drawing. This technique, however, is very unusual for Perugino who, as far as we can tell from his surviving drawings, never used it in his later career for figure studies. (21) Most of the figure studies from Perugino's mature period are carried out in chalk, or occasionally in metal-point. (22) The extant compositional designs are worked out in pen, or sketched out only in chalk. (23) And, quite apart from the technique, there is a certain impersonality in the handling of the drawing which sets it apart from all the authentic ones and suggests that it is, in fact, a copy by a workshop member after the master's composition.

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