Raffaello Sanzio, called Raphael
- Raffaello Sanzio, called Raphael
- Head of a Young Apostle
- Black chalk over pounced, dotted outlines
- 375 by 278 mm
Thomas Howard, 21st Earl of Arundel (1585-1646),
by inheritance to Alethea Talbot, Countess of Arundel (1585-1654; apparently recorded in the inventory of her estate),
by inheritance to Claude Charlotte, Viscountess Stafford, Tart Hall (subsequently known as Stafford House), by whom sold, following the death of her husband in 1720;
William Cavendish, 2nd Duke of Devonshire (1672-1729; L.718),
thereafter by descent in the Devonshire Collection (Chatsworth no. 67)
Manchester, Manchester City Art Gallery, Old Master Drawings from Chatsworth, 1961, no. 51;
London, British Museum, Drawings by Raphael from the Royal Library, the Ashmolean, the British Museum, Chatsworth and other English collections, 1983, no. 178;
Pittsburgh, Frick Art Museum; Cleveland, Museum of Art; Fort Worth, Kimbell Art Museum; Los Angeles, County Museum of Art; Miami, Center for Fine Arts, Old Master Drawings from Chatsworth: A Loan Exhibition from the Devonshire Collection, 1987-88, no. 63;
London, British Museum, Old Master Drawings from Chatsworth, 1993-94, no. 119;
Madrid, Museo Nacional del Prado, Late Raphael, 2012, no. 40 (reproduced as frontispiece)
C. Ruland, The Works of Raphael Santi da Urbino as represented in the Raphael Collection in the Royal Library at Windsor Castle, formed by H.R.H. The Prince Consort, 1853-1861, and completed by Her Majesty Queen Victoria, London 1876, pp. 29, 77;
J.A. Crowe & G.B. Cavalcaselle, Raphael: His Life and Works with Particular Reference to Recently Discovered Records and Exhaustive Study of Extant Drawings and Pictures, London 1882, II, pp. 310, 489 (as by G.F. Penni);
O. Fischel, Raphaels Zeichnungen: Versuch einer Kritik der bisher veröffentlichen Blätter, Strasbourg 1898, p. 140, no. 344;
idem, ‘Raphael’s Auxiliary Cartoons’, The Burlington Magazine, LXXI, October 1937, p. 168;
F. Hartt, ‘Raphael and Giulio Romano: with Notes on the Raphael School’, The Art Bulletin, vol. XXVI, 1944, p. 87, no. 44, reproduced;
O. Fischel, Raphael, London 1948, p. 387 (as Penni);
K. Oberhuber, ‘Vorzeichnungen zu Raffaels Transfiguration’, Jahrbuch der Berliner Museen, NF, IV, 1962, pp. 144-145, no. 20, reproduced;
P. Pouncey and J.A. Gere, Italian Drawings in the British Museum, Raphael and his Circle, London 1962, p. 34;
R. Cocke, The Drawings of Raphael, London/New York 1969, p. 41;
L. Dussler, Raphael, A Critical Catalogue of his Pictures, Wall-Paintings and Tapestries, London/New York 1971, p. 54;
K. Oberhuber, Raphaels Zeichnungen, begründet von Oskar Fischel, fortgeführt von Konrad Oberhuber, IX, Entwürfe zu Werken Raffaels und seiner Schule im Vatikan 1511/12 bis 1529, Berlin 1972, p. 70, no. 194;
F. Mancinelli, Primo piano di un capolavaro: La Trasfigurazione di Raffaello, Vatican City, 1979, p. 42;
K. Oberhuber, Raphaels Transfiguration, Stil und Bedeutung, Stuttgart 1982, p. 65, plate 33;
E. Knab, E. Mitsch, and K. Oberhuber, Raphael: die Zeichnungen, Stuttgart/Florence 1983, p. 642, no. 613, reproduced;
P. Joannides, The Drawings of Raphael, with a Complete Catalogue, Oxford 1983, no. 434;
R. Jones and N. Penny, Raphael, New Haven 1983, p. 243;
F. Ames-Lewis, The Draftsman Raphael, New Haven/London 1986, pp. 36-38, 149-150, no. 40, reproduced;
L.D. Ettlinger, Raphael, Oxford, 1987, pp. 220-8;
J.A. Gere, Drawings by Raphael and his Circle from British and North American Collections, New York 1987, pp. 145, 147;
M. Jaffé, The Devonshire Collection of Italian Drawings, Roman and Neapolitan Schools, London 1994, pp. 22, 194, no. 321 (67), reproduced;
P. De Vecchi, Raphael, Paris 2002, pp. 342-3, no. 318, reproduced
Bambach - Carmen Bambach, Drawing and painting in the Italian Renaissance workshop: theory and practise, 1300-1600, Cambridge 1999
Fischel - Oskar Fischel, ‘Raphael’s Auxiliary Cartoons’, The Burlington Magazine, LXXI, October 1937, pp. 167-168
Henry & Joannides – Tom Henry and Paul Joannides, Late Raphael, exhib. cat., Madrid, Museo Nacional del Prado, and Paris, Musée du Louvre, 2012-13
Jaffé – Michael Jaffé, The Devonshire Collection of Italian Drawings, 4 vols., London 1994
Joannides – Paul Joannides, The Drawings of Raphael, with a Complete Catalogue, Oxford 1983
Pouncey & Gere - Philip Pouncey and J. A. Gere, Italian Drawings in the Department of Prints and Drawings in the British Museum; Raphael and his Circle, 2 vols., London 1962
Vasari - Giorgio Vasari, Le Vite de’ più eccellenti pittori scultori ed architettori scritte da Giorgio Vasari, ed. G. Milanesi, 9 vols., Florence, 1878-85
(English translations by Gaston de Vere, published London 1912, revised edition London 1996)
Raphael’s Head of a Young Apostle
This highly worked and immensely powerful, large study of the head of a bearded young man relates to, and is the same size as, the figure of the young apostle to the far left of Raphael’s ground-breaking last masterpiece, the Transfiguration. For the past three centuries or so, the drawing has resided in the Devonshire collection, as part of one of the finest collections of Old Master Drawings that has ever been assembled. One of the most important Italian Renaissance drawings to have come to the market in modern times, it is a definitive representation of the summit of Raphael’s achievements as a draughtsman, encapsulating his astonishing technical originality and his mastery of the chalk medium, through which he explores the most delicate nuances of volumes and lighting.
Just as the Transfiguration was a major milestone in the history of art, anticipating elements of the much later Baroque style, so too the drawings relating to it were unlike anything previously seen in Raphael’s oeuvre or anywhere else. In works such as this, where an intensely sculptural sense of light and a breadth and freedom in the painterly touches are combined to create a monumental, yet immensely subtle, image, Raphael effectively defined the visual language that was to underpin western art for several centuries. We can only speculate how, had he not died aged only 37, Raphael himself might have built upon the extraordinary originality and brilliance of the Transfiguration and its related drawings.
The Transfiguration: the commissioning of Raphael’s last masterpiece
The Transfiguration (fig.1), the last of Raphael’s great artistic achievements, is the expression of his most mature development as a painter, and his final great bequest to posterity. The painting can be considered Raphael’s artistic testament, a work in which the painter achieved his ultimate perfection, as the influential biographer, Giorgio Vasari, wrote in 1550:
‘Dipinse a Giulio cardinale de’Medici e vicecancelliere una tavola della Trasfigurazione di Cristo per mandare in Francia; la quale di continuamente lavorando ridusse ad ultima perfezione…’1
(‘For Giulio de’ Medici, Cardinal and Vice-Chancellor, he painted a panel-picture, to be sent into France, of the Transfiguration of Christ, at which he laboured without ceasing, and brought it to the highest perfection with his own hand’).
The altarpiece was commissioned from Raphael in 1516 by Cardinal Giulio de’ Medici (1478-1534), later Pope Clement VII (1523-1534) (fig.2). It appears, however, that the artist did not determine the final compositional arrangement or begin executing the painting itself until the middle of 1518, and perhaps not even until 1519, so the Transfiguration, in its final form, is in fact the product of the last two years of Raphael’s life. It was the Cardinal’s intention that the altarpiece would be sent, once completed, to the cathedral of Narbonne, the seat of his episcopal diocese, but it never reached its original destination; after Raphael’s sudden death, on 6 April 1520, the patron decided to retain this last work by Raphael in Rome, and the large panel was installed on the high altar of the Franciscan minorate church of San Pietro in Montorio (see also Iconography, below), where it remained until 1797. The Transfiguration is now in the Pinacoteca of the Vatican Museums.
Most modern scholars agree with Vasari’s claim that the Transfiguration was still unfinished at the time of Raphael’s death, but in the following weeks the altarpiece was nonetheless displayed in the Vatican. It is generally thought that the figures to the lower right of the panel, namely the group of the possessed boy and his family, were executed by Giulio Romano, Raphael’s chief studio assistant.
The Transfiguration: the evolution of the composition
The composition, which in its final form is a work of extraordinary complexity, underwent radical and significant changes as Raphael moved away from his original intention, which was to represent just the miracle of the Transfiguration itself. This first idea was rather traditional, in terms of both composition and iconography, and much less sophisticated and original than the artist’s challenging final solution for the altarpiece, in which he integrates, in the most dramatic and theatrical way, two consecutive narratives from the Gospel of Saint Matthew: the Transfiguration, and the episode of the possessed boy.
The survival of seventeen drawings related to this project enables us to follow its complex and extraordinary evolution. These drawings are not all by Raphael himself – they also include copies made by his assistants or in their workshops – but ultimately all these works at least record lost original studies and thoughts of the master. Although these seventeen sheets surely represent only a tiny proportion of the numerous drawings that must have been made in connection with the project, the rest of which are lost, they provide a clear record both of the various different stages in the evolution of the final composition, and of Raphael’s indefatigable pursuit of perfection. Even very late in the creative process, he was clearly prepared to make significant changes, to clarify and further refine his ideas. The most extraordinary proof of this highly personal working method is the small group of actual size, highly finished studies of the heads (and sometimes also the hands) of certain principal figures, drawings known as ‘auxiliary cartoons.’ These were executed very late in the creative process, and their precise role is discussed in greater detail below. Six such drawings relating to the Transfiguration survive, four of which, including the present, very striking Head of a Young Apostle from Chatsworth, were memorably reunited in the revealing Late Raphael exhibition, held earlier this year at the Prado Museum, Madrid.
Raphael’s first idea for the composition is recorded in a workshop modello (circa 1516), now in the Albertina, Vienna (fig.3).2 This shows a classic representation of the subject, with Christ on Mount Tabor standing prominently in the centre, his hands spread in a gesture of prayer, flanked by the figures of Moses and Elijah floating just above the ground. The three chosen apostles, Peter, James and John, are kneeling in the foreground while on the extreme right, also kneeling, are two deacon saints, Justus and Pastor. Above, in the upper part of the composition, in celestial glory and surrounded by angels, is the figure of God the Father. As Tom Henry and Paul Joannides have pointed out in the recent Madrid exhibition catalogue, this initial representation of the subject seems to indicate a possible awareness of the frescoed version of the same subject, which was painted at almost exactly this moment by Sebastiano del Piombo, in the semi-dome of the Borgherini Chapel, in the same Roman church of San Pietro in Montorio where Raphael’s Transfiguration was to spend some 250 years (fig. 4).3
Sebastiano del Piombo may also have influenced the development of Raphael’s Transfiguration in another way. Presumably with the support of Michelangelo, Sebastiano persuaded Cardinal Giulio de’Medici to commission from him, also for the cathedral in Narbonne, a panel of the Raising of Lazarus, which was the same size as the Transfiguration, and was clearly intended to parallel and rival Raphael’s work. The commissioning of these two works at almost the same time put Raphael in direct competition with Sebastiano, and through him, more significantly, with Michelangelo, who had often provided Sebastiano with drawings – as, indeed, he did on this occasion.4 It has been suggested that Raphael may even have delayed completing the Transfiguration until he had had the opportunity of seeing Sebastiano’s panel, which was finished in May 1519. The Raising of Lazarus was shown in the Vatican in December of 1519 and then again the next year, when following Raphael’s death it was displayed – for the first and only time – alongside the Transfiguration. Soon afterwards, Sebastiano’s altarpiece was sent to Narbonne, as intended, unlike the Transfiguration which was, as we know, retained in Rome; Cardinal Giulio de’ Medici did order a copy of the Transfiguration to be sent to Narbonne as a substitute, but not even this copy, now in the Prado,5 made it as far as France.
The evidence of the surviving drawings shows that Raphael’s second compositional idea for the Transfiguration was dramatically different from his initial version, introducing another biblical episode alongside the main subject, and transforming the composition into a far more complex scene, depicted on two visual levels. There has been much scholarly debate as to why the artist made these radical changes, but given the influence of the commissioner, the importance of the commission, and its theological complexity, it is hard to imagine that Raphael himself made these decisions. The most recent theory, proposed by Stefania Pasti and published by Henry and Joannides in the Madrid exhibition catalogue (see Iconography, below), seems to provide the most plausible explanation so far for this sudden and revolutionary change of iconography.
The new composition, incorporating a double narrative, is known from the second surviving modello for the project, in the Louvre (fig. 5),6 which is a workshop copy of a lost drawing by Raphael’s assistant Gianfrancesco Penni. With this unprecedented combining of the two biblical episodes, the previous version of the project was entirely superseded, and at this crucial moment, Raphael’s extraordinarily resourceful and inventive mind created a far more complex and ambitious composition, in two registers, with the majority of the figures in the lower area. The new arrangement of the scene is made possible by the introduction of a high hillock, a divider between the upper and lower episodes. This thoroughly theatrical device, surely inspired by Leonardo’s Adoration of the Magi7 (a work which had deeply affected Raphael), creates a visual – and spiritual – middle-ground that simultaneously separates and unites the two parts of the composition. In the upper level, Christ is still in the centre, both receiving and emanating light. The disciples, just awakened by the Saviour’s radiance, try to shelter from its blinding power, while below them, in the earthly world, human weakness and suffering are demonstrated in the episode of the family bringing their possessed son to the powerless apostles. In this new composition, Raphael introduces echoes of two other subjects, the Agony in the Garden and the Resurrection, while eliminating the figure of God the Father, whose presence would have required a third level in the already elaborate and crowded composition. This modello contains in nuce all the elements that would ultimately be fully developed in a more dramatic and effective way in Raphael’s final composition. As Henry and Joannides have noted: ’…the two episodes remain juxtaposed and not unified. There is no formal connection between the upper and the lower parts.’8
Two further drawings witness the next step in the development of the Transfiguration. The first of these, at Chatsworth (fig. 6)9, is a red chalk study for the upper register of the composition – the figures all drawn nude, in accordance with Raphael’s Umbrian training. The Chatsworth drawing is surely the surviving upper part of what was originally a study for the whole composition, as it appears in the other drawing recording this compositional stage, now in the Albertina (fig.7) – a studio replica, in pen and ink, after a drawing by Gianfrancesco Penni.10 In both these drawings Christ appears airborne, as in the Resurrection, his powerful energy, like a magnet, drawing the two prophets and the Apostles to his aura. In the lower register, seen in the pen and ink modello in the Albertina, Raphael has clearly succeeded brilliantly in unifying the two narrative episodes, while employing a series of powerful gestures in the figure group of the possessed boy to achieve a highly dramatic and theatrical rendering of that scene. In addition, the artist introduced, in the far left of the foreground, the figure of the evangelist Matthew, shown with his gospel open and his left arm outstretched, in a gesture that invites the viewer to participate in the dramatic events that are unfolding just beside and above the seated evangelist, in the celestial world. With infinite ingenuity, Raphael has here succeeded not only in unifying the two scenes, but also in involving his audience in St. Matthew’s narratives.
The remaining surviving studies for the Transfiguration provide further evidence of Raphael’s working method. After the nude modello, the next step would probably have been to make separate nude studies for individual figures, such as the squared red chalk study for the figure of St. Matthew, in the Albertina.11 This type of quick sketch was then developed in more elaborate and finished nude studies, made from the live model, which would probably, in turn, have been integrated into another, more finished modello. Of these red chalk figure studies, only four have survived: two by Raphael and the other two by Giulio Romano, who, following Raphael’s working method, clearly also made studies of this type when preparing the parts of the Transfiguration that he, rather than Raphael, seems to have executed. The two drawings by Raphael are the handsome red chalk study, for the same figure of St Matthew and the apostle immediately to his left, at Chatsworth (fig.8),12 and the study for two standing apostles, in the Louvre.13 Those by Giulio are for the three apostles in the centre of the composition (Vienna, Albertina),14 and for the possessed boy and his father (Milan, Biblioteca Ambrosiana).15
The next stage in Raphael’s creative process was to clothe the figures and to focus especially on the fall of light. The effects achieved through the subtlest nuances of chiaroscuro were of particular importance to the success of the painting, as the Transfiguration is set at dawn, and strongly lit from the left. The surviving drawing that represents this stage in the process is a study, in the Louvre, for the standing apostle with his left arm raised, pointing at the figure of Christ.16 All these separate figure studies would subsequently have been combined into a working compositional drawing, which would have served as the basis for a complete, actual size cartoon of the whole composition, to be used to transfer it physically onto the panel on which it was to be painted. Not surprisingly, given its size and fragility, this full-size cartoon has not survived.
For most artists, the execution of the final, actual size cartoon represents the end of the creative process, at least as a draughtsman, but Raphael instead introduced yet another stage in the process, producing so-called ‘auxiliary cartoons’ (see below), a type of drawing that Raphael used at this late stage in his career for the most exceptional and exquisitely refined exploration of forms and lighting. Six such auxiliary cartoons relating to the Transfiguration have survived, all, like this, full-size studies for the heads (and sometimes also the hands) of the most important figures in the complex figure group of the apostles, in the painting’s lower half.
To all of the above, one final surviving drawing relating to the Transfiguration must be added, the fascinating study, also once in the Devonshire Collection and now in the Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam (fig.9),17 which shows the head and shoulders of one of the most striking – and certainly the most copied – of all the figures in the painting: the woman, possibly the Magdalene, who kneels, facing away from the viewer, in the very centre of the painting’s lower register. This drawing, too, seems to have been made at a similarly late stage in the evolution of the composition.
The ‘Head of a Young Apostle’, and the ‘auxiliary cartoons’
Oskar Fischel was the first to describe, in 1937, the type of drawing of which the Chatsworth Head of a Young Apostle is an example, and to coin the term ‘auxiliary cartoon’ for such a work.18 These drawings, which are particularly associated with Raphael’s working method, were made very late in the process of creating the final painting. Traced and pounced from the main, full-sized cartoon of the entire composition, and therefore the same size as the figures in the final work, these are studies of important details, notably the heads and hands of significant figures, which the artist wished to study, rethink and refine with particular care in the final stages of his creative process.
The Chatsworth Head of a Young Apostle is one of six extant auxiliary cartoons by Raphael for the Transfiguration. These drawings all relate to the heads and hands of the figures of the Apostles located on the left side of the composition’s lower register; the present drawing is a detailed study for the head of the young apostle to the far left of this group. When working on the Transfiguration, Raphael was well aware of the importance of the commission, and of that of the commissioner. It is therefore not surprising that, in his characteristic pursuit of perfection, he was still studying these principal heads and hands, in ever greater detail, in the final stages of producing this elaborate and complex work. In making these remarkable drawings, Raphael may also have returned to the use of the live model. These studies are totally different in character from the other known drawings for the Transfiguration, which either relate to changes in the composition, or are studies, nude or clothed, of one or two figures in their entirety. None of the earlier drawings for the Transfiguration had focused in this way on the detailed modelling of the heads and hands of the apostles, which are realized in these ‘auxiliary cartoons’ with an unparalled intensity and subtlety of nuances. The facial expressions of these figures are crucial in conveying the agonising drama of the powerless apostles confronted by the distressed family of the possessed boy; Vasari, indeed, made specific mention of the extraordinary quality of Raphael’s heads in the Transfiguration, writing:
‘E nel vero, egli vi fece figure e teste, oltra la bellezza straordinaria, tanto nuove, varie e belle, che si fa giudizio comune degli artefici che questa opera, fra tante quant’egli ne fece, sia la più celebrata, la più bella e la più divina.’19
(‘And, indeed, he made therein figures and heads so fine in their novelty and variety, to say nothing of their extraordinary beauty, that it is the common opinion of all craftsmen that this work, among the vast number that he painted, is the most glorious, the most lovely, and the most divine.’)
Although very few auxiliary cartoons by Raphael survive, he did in fact employ drawings of this type throughout his career, and the practice was fairly widespread in the leading botteghe of the quattrocento; Raphael may well have learned it when working in Umbria, where he had access to the thriving workshop of Perugino. Generally, such auxiliary cartoons focused on important details of a composition, often heads, and were drawn in black chalk or charcoal over pounced dotted outlines, referred to in Italian as spolvero, a term signifying the traces of powdered black chalk left by the process of dusting the chalk through the pricked outlines of a cartoon to transfer them onto another, blank sheet of paper. This process replicated the outlines of the original cartoon in the same size, enabling the artist to work up specific important details on the same scale as they would appear in the final painting. Auxiliary cartoons of this type were never themselves pricked or transferred onto another surface, so those that survive are often well preserved. As Carmen Bambach has described in her illuminating study of Italian renaissance workshop practice, these auxiliary cartoons also played a very important record-keeping role in the Renaissance bottega, providing an important basis for the replication of key figures when a copy or repetition of a composition was required.20 Raphael, however, typically seems to have made much more of this practice than his predecessors and contemporaries. As Bambach observed: ‘Raphael would transform a semimechanical method of production into a creative tool for artistic exploration.’21
Fischel suggested that earlier in his career Raphael used these drawings for reassurance, when experimenting with the heads of figures within an elaborate composition.22 Three such head studies survive for the Vatican Coronation of the Virgin (The ‘Oddi Altarpiece’), of circa 1503-4, the earliest painting by Raphael for which auxiliary cartoons are known.23 The only other known auxiliary cartoon by Raphael prior to those for the Transfiguration, and the only drawing of this type related to the famous series of frescoes in the Vatican Stanze, is the important Head of a Muse, for the Parnassus, a fresco that Raphael executed in 1510-11, for the Stanza della Segnatura.24
The auxiliary cartoons for the Transfiguration are, however, somewhat different from Raphael’s previous works of this type: the heads are no longer so idealized, and the handling in these studies also reflects his increasing mastery, both as a draftsman and as a painter, of the sculptural rendering of forms through dramatic use of light. The perfect design which underlies the present work is now infused with a strong painterly manner, created by dense black chalk lines that achieve a sfumato effect. The dotted outlines from the spolvero are less visible, and the fall of light determines unequivocally, yet infinitely subtly, the volumes and forms, and creates a monumentality comparable to that which would be so admired, almost a century later, in the realistic works of Caravaggio. Paul Joannides’ description of the present drawing captures these qualities perfectly:
’The combination of breadth and precision, relief and texture is incomparable in this auxiliary cartoon…the hair acts as a metaphoric halo…the moustache is drained of detail by the fall of light while retaining plastic form’.25
Raphael’s aim in the present study seems to have been to enhance the plasticity of the head with the fall of light, using the blank paper to enliven the subtle but strong nuances of chiaroscuro. In defining the beauty of the young apostle’s facial features, modelled with a vigorous and instinctively perfect use of black chalk, Raphael’s image has a clarity that few draughtsmen have ever achieved. The artist’s perfectly modulated strokes, his total control and skill in the use of his medium, have here succeeded in creating one of the most handsome masterpieces of the Italian Renaissance. This remarkable study also stands as testament to the extraordinary growth and development that Raphael’s style underwent during the latter stages of his all too short life, and the way that his last drawings both assimilated, within his own very personal style, all the artistic innovations of his own time, and defined the entire visual language of future generations.
Fischel suggested that Raphael’s auxiliary cartoons for the Transfiguration were made to provide his pupils with very specific guidance in the ‘lay-out and under-painting’ of the panel,26 but given the differences between these cartoons and the corresponding figures in the final altarpiece, this seems debatable. In the auxiliary cartoon now in Oxford, for example, Raphael altered the position of the hands of the older apostle, yet, as Joannides has noted, the hand remains unchanged in the final, painted version.27 More likely, Raphael drew these auxiliary cartoons precisely because he intended to paint the Apostles himself (though a few of the final touches may in fact have been added, after his sudden death, by studio members).
Vasari records that upon Raphael’s death, his body was laid in state for a few days in the room where he worked, directly beneath the Transfiguration:
’Gli misero alla morte al capo nella sala, ove lavorava, la tavola della Transfigurazione che aveva finita per il cardinale de’ Medici, la quale opera, nel vedere il corpo morto e quella viva, faceva scoppiare l’anima di dolore a ognuno che quivi guardava: la quale tavola per la perdita di Raffaello fu messa dal cardinale a San Pietro a Montorio allo altar maggiore, e fu poi sempre per la rarità d’ogni suo gesto in gran pregio tenuta’.28
(‘As he lay dead in the hall where he had been working, there was placed at his head the picture of the Transfiguration, which he had executed for Cardinal de’ Medici; and the sight of that living picture, in contrast with the dead body, caused the hearts of all who beheld it to burst with sorrow. That work, in memory of the loss of Raffaello, was placed by the Cardinal on the high altar of S. Pietro in Montorio; and on account of the nobility of his every action, it was held ever afterwards in great estimation.’)
Even if the accuracy of this account cannot be verified, it amply demonstrates the esteem in which the Transfiguration was held at the time of Raphael’s death, and this assessment of the painting’s importance has not diminished during the intervening five centuries.
The iconography of Raphael’s Transfiguration
There is no documentary record to explain why Raphael rejected his first idea for the Transfiguration, and decided instead to combine, as no artist before him ever had, two consecutive episodes from the Gospel of Saint Matthew (Matthew 17: 1-9 and 14-21). In the upper part of the composition, the Transfiguration itself29, set at dawn, with the figure of Christ in the centre, receiving light from the left and emanating radiance, is a visionary prefiguration of the Resurrection and the Last Judgement. On the edge of a circle of light, and carried aloft by the force of the ascending Christ, float the two prophets Moses and Elijah, and the three chosen disciples, Peter, James and John. Also witnessing this vision are two early Christian Saints, Justus and Pastor, shown in ecstatic prayer, in the upper left corner. These deacon saints, both of them patron saints of the cathedral of Narbonne, are already present in the first, discarded modello for the Transfiguration (fig.3). This upper section of the composition collectively symbolises divine order and celestial symmetry, while below in the lower register Raphael represents a dramatic earthly event, which took place during Christ’s absence, when the remaining Apostles were unable to heal the possessed boy. Arranged in this way, the two-part composition conveys far more dynamically the spiritual message of the Transfiguration, which is brought into focus by the contrast with the reality and misery of human life, depicted in the lower register. Raphael’s final composition brilliantly unifies these two episodes within a very exciting and complex whole.
A very plausible theory as to why Raphael so transformed the composition of the Transfiguration was recently proposed by Stefania Pasti, and published by Henry and Joannides in the Madrid exhibition catalogue.30 Pasti believes that the spiritual text, Apocalypsis Nova, which originated from the lost writings of a Franciscan minorate, the Blessed Amadeo Menes da Silva, who died in 1482, lies at the heart of the changes. The Blessed Amadeo, an eminent figure in a reformed branch of the Franciscans, took charge of the Roman church of San Pietro in Montorio when it was given to his order by Pope Sixtus IV (della Rovere, 1471-1484), in 1472. An influential friar, healer and visionary, Amadeo was the Pope’s confessor, and an active diplomat for the Vatican State. In 1502, some time after his death, many of the Blessed Amadeo’s writings and sermons were brought together in a trattato, entitled Apocalypsis Nova. This tract was well known in the ecclesiastical circle of Pope Julius II (della Rovere, 1503-1513) and his successor, Leo X (Medici, 1513-1521). It also appears to have been the preferred spiritual guide of Guillaume Briçonnet, Cardinal Giulio de’ Medici’s predecessor as bishop of Narbonne, and of his two sons. At the time of the commissioning of the Transfiguration, Cardinal Giulio, who himself knew the Apocalypsis Nova, was in close contact with Briçonnet’s sons, and had encharged their cousin Michel as regent of his diocese. They may well all have had some influence on the choice of subject for the new altarpiece being commissioned for the cathedral of Narbonne.
In Amadeo’s tract, the episodes of the Transfiguration and the possessed boy are described consecutively, the Transfiguration representing a prefiguration of the Last Judgement, and of the final defeat of the Devil, something that could only be achieved by Christ, and not by the apostles, whose powerlessness is demonstrated by their inability to heal the possessed boy in the following episode. Only after Christ’s death will the Apostles be able to perform miracles themselves, and Amadeo used the contrast between the two episodes to demonstrate the ultimate divinity of Christ. According to Pasti, Amadeo’s analysis of the miracle of the Raising of Lazarus – the subject of the second panel commissioned for Narbonne by Cardinal Giulio – demonstrates a similar aim. The strongest argument, however, supporting the suggestion that the writings of the Blessed Amadeo were highly influential in determining the ultimate composition of Raphael’s Transfiguration is the fact that when Raphael died, Cardinal Giulio de’ Medici, very aware of its importance, decided to retain the altarpiece in Rome, and to install it on the main altar of the Blessed Amadeo’s own church, San Pietro in Montorio, which can hardly have been a coincidence. The altarpiece remained in situ there until 1797, when it was taken by French soldiers to Paris. Raphael’s masterpiece returned to Rome only in 1816, and from then on it has been displayed in the Vatican.
The Provenance of Raphael's Head of a Young Apostle
It is almost certain that this drawing, and the rest of the great series of Raphael drawings at Chatsworth, entered the Devonshire Collection during the lifetime of William Cavendish, 2nd Duke of Devonshire (1672-1729), who can be given the credit for acquiring some 90 per cent of the drawings in the collection, and whose mark (Lugt 718) is present on this sheet.31 Yet although the source of a significant number of the 2nd Duke’s drawings acquisitions can be traced, no record survives of where he acquired his extraordinary group of Raphaels. The correspondence most likely to have shed light on this was probably all destroyed in the 1733 Devonshire House fire, but it remains surprising that no other contemporary accounts make mention of the Raphaels, which would at this time already have been considered very great treasures.
Quite a number of the 2nd Duke’s most important acquisitions came in the form of significant groups of drawings by the same artist. This was surely in part a function of the period, during the late 17th and early 18th centuries, when these works were being acquired. At this time, whole albums or portfolios of drawings originating from the studios of 17th century or earlier artists often remained intact, and would have been purchased wholesale, whereas by the 19th century, many Old Master Drawings had already been circulated on the market as individual sheets. This means that the small number of surviving collections that were largely formed at a relatively early date – in England we are speaking only of the Devonshire and Royal collections – typically contain highly important, and often very numerous, groups of drawings by certain artists, and nothing at all by others of similar significance and date. Given that the Devonshire collection at one point contained at least twenty drawings by Raphael, including some seven studies for the Transfiguration,32 it seems likely that many of these works by Raphael – of unparalleled range and importance within the collection – may have originated from a single source. This seems especially likely to be true for the auxiliary cartoons for the Transfiguration, of which there were at one stage very probably five in the collection.33
The 2nd Duke of Devonshire was a passionate collector of drawings, who may even have been a buyer, aged only 16, at the first dispersal of the drawings collection of Sir Peter Lely, in 1688. He continued to buy with enormous commitment and dedication for the rest of his life, making extensive auction purchases of drawings from, among others, the Lely, Lankrink, and Resta collections, and in 1723 he also acquired directly the entire collection of Nicolaes Flinck, the son of Rembrandt’s pupil Govert Flinck. The Flinck collection contained, inter alia, the famous series of Rembrandt landscape drawings, the Van Dyck portrait studies, and the Leonardo da Vinci caricatures, all of which have ever since been major highlights of the Devonshire collection, along with at least two of the Raphaels.34 Some 225 drawings in the Chatsworth collection bear the collector’s mark of Nicolaes Flinck, but contemporary accounts suggest there were originally around 500 sheets in the collection, so it is possible that others at Chatsworth, which do not bear the mark, nonetheless share the same provenance. All the same, it seems unlikely that if a major group of cartoons by Raphael had come to Chatsworth by this route, this would have gone unrecorded, when the Flinck provenance of the Rembrandts, Van Dycks and Leonardos has always been very well known.
Around half of the drawings by, or formerly attributed to, Raphael that are or were in the Devonshire collection bear the mark of Sir Peter Lely, and may well have been acquired at one of the two Lely sales, in 1688 or 1694, but no catalogues of these sales survive, nor is there any other documentary evidence to show that the drawings were indeed directly purchased in this way. More importantly in the present context, there is no collector’s mark or other record that suggests that any of the Raphael auxiliary cartoons were ever in the Lely collection. As large works that would almost certainly have been framed and hung, even in Lely’s time, it is likely that the auxiliary cartoons would have escaped the application of the mark with which Lely’s smaller drawings were stamped by his executor, Roger North, at the time of the 1688 and 1694 sales of the drawings collection, and they would very likely have been sold with Lely’s pictures in 1682, rather than in the later drawings sales; however, the handlist of this picture sale, which does survive, makes no mention of any such drawings or cartoons by Raphael.35
In fact, the single surviving record of how a drawing by Raphael entered the Devonshire collection, though somewhat anecdotal, offers the best clue to the likely origin of the cartoons. The 2nd Duke’s near contemporary, Jonathan Richardson Junior, reported that the Duke had, in 1720, bought a series of framed prints formerly in the collection of Thomas Howard, Earl of Arundel (fig.11), when Viscountess Stafford, the widow of Arundel’s grandson, was selling off property from her London residence, Stafford House (previously known as Tart Hall).36 The Duke was apparently astonished to discover behind these prints ‘capital Draw[in]gs of Raph[ael], Poli[doro], Parmeg[ianino], J. Rom[ano].’37 We can never know for sure what these drawings actually were or if their attributions would hold up to modern scrutiny, but a previously unremarked entry in the inventory of pictures in the possession of the Countess of Arundel (fig.12) at the time of her death in Amsterdam, in 1654, seems to indicate that there is a real possibility that these hidden drawings may have included the Raphael auxiliary cartoons – and therefore the present work.
In this inventory, written in Italian and known through a transcript now in the Public Record Office, we find the following two items, listed consecutively:38
Maniera vecchia 5. Teste messo insieme
RAPHAEL D’URBINO Monte Tabor disegno
Mount Tabor was, of course, the Biblical location of the Transfiguration, so it seems almost certain that the second of these entries refers to the compositional study, now at Chatsworth, for the upper part of Raphael’s painting (fig.6).39 Within this inventory, works of similar authorship and style tend to be listed together in groups, so although the preceding entry for five depictions of heads does not specifically attribute these works to Raphael, the fact that these two entries appear consecutively in the inventory, together with our knowledge that the 2nd Duke of Devonshire most likely owned five auxiliary cartoons by Raphael for heads in the Transfiguration, suggests that these “5. Teste” may very well have been the five Raphael auxiliary cartoons for heads in the Transfiguration, which were eventually acquired by the 2nd Duke of Devonshire. Given the complexities of the Earl and Countess of Arundel’s relationship with both the English Court and Cromwell's Protectorate regime, which held power at the time of the Countess’s death, it would not be particularly surprising to find great drawings from their collection concealed behind far less important prints, and once hidden in this way, the drawings could easily have remained in this obscurity for the decades between the Countess’s death in 1654 and the sale of the prints to the Duke of Devonshire in 1720.
Though by no means proven, the previously unrecognised possibility that the Raphael auxiliary cartoons in the Devonshire collection originated from the remarkable collection of the Earl of Arundel, one of the greatest of the 2nd Duke of Devonshire’s predecessors among English patrons and collectors, is an exciting addition to our understanding of the history of the Devonshire Collection. If the present drawing was indeed in the Arundel collection, it is very likely that the Earl acquired it in Italy, perhaps during the trip that he made there in the company of Inigo Jones, in 1613-14.
Barring some future archival discovery, however, the secure provenance of the Chatsworth Head of a Young Apostle must begin with the 2nd Duke of Devonshire, one of the very greatest collectors of Old Master Drawings, and the creator of a private collection that is still, some three centuries later, only rivalled by the Royal Collection in terms of its quality, scale and importance.
1. Vasari, vol. IV, p. 371
2. Vienna, Albertina, inv. vol. VI, 193; Joannides no. 423
3. Henry & Joannides, p. 163
4. All the same, it appears that the overall composition of this painting was ultimately devised entirely by Sebastiano.
5. Madrid, Museo Nacional del Prado, inv. no. P-315; Henry & Joannides, p. 160, no. 29, reproduced
6. Paris, Musée du Louvre, Inv. no. 3954; Henry & Joannides, pp. 160, 165, cat. 31, reproduced
7. Florence, Gallerie degli Uffizi, inv. No. 1594; Henry & Joannides, p. 61, reproduced fig. 36
8. Henry & Joannides, p. 166
9. Chatsworth no. 904, Jaffé no. 318; Joannides no. 424
10. Vienna, Albertina, inv. Supp. Vol. IV, no. 17544; Joannides no. 430
11. Vienna, Albertina , inv. vol. VII, no. 237r; Joannides no. 425
12. Chatsworth no. 51, Jaffé no. 319; Joannides no. 426
13. Paris, Musée du Louvre, Inv. no. 3864; Joannides no. 427
14. Vienna, Albertina , inv. vol. V, no. 4880; Joannides no. 428
15. Milan, Veneranda Biblioteca Ambrosiana, Pinacoteca, inv. no. F273 inf.no. 36; Joannides no. 429
16. Paris, Musée du Louvre, inv. no. 4118; Joannides no. 431
17. Amsterdam, Rijskmuseum, Gift of J.Q. van Regteren Altena, RP-T-1971-52; Joannides no. 432
18. Fischel, p.168
19. Vasari p. 372
20. See, for example, Bambach, p. 321, fig. 272 (Workshop of Perugino, Head of an Angel), and p. 322, fig. 273 (Attributed to Fra Bartolommeo, a fragment, Head of a Man)
21. Ibid., p. 328
22. Fischel, p.167
23. The three drawings are: a study in the British Museum for the head of St James (inv. no. 1895,0915.610); a study for two male heads at Windsor Castle (RL 4370), which was discovered in the Royal Collection by A.E. Popham, among a series of drawings by Maratta; and one for the head of an apostle, in the Palais des Beaux-Arts, Lille (inv. no. PL470); see Pouncey & Gere, vol. I, pp. 5-6, no. 5, reproduced, vol. II, pl. 6, and Joannides, p. 144, nos. 48 and 49, reproduced
24. Private Collection. Sold, London, Christies’s, 8 December 2009, lot 43. One further auxiliary cartoon relating to the Vatican Stanze does survive, the Head of a Bishop, for the Coronation of Charlemagne (Paris, Louvre; Joannides no. 376), but that drawing is generally considered to be the work of a pupil, rather than by Raphael himself.
25. Joannides, p. 242
26. Fischel, p. 168
27. Joannides, no. 48
28. Vasari, p. 383
29. The Biblical text describes how Christ took his disciples Peter, James and John up Mount Tabor, and became transfigured, his face shining like the sun and his clothes becoming dazzling white, thus manifesting to them for the first time his divinity. Moses and Elijah appeared on either side, and a voice from heaven said “This is my Son”. The Apostles fell prostrate before this vision.
30. Henry & Joannides, pp. 164-5
31. F. Lugt, Les Marques de Collection, vol. I , 1921, pp. 127-8.
32. Jaffé nos. 303-335 (a sequence that includes a number of workshop and studio drawings, and copies), plus the two others which the 6th Duke gave, together with Jaffé no. 322, to Sir Thomas Lawrence (see note 33 below).
33. The 6th Duke wrote, in the 1844-5 Handbook of Chatsworth and Hardwick, about how he had given three Raphael drawings for the Transfiguration to Sir Thomas Lawrence: ‘Sir Thomas, mad about his own collection of drawings, got from me three studies by Raffaelle for the Transfiguration: there were five of them, and I retained the two best. I resisted long; but he was so very anxious, and so full of promises of devoted service, of painting anything for me, that I gave them at last. The way would have been to have given them for his life: he soon after died, and the sketches were sold with his collection.’ Two of those drawings can be identified as the auxiliary cartoons now in the British Museum (inv. no. 1860,0616.96; Jaffé no. 322, Joannides no. 433) and the Rijksmuseum (Joannides no. 432), the latter of which had come to the Devonshire collection from Flinck. The third must have been another, now unknown, sheet.
34. Jaffé nos. 306 & 317 (Chatsworth nos. 902 & 20). It has also traditionally been stated that the auxiliary cartoon for the Transfiguration, subsequently given by the 6th Duke of Devonshire to Sir Thomas Lawrence and now in the Rijksmuseum, came from the Flinck collection, but unlike the two sheets still at Chatsworth, that drawing does not bear the Flinck mark.
35. ‘Sir Peter Lely’s Collection,’ editorial, The Burlington Magazine, LXXXIII, no. 485, August 1943, pp. 185-191. We are also most grateful to Dr. Diana Dethloff for providing further information on the Lely Collection.
36. 'A Catalogue of the Pictures, Prints, Drawings...being Part of the Old Arundel Collection, and belonging to the Late Earl of Stafford..,' April (?) 1720 (copy of the sale catalogue in the British Library: General Reference Collection S.C.347.(2.))
37. The source of this story is a hand-written annotation by Jonathan Richardson Junior, to be found in a set of three extensively annotated volumes of bound-up proof-sheets of a French translation of the collected writings of his father, Jonathan Richardson Senior, published in Amsterdam in 1728. The annotated volumes are in the London Library. See: F.J.B. Watson, 'On the early history of collecting in England,' The Burlington Magazine, vol. LXXXV, no. 498, 1944, pp. 223-4.
38. Lionel Cust and Mary L. Cox, ‘Notes on the Collections formed by Thomas Howard,’ The Burlington Magazine, XIX, no. 101, August 1911, p. 283.
39. Jaffé no. 318 (Chatsworth no. 904); Joannides no. 424