Read Condition Report
Read Condition Report
study of a mourning woman
Pen and two shades of brown ink, heightened with white.
260 by 164mm.
Estimate on request
Jonathan Richardson, Snr. (L.2184 and L.2983/4, on his mount and with his shelfmark: Lk.72/BB 59/Lk.70./JH, verso);
probably acquired at the Richardson sale, London, Cock, 22 January-8 February 1747, by Henry Howard, 4th Earl of Carlisle (1694-1758);
thence by descent in the Howard family, at Castle Howard.
Julien Stock, 'Rediscoveries: Michelangelo,' FMR International, no.104 (June/July 2000), pp.20-24.
This profound study by Michelangelo, previously unrecorded, was discovered by Julien Stock in the Library at Castle Howard, pasted into an album of otherwise undistinguished drawings. Thanks, presumably, to the anonymity in which it has rested for at least two hundred years, the sheet is in excellent condition. Since its discovery, Michelangelo scholars have been unanimous in recognising it as an extremely important addition to the corpus of the artist's drawings.
Amongst Michelangelo's previously known drawings, the most comparable in terms of draughtsmanship and conception are four sheets (one double-sided), all of which are large-scale, powerful and extremely sculptural studies of single figures or small figure groups, drawn on sheets of similar size in pen and brown ink (in most cases of two different shades), on a monumental scale so that the figures fill almost the entire sheet, and all executed in a distinctive, highly-wrought style incorporating extensive cross-hatching. Two of these drawings are more or less direct copies of figures from paintings by Giotto and Masaccio, and although no sources for the others have so far been identified it seems probable that they too are based on trecento or early quattrocento prototypes. As Michael Hirst has, however, observed, Michelangelo's 'copies' of these iconic early Renaissance images are by no means slaveish, and he made various subtle changes that serve to monumentalize the figures, in a precocious anticipation of the preoccupations of his later works (see M. Hirst, Michelangelo Draftsman, exhib. cat., Washington, National Gallery of Art, 1988, p.6).
The dating of the earlier pen drawings by Michelangelo that are not connected with his other works is generally problematic, as his draughtsmanship in this medium remained remarkably consistent from the very beginning of his career until the 1520s. Nonetheless, the handling of the extensive cross-hatching that is characteristic of the drawings in this group, and also of the Castle Howard drawing, is particularly reminiscent of the drawing style of his teacher, Domenico Ghirlandaio, so the widely held assumption that these are the artist's earliest surviving works is surely correct. Together with most other scholars of Michelangelo's drawings, Hirst believes that the earliest drawing in the group, and indeed the earliest of all of the artist's surviving drawings, is the Louvre study of two figures, after Giotto's fresco of the Ascension of St. John the Evangelist in the Peruzzi Chapel, Santa Croce, (inv.706; see C. de Tolnay, Corpus dei disegni di Michelangelo, Novara 1975, i, cat.3, and Hirst, op. cit., cat.1). Hirst dates this drawing to very shortly after 1490, when Michelangelo would have been only 15 or 16 years old, but despite his youth he still interpreted Giotto's figure group in a highly personal manner, making various small but significant adjustments to the details of pose and costume, and also concentrating far more attention on the foremost figure than on the second, which is much more summarily executed, all of which serves to enhance the sense of recession and three-dimensionality of the grouping as compared with that of the prototype.
Just as in the present study, Michelangelo worked over certain parts of the Louvre drawing in a different, slightly darker ink. This distinctive technical device is also seen (though together with grey-brown wash and a further sketch in red chalk) in the second drawing of the group, in Munich (Graphische Sammlung, inv.2191; de Tolnay, op. cit., cat.4), which is a copy of the figure of St. Peter from Masaccio's Brancacci Chapel fresco of St. Peter Giving the Tribute Money to the Roman tax-collector (circa 1425), and in the third, a double-sided drawing in Vienna (Albertina, inv.116, R129; de Tolnay, op. cit., cat.5). No prototype for the figure group on the recto of the Vienna drawing is known, but it has been widely, and plausibly, suggested that the source was Masaccio's destroyed fresco of the Consecration (La Sagra), in the church of the Carmine, Florence. Rather more ambitious and mature in execution than the other drawings in the group, the Vienna sheet is one of the finest drawings of Michelangelo's early career, and the slightly broader, more cursive penmanship that is evident particularly in the background figures is a foretaste of what was to come in his subsequent works.
The final drawing in the group of early 'copies' is in the British Museum (inv.1895-9-15-498; de Tolnay, op. cit., cat.6). Very slightly larger than the other drawings (329 by 214mm.), but executed, like the rest of the group, in densely worked pen and two shades of ink with extensive cross-hatching, it represents a single figure of a heavily draped, bearded man in 'Oriental' costume, holding an unidentified round object in his hands. Like the present drawing, it is not based on any known prototype, but nonetheless strongly reflects elements of the art of early quattrocento Florence. In particular, the figure's hat resembles that of the Emperor John Palaeologus as represented in Antonio Pisanello's portrait medal of circa 1438/9, and similar costume was frequently used by artists of the fourteenth and early fifteenth centuries as an indicator of Greek nationality; examples of this include the frescoes executed by Agnolo Gaddi (1369-1396) in the choir of Santa Croce, Florence, and, in the field of sculpture, Filarete's bronze doors for St. Peter's, Rome, completed in 1445.
Like the Oriental in the British Museum drawing, the figure in the Castle Howard drawing is of a type that is widely familiar from the paintings of earlier Renaissance masters, and furthermore reflects the great admiration that both those artists and Michelangelo himself had for classical prototypes. Dressed in a peplum, a full-length robe worn by Greek women of antiquity, the figure resembles in her attire the woman standing to the right in Giotto's fresco of The Raising of Lazarus, in the Scrovegni Chapel, Padua (circa 1305/6). Although there is no documentary proof that Michelangelo ever went to Padua, it would seem more than likely, knowing his admiration for Giotto, that he made a visit to the city on his way to Venice in the autumn of 1494, around the time when he fled to Bologna after the overthrow of Medici rule in Florence. But despite Stock's suggestion (loc.cit.) that the Castle Howard drawing may be based on an earlier source of this type, no such prototype has emerged, and both Michael Hirst and Paul Joannides believe that the figure is in fact Michelangelo's own invention, and that the drawing was executed a little later than these other early figure studies.
In terms of technique, this slightly later dating seems convincing. One of the most distinctive features of the Castle Howard drawing is the extensive use of white heightening in the figure's arm. This technique is not found in any of the four early 'copies'' but does occur in a pen-and-ink figure study in the British Museum for Michelangelo's painting of the Bathers, for which he made drawings during the winter of 1504-5. The suggestion that the figure is Michelangelo's own invention also raises the interesting question of whether Michelangelo may have been working at around this date on an otherwise unknown substantial composition, into which this figure might have been incorporated. It is the opinion of Paul Joannides that at this stage of his career, Michelangelo may well have made quite a number of large-scale studies, now lost, for ultimately unrealised compositions, and that a drawing attributed to Muziano, at Chatsworth, which is in many ways very similar to the present sheet, is probably a copy of one of these lost studies. As Julien Stock has noted, a figure of this type would be appropriate within a composition such as a Crucifixion or a Descent from the Cross, although there is no evidence that the artist was planning such a work at this time. The figure was, however, incorporated by Giulio Clovio, in reverse, in his illustration of the Crucifixion, in the Farnese Hours of 1537-46, which demonstrates not only that this figure study could well have been made for a representation of the same subject, but also that it was known and available to a Florentine artist some 30 years after it was executed.
Given the strong similarities of style, technique and conception that exist between the Castle Howard drawing and these four other sheets, and also the fact that in the eighteenth century it was in the collection of the great connoisseur Jonathan Richardson, it is astonishing that its attribution to Michelangelo should ever have been lost. Although they are stylistically somewhat distinct from the bulk of Michelangelo's pen drawings, none of the drawings in the group of early 'copies' appear to have suffered the same fate, and they passed through a wide range of distinguished collections, including those of Rubens, Mariette, the Wittelsbachs, the Princes de Ligne and Lempereur, with their authorship fully recognised. Likewise, the present drawing was also clearly associated with Michelangelo until long after the artist's death; a red chalk copy of it, discovered in the Louvre by Paul Joannides and attributed by him to Francesco Salviati (1510-1563), bears an attribution, probably dating from the eighteenth century, to Michelangelo, so even at that time the image was still thought of as Michelangelo's (see Francesco Salviati o la Bella Maniera, exhib. cat., Rome/Paris 1998, pp.53-5, fig.1). But neither the (admittedly incomplete) inventories of the Richardson collection, nor those of Castle Howard make any mention of the drawing, so the attribution was most probably lost by the first half of the eighteenth century, prior to its acquisition by the Earls of Carlisle.
Now finally restored to the artist's oeuvre, this fine, moving figure study from the early part of his career is the most significant addition to the corpus of Michelangelo's drawings since the publication some twenty years ago of the magnificent, late study of Christ and the Woman of Samaria (sold, New York, Sotheby's, 28 January 1998, lot 102).