Michelangelo, Studies for Haman, a red chalk drawing

Rome, Italy

Michelangelo (1475-1564) was commissioned to paint the Sistine chapel ceiling in Rome's Vatican Palace in 1508. He had little experience of fresco technique, and the ceiling painting was an extraordinary personal achievement. This is a life study for the crucified figure of Haman, painted about 1511-12 on one of the corner sections or pendentives of the chapel's altar wall. The finished figure appears to stretch out his left arm into the real space of the chapel.

The fresco's subject is taken from the Old Testament Book of Esther. It depicts three episodes in Esther's salvation of her fellow Jews from persecution by the Persians. Haman, the chief minister of Esther's Persian husband, King Ahasuerus, had instigated a campaign against the Jews, but in the end it was he who was condemned to be hanged on the gallows.

The model for the life drawing would have had to maintain a dynamic pose for a considerable length of time. He must have had his left leg supported in some way, perhaps by a loop suspended from the ceiling, and have held on to ropes to keep his arms aloft. The small circles visible on Haman's right thigh, and on the separate study of his bent left leg on the same sheet, are a notation used by Michelangelo to denote the most highlighted area.

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More information


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


Height: 40.600 cm
Width: 20.700 cm

Museum number

PD 1895-9-15-497



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