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Work Saint Catherine of Alexandria

Department of Prints and Drawings: 16th century

Sainte Catherine d'Alexandrie

Prints and Drawings
16th century

Author(s):
Mancini Federica

This work is a preparatory drawing for the painting on wood now kept in the National Gallery,London. It is one of Raphael's most finished drawings. It corresponds to a period of change in his artistic development, between the completion of the Baglioni altarpiece (Louvre, Department of Prints and Drawings, inv3865), which still belongs to the "Florentine" period, and the start of his work on the Stanza della Segnatura in the Vatican.

An exceptional drawing with hidden variants

The exceptional state of preservation of the cartoon, together with its size and the pricks for transfer, make the work unique. Its relatively large size, rare in Raphael's drawings, and its preparation for transfer have led certain art historians to consider this drawing as the final version, used for the transfer onto the wood panel of the Saint Catherine of Alexandria in London. Detailed comparisons have revealed differences in the two works, however, including the right side of the nape and neck, the clothing, the perspective of the face, and the foreshortening of the figure.

Chiaroscuro and the twisted pose

Saint Catherine is depicted standing, leaning on the wheel, the attribute of her martyrdom. Her arms and clothing are drawn with long, curving lines, producing a sinuous movement in the figure. Her tilted head is turned to the left, while her body, in a slightly twisted pose, is shown from the front. The background landscape in the painting is absent in the drawing. The artist appears to have focused on the intensity of expression of both suffering and asceticism on the face, characterized by the chiaroscuro effects. The attitude of pain is softened by the elegant rendering of the drapery, which swirls in a spiral around the figure.

Thirty-seven years of masterpieces

The complexity of influences visible in the drawing has prevented scholars from dating it precisely. It would have been executed between 1505 and 1511 and corresponds to an important phase in the stylistic development of Raphael, who was highly productive and sensitive to changes in taste. The Saint Catherine reflects the extensive knowledge of this short-lived genius who, at the age of twenty-five, had already been commissioned to execute the Vatican frescoes. The Louvre cartoon was likely produced while he was preparing his execution of the Baglioni altarpiece, signed and dated 1507 (Rome, Galleria di Villa Borghese and the Vatican Pinacoteca); a parallel has also been established with the Medici Venus, a preparatory study for his Disputa in the Stanza della Segnatura (c. 1509-11) in the Vatican. This cartoon thus illustrates the "Roman" culmination of the artistic research Raphael had begun in Florence. This can be seen in the modeling of the figure, an interpretation of the Greco-Roman style, which Raphael explored on his arrival in Rome. The cartoon's importance has not been overshadowed by the masterpieces to which it is connected: its fame was such that from 1811 to the late 19th century it was regularly exhibited in the Louvre.

Bibliography

Bacou R., Cartons d'artistes du XVe au XXe siècle : LVe exposition du Cabinet des dessins, Musée du Louvre, Éditions de la Réunion des musées nationaux, 1974, p. 14-15, notice 4.
Viatte François, in Dessins italiens de la Renaissance : LVIIIe exposition du Cabinet des dessins, Musée du Louvre, Éditions de la Réunion des musées nationaux, 1975, p. 134-135, notice 62.
Viatte François, in Raphaël dans les collections françaises, Galeries nationales du Grand Palais, Éditions de la Réunion des musées nationaux, 1983-1984, p. 231-234, notice 62.
Cordellier D., Raphaël : autour des dessins du Louvre, Rome, Académie de France à Rome, 1992, p. 113-115, notice 36.

Technical description

  • Raffaello Sanzio, known as Raphael (1483-1520)

    Saint Catherine of Alexandria

    1507-9

  • Black chalk heightened with white, on four joined sheets of beige paper; pricked for transfer

    H. 58.7 cm; W. 43.6 cm

  • Everhard Jabach Collection; purchased for the Cabinet du Roi in 1671

    393871

  • Prints and Drawings

    Due to their fragility, works on paper are not on permanent display in the museum.

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