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Work Standing Male Figure with Drapery, Hands Folded upon Chest: Saint or Apostle (?)

Department of Prints and Drawings: 14th-15th centuries

Homme debout, drapé, les mains jointes sur la poitrine : saint ou apôtre (?)

Prints and Drawings
14th-15th centuries

Author(s):
Mancini Federica

This imposing robed figure bears witness to the Cortona artist Signorelli's preference for black chalk. Signorelli was one of the first Italian artists to make studies using chalk in place of the more traditional pen or metal-point on treated paper. His graphic notation is characterized by short, rapid hatching and thicker strokes. The size of this drawing, which is pricked for direct transfer, suggests that it was a preparatory study for an as yet unidentified painting.

Man, saint or apostle?

The man is standing with his hands folded on his chest. He is leaning backwards slightly, with his head turned to the right in an attitude of surprise. The vigorous, plastic silhouette is highlighted by the ample folds of drapery enveloping the figure almost completely. Red chalk is used to distinguish the flesh of the face and hands from this unifying mass, contrasting with the lighter areas outlined in black chalk. The drawing has been squared, and the contours pricked for transfer, suggesting that it is probably a preparatory study for the figure of a saint, or an apostle.

A celebrated drawing of unknown date

This drawing is justly famous for its masterly use of black and red chalk heightened with white. Signorelli was, in effect, one of the first to eschew metal-point and explore the possibilities afforded by drawing in chalk. The figure represented here appears in several works by Signorelli and his students, a common practice at the time. As a result, several dates have been proposed for this drawing. Its similarity to figures in paintings of the Crucifixion and Pentecost in the ducal palace of Urbino, or the Holy Family Meeting Elizabeth, Zachariah and John the Baptist (Berlin, Gemäldegalerie) suggests a date of around 1494-98. Another, later, date associates the piece with a scene from the frescoes depicting the End of the World in the S. Brizio chapel in Orvieto Cathedral. The question remains unsettled, but does nothing to detract from the beauty of what is unquestionably one of Signorelli's finest drawings.

Bibliography

Berenson Bernard, Disegni dei pittori fiorentini, Milano, 1961, vol.1, pp.66 et 565.
Bacou Roseline, Cartons d'artistes du XVe au XIXe siècle, Paris, Éditions des Musées nationaux, 1974, p.13.
Bambach Carmen, Drawing and Painting in the Italian Renaissance workshop, Theory and practice, 1300-1600, Cambridge, 1999, p.56.

Technical description

  • Antwerp (c. 1515-20)

    Jesse and a prophet

    Late fifteenth century?

    Provenance: Grangier de la Marinière collection

  • Polychromed oak

    H. 0.49 m; W. 0.39 m; D. 0.21 m

  • Acquired in 1933

    Fragment of a Tree of Jesse

    391796

  • Prints and Drawings

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

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