In the present sheet, using only pen and ink, Raphael rapidly drew a standing young soldier in armor, his right arm outstretched holding a sword. The youth wears an armor ‘all’antica‘ and a Roman helmet of Attic type. In contrast to a number of sheets datable to the Florentine years, representing crowded compositions with male nudes fighting, here the single figure is totally contained in his armor, and motionless. Raphael constructed his hero with a reassured handling of the pen, resulting in geometrical volumes with broad indications of the fall of light, characterized by parallel hatched passages of shading, evoking the presence of the young soldier standing, almost in profile, firmly on the ground; quick lines under both feet are the only elements to indicate the real space around him. As the parallel hatching clearly indicates, the light is falling from the left.
Most interestingly, the drawing bears two old attributions to the artist on the backing sheet. The first and most important, to the lower left, is written in pen and brown ink, probably in a 16th- or early 17th-century hand, and is legible only with infrared light: it reads…Raffaello d’Urbbino (fig.1). The second, possibly 19th-century, is written in pencil, slightly higher, near the right edge: Scuola Romana / Raphaele fecit inv. The backing sheet shows traces of glue around the edges, indicating that it was previously laid down on a mount (now lost), which explains not only how the knowledge of these old attributions to Raphael came to be lost,3 but also why the inscriptions are today very hard to read.4
We are especially indebted to Carol Plazzotta for her generous and enthusiastic help during the researching and cataloguing of this drawing and for pointing out that the figure is likely to represent Mucius Scaevola, a legendary Roman hero, here frozen in a symbolic gesture, just before he thrusts his right hand into a fire, in front of Lars Porsena, King of the Clusians, demonstrating his bravery by holding it there without giving any indication of pain.5 His face, with its curly beard and focused gaze, is almost totally covered by the sculptural form of the helmet (with a pointed visor ending in volutes, hinged cheekpieces, and a nose-guard which is clearly a Renaissance addition).
Raphael probably arrived in Florence shortly after 1 October 1504 with a letter of recommendation to Pier Soderini (1450-1522), the gonfaloniere of Florence,6 written by one of his most influential female patrons, Giovanna Feltria della Rovere (1463-1513), the last of the Montefeltro line. In this context, it would have been appropriate for Raphael to represent such a subject, a historic event that occurred at the beginning of the Roman Republic, to pay homage to the Florentine republic of his own times, then under the rule of Soderini. Mucius Scaevola, with his right hand in the flames, is the central figure of one of the lunettes depicting a series of Roman ‘uomini illustri’ by Domenico Ghirlandaio, frescoes that Raphael would have doubtless admired and studied in the Sala dei Gigli of the Palazzo Vecchio (1482-84).7 During these experimental years in Florence, Raphael was reinventing his vocabulary in the most original way, and in the present sheet the idea, characterized by a quick and expressive use of lines, is jotted directly onto the paper without any initial guidelines in stylus or chalk. Raphael had a rare capacity for development through the assimilation of other artists’ works and ideas into his own style, and although we have not succeeded in finding a likely source, and this figure could be his own invention, we cannot exclude that it may have derived from some other work, possibly a relief or a sculpted figure.8 Raphael was exceptionally receptive to new ideas, and in some way a cunning and astute artistic magpie. He grew up in a very cultivated milieu, nourished by his father’s humanistic and literary vision in the extraordinary Dukedom of Urbino, ruled by the highly sophisticated and refined family of the Montefeltro. Giovanni Santi (1440/45-1494), Raphael’s father, was not only a painter but an accomplished Renaissance courtier, appreciated by his contemporaries as a talented poet.
Around 1504, Raphael became fascinated by the representation of ‘uomini eroici’ 9 and eagerly pursued his own vision of the ‘ideal knight’, creating some of his most poetic images and compositions to satisfy the requirements of his refined Urbinate and Sienese patrons. One example of this is the small panel at the National Gallery, The Vision of a Knight, which depicts another Roman hero, Scipione Africanus. Tom Henry and Carol Plazzotta, in their introductory essay to the catalogue of the National Gallery’s 2004 exhibition Raphael: From Urbino to Rome, wrote of this small panel that ‘The Vision of a Knight offers a fascinating instance of Raphael depicting a type of subject his father could only express in words.’10
Interestingly, Plazzotta has observed that a very similar representation of Mucius Scaevola is to be found on a maiolica dish (fig.1), now in the Castello Sforzesco, Milan, painted by Nicola da Urbino (ca. 1480-1540/1547), most probably on the basis of a lost design by Raphael. The maiolica shows the Roman hero, in armor, seen almost in profile in a very similar pose to the drawing, but holding his arm over the fire. According to Timothy Wilson, Nicola da Urbino may have received his initial training in the workshop of Timoteo Viti (1469/70-1523), a fellow artist and friend of Raphael in Urbino. Maiolica painters generally derived their compositions from engravings, and Nicola seems to have been the only one to work directly from drawings by Raphael and Giulio Romano,11 including sheets once owned by Viti that passed at his death to his heirs the Antaldi family of Pesaro, a number of which are today preserved in the Ashmolean Museum in Oxford.12
This drawing can be closely associated, stylistically, to a number of other studies datable around 1506-1507, such as The Death of Meleager, The battle of nude warriors with captive, Seven nude warriors fighting for a standard, and Two nude men and a dead lamb.13 These other drawings are, though, all depictions of groups of nudes fighting – though it is not, perhaps, surprising that this theme should have been so prominent in Raphael’s work at this time, when he was newly exposed to the battle scenes devised by Michelangelo and Leonardo for Palazzo Vecchio, commemorating Florence’s victories at Cascina and Anghiari. In striking contrast to these other drawings, the present work represents a moment suspended in time, in which human power is not expressed with action and movement - very little of the body below the heavy armor is actually visible - but rather is manifested in the strength and determination of character of the heroic figure.
Tom Henry, who has seen the present drawing in the original, has, however, suggested an alternative possibility, namely that Raphael could have studied soldiers in armor like this one in connection with his unrealised project for a depiction of the Siege of Perugia. That work, for which no documentation survives other than a compositional study by Raphael in the Louvre14, was most likely a civic commission commemorating the city’s heroic resistance to Totila’s siege, destined for a cycle of frescos of comparable grandeur to Michelangelo and Leonardo’s decorations in the Sala del Consiglio in Palazzo Vecchio. Henry has related a number of Raphael’s drawings of this period to this little-known project, including sheets in Bayonne and Oxford, some of them already mentioned above as stylistically comparable to the present Standing Soldier.15 Raphael generally seems to have made drawings as a necessary stage in the realization of a finished work and not just for their own sake.
The Florentine period is one of the most revealing and intuitive moments of Raphael’s graphic style, perhaps the most varied and difficult to comprehend, where the artist seems to have revised every aspect of his artistic expression evolving into a new orchestration, not necessarily melodic, but certainly exciting and full of vigor, far from the visual convention he had inherited or learned in his earlier career. His graphic style of these years is very remote from his previous Peruginesque delicacy, and this new inventive draftsmanship, clearly detectable in the present sheet, is emblematic of this broad freedom of execution which allows an incredible and varied artistic vocabulary. The use of the pen is well suited to follow the quickness of invention and abrupt changes of idea.
When analyzing closely the lines in the present sheet there are plenty of surprising but not unusual abbreviations, for instance when quickly sketching hands and feet, which can be closely compared to similar details in other sheets by the master, such as The Death of Meleager, in the Ashmolean Museum, Oxford.16 Here one can see the same idiosyncratic v-shaped lines to indicate the feet of the two male nudes, to the right, transporting the body of Meleager (see figs.xxx), and a quick simplification of the fingers, left unfinished, and with a certain flatness in the description of the hand of the female figure touching the body of the dead hero, which are comparable to the left hand here holding the shield (see fig. ). The use of repeated and overlapping lines, some defined with more pressure, creates, in areas such as the helmet, an effect as if two parallel lines are running together, while other, thinner lines are left suspended in search of changes and corrections. Combined with thoughtful hatched passages of shading and rapid, meaningful punctuations, the result is a totally individual way of suggesting forms that can only be reconciled with Raphael’s own and unique style of these years. The geometric construction of the decorative armor is superimposed on the body like architecture. Although a totally fantastical creation, we can vividly imagine the cuirass made of leather and metal, with its decorative lappets hanging from each shoulder and around the figure’s loins. Curiously - if not surprisingly, given Raphael’s creative and poetic mind - the greave attached to the upper part of the left leg by a strap includes, at the height of the knee, the head of a lion, which appears to be drawn upside down. Plazzotta has rightly observed that the section of the cloak quickly sketched on the left shoulder, hanging over the lappets, has been added by the artist after completing the rest of the drawing. It is very typical of Raphael to continue to invent and add modifications whilst working, especially in a hastily executed drawing such as the present one, where the lines are quickly jotted down and where the artist corrects and adds to the description of the figure while making alterations to the outlines. It is also worth noting that although Raphael’s evolution is totally apparent in the style of this sheet, it still shows some reminiscences of a Peruginesque technique known as ‘occhiellature’ - an old fashioned way of describing the folds of the drapery with little hooks - used in this case when drawing the cloth that hangs from below the oval shield, over the young hero’s left arm, cleverly positioned so as not to reduce the visibility of the elaborate armor. Geometric expression seems to have taken over the more gentle and curved lines of previous years, but the seed of these transformative years seems already to have been sown in a sheet such as The Presentation in the Temple,17 a quick preparatory study in the Ashmolean Museum for the central group in the predella of the Pala Oddi, painted around 1503 for the church of San Francesco al Prato, Perugia (fig.4). Although clearly of an earlier date, the strong line work which defines the figures in this draft is in fact not unlike the strength in the use of the pen seen in the present sheet, in which the figure is clearly outlined in space. We can readily detect the same parallel lines to define the shadows, and Raphael's exuberance as he adds touches and accents to enrich his graphic palette.
When Raphael came to Florence he was exposed to a new grandeur, and must have hoped to receive commissions from the municipal administration. In fact, he worked more or less solely for private patrons who were very similar to the ones he had had in former years. He was engaged by the Florentine nobility to paint portraits and devotional paintings. The competition from established workshops and known masters must have been insurmountable for a newcomer, especially a young one, but the ideas he absorbed in Florence became the seed for a different narrative, with no boundaries, which in its inner dynamic recognized no limits in capturing space and magnitude. This power, definitively instigated during these crucial years, made Raphael into the monumental painter capable of leading the decoration of the papal apartments in the Vatican palace, when called to Rome in around 1508/09 by Pope Julius II, della Rovere (1503-1513).
It is exactly in a sheet such as this that we see captured the rhythm and also the poetry of the master, and understand, via the stimulating accents of his new language, Raphael’s clear need for change and experimentation. This certainly gave him the possibility and the power to prepare for his entry into Rome, and to profit from the immense impact that the Eternal City was to have on his artistic career.
We are grateful to Peter Bower for analysing the paper, and confirming that the primary sheet and its support date from around 1500. He also notes that this sheet must have been laid down on its support not long after the drawing was executed in order to preserve it.
1. Giuseppe Vallardi was the artistic adviser to the Biblioteca Ambrosiana in Milan, and honorary curator for the Archinto Collection in the same city. He is also known for his dictionary of engravers published in Milan in 1821: Catalogo dei più celebri intagliatori…[ ] di diverse età e nazioni. In the sale of Vallardi’s drawings and prints collection, held in Paris, 10-15 December 1860, among 251 lots of drawings there were sheets attributed to Raphael (lots 195 to 197), Leonardo, Michelangelo and Correggio, as well as works by Cortona, Carracci, Reni, Guercino and others
2. For information on the scholars who have seen this drawing in the original, and their opinions, please contact the Old Master Drawings department
3. The red chalk Vallardi inventory number appears to be written over the remains of the glue from the previous mounting
4. There appear also to be the illegible remains of a third old inscription, in black chalk, towards the upper right of the verso
5. In 508 BC, during the war between Rome and Clusium, the Clusian king Porsena laid siege to Rome. Mucius, a young Roman youth who volunteered with the approval of the Roman Senate to assassinate the king, crept into the Etruscan camp with the intent of murdering Porsena. Mucius misidentified his target, and instead of the king he killed Porsena's scribe by mistake.
6. Elected gonfaloniere for life in 1502 by the Florentines who wished to give greater stability to their republican institutions, which had been restored after the expulsion of Piero de' Medici
7. For other representations of Mucius Scaevola see for example: Taddeo di Bartolo, Palazzo Pubblico, Anticappella, Siena; Francesco di Giorgio Martini, Adoration of the shepherds with Mucius Scaevola (in the medallion), Church of San Domenico, Siena
8. An obvious example, which clearly demonstrates Raphael’s fascination with sculpture, also datable to the Florentine period, is the sheet in the Ashmolean Museum, Four Standing soldiers, inv. no. WA1846.164, where the central standing soldier, in armor, resting his left arm on a shield is clearly derived from Donatello’s St George (c. 1415-1417), once in one of the external niches of the façade at Orsanmichele, Florence, today preserved in the Bargello Museum
9. It is worth also remembering the classical representation of Perugino’s ‘uomini illustri’ in the Collegio del Cambio in Perugia (completed by 1500), surely a decoration known to Raphael, which includes among others Cato, Fabius Maximus, Socrates, Numa Pompilius, Pittacus, Trajan, Leonidas, Horatius Cocles, Scipio, Pericles, Cincinnatus.
10. T. Henry and C. Plazzotta, Raphael: From Urbino to Rome, exhib. cat., London, National Gallery, 2004-5, pp. 20-21
11. See T. Wilson, ‘Una Sacra Famiglia urbinate tra pittura e maiolica’, in Devozione Privata, Un capolavoro di Nicola da Urbino per la sua città, exhib. cat., Urbino, Casa natale di Raffaello, 2012-2013, pp. 5-7; for a clear example of a drawing in the Ashmolean Museum by Raphael from the Viti–Antaldi collection, A battle of nude warriors with captives (c. 1506-1507), inv. no. WA1846.179, where a male nude to the extreme left on the verso is painted on a maiolica dish by Nicola da Urbino, and again by his bottega (see Devozione Privata, op. cit. above, p. 18, figs. 6-8
12. In 1845 the University of Oxford was persuaded to accept, although with some reluctance, a gift paid for by public subscription of about one hundred and fifty drawings attributed to Raphael, drawings which remained unsold on Woodburn’s hands following the dispersal of the collection of Sir Thomas Lawrence, together with more than eighty sheets by Michelangelo
13. Respectively: Oxford, Ashmolean Museum, inv. no. WA1846.180; Oxford, Ashmolean Museum, inv. no. WA1846.179 (recto and verso); Oxford, Ashmolean Museum, inv. no. WA1846.178; Bayonne, Musée Bonnat, inv. no. 651
14. Paris, Musée du Louvre, Départment des Arts graphiques, inv. no. 3856r
15. Tom Henry, ‘Raphael’s ‘Siege of Perugia’’, The Burlington Magazine, November 2004, pp. 745-748, reproduced figs. 43, 45, 46, 47, 48, 49
16. Oxford, Ashmolean Museum, inv. no. WA1846.180
17. Oxford, Ashmolean Museum, inv. no. WA1855.89
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