Height: 2327.000 mm
Width: 1656.000 mm
Gift of John Wingfield Malcolm
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Michelangelo Buonarroti, Epifania, a drawing
Rome, Italy, around AD 1550-53
This cartoon is drawn with black chalk on 26 sheets of paper and is over two metres high. It was used for an unfinished painting by Michelangelo's biographer, Ascanio Condivi (about 1525-74), which is now in the Casa Buonarroti, Florence.
A cartoon is a final preparatory drawing on the same scale as the finished painting or other work of art. The word is derived from the Italian for a large piece of paper: cartone. This is one of only two surviving cartoons by Michelangelo.
The aged Michelangelo, then in his mid-70s, made numerous changes to the figures, such as in the position of the Christ Child’s head. The cartoon is recorded in Michelangelo’s studio after his death in 1564. It was wrongly described then as an Epifania (the adoration of the newborn Christ by the three kings). The subject remains mysterious, but the position of Christ between his mother’s legs (observed on the right by the Infant Baptist) suggests that one of its themes was his miraculous incarnation.
Due to the cartoon’s scale and importance it always hangs in Room 90, alongside changing displays of works from the Prints and Drawings department’s collection.
M. Hirst, Michelangelo and his drawings (New Haven and London, Yale University Press, 1988)
M. Royalton-Kisch, H. Chapman and S. Coppel, Old Master drawings from the M, exh. cat. (London, The British Museum Press, 1996)
J. Wilde, Italian drawings in the Depa-2 (London, The British Museum Press, 1953)
J.A. Gere and N. Turner, Drawings by Michelangelo in th, exh. cat. (London, The British Museum Press, 1975)