Michelangelo, Grotesque heads; Hercules and Antaeus, a red chalk, black chalk and stylus drawing

Florence, Italy
About 1524-5

The three grotesque heads in this drawing by Michelangelo (1475-1564) are of contrasting character. The one on the left portrays wide-eyed anxiety, that on the right half-witted mischief, while the third one below depicts gloomy lethargy, eloquently expressed by his drooping ears.

The beginning of a feeble copy to the left may suggest that Michelangelo drew these heads for his pupils as amusing models for them to copy. He is not an artist usually associated with light-heartedness but in this case he obviously felt that it was appropriate: he is quoted as saying that such grotteschi should be a source of 'variation and relaxation of the senses'.

On the same sheet, the right-hand study of two figures relates to a plan for a gigantic sculpture of Hercules and Antaeus which was never actually made. The artist Antonio Pollaiuolo tackled the same subject sixty years earlier and Michelangelo was aware of his work. The manner in which the two figures are locked together - and particularly Antaeus' desperate push against the top of Hercules' head in his attempt to break free from his grip - is reminiscent of a statuette and small-scale panel by Pollaiuolo.

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More information


H. Chapman, Michelangelo drawings: closer (London, British Museum Press, 2005)


Height: 25.500 cm
Width: 35.000 cm

Museum number

PD 1859-6-25-557



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