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Assumption of the Virgin; figure standing to front, head turned downwards, hands held in attitude of prayer, and borne by three figures Brush drawing in brown ink and wash with pen and brown ink, heightened with white, over black chalk
- Height: 313 millimetres
- Width: 193 millimetres
Modified text from McDonald 2013.
Alonso Berruguete is regarded as one of the most distinguished Spanish artist of the sixteenth century. He trained probably with his father, Pedro Berruguete (c.1450-c.1500), in Paredes de Nava (Palencia) before travelling to Italy around the age of 20 to further his education. First in Florence – where he apparently copied Masaccio’s frescoes in the Brancacci Chapel – he then travelled to Rome. Giorgio Vasari notes that Berruguete greatly admired Michelangelo and copied his Battle of Cascina cartoon (Vasari  1991, p. 889. These copies have not survived, but Berruguete’s interest in Michelangelo is amply demonstrated by a red chalk drawing, now in the Museo de Bellas Artes Valencia, of the prophet Daniel from the Sistine Chapel (A. Espinós Díaz, Museo de Bellas Artes de Valencia. Catálogo de dibujos I (Siglos XVI-XVII), Madrid, 1979, no.6).
Berruguete's experience in Italy taught him how important drawing was for the preparation of works. He returned to Spain (Valladolid and Salamanca) around 1516, and in 1518 was appointed Painter to King Charles V. The serenity of the figure caught in swirling clouds in the present work is characteristic of his mature style and probably dates from the period around 1555-61. It compares closely with his drawing of Christ, a study from around 1554 for the central figure on the retablo in the church of San Salvador, Úbeda (Angulo Íñiguez and Pérez Sánchez 1975, I, no. 56). The monumental contrapposto figure and the putti enveloped by the clouds in the lower section is evident in both drawings.
The oval format of the Assumption and its concentration on a single figure reflects elements of Berruguete’s sculptural work. The drawing was probably made as a study for a piece that is not known. The Virgin projects from a darkened recessed space, thereby emphasising her three-dimensional form. The pen strokes describing her garments resemble wood-carving. A free-standing sculpture of the Assumption of the Virgin on the retablo of San Benito (1526–32) shows her with hands together, standing on clouds and heads of cherubs similar to this drawing (M. Arias Martínez. 'Alonso Berruguete y Gaspar Becerra. Fortuna crítica y fascinación Italiana', Valladolid 2008, p.235). Made considerably later, the British Museum drawing is however altogether more dynamic reflecting the development of Berruguete’s style.
A large number of drawings have been associated with Berruguete, several of which form a pattern book. He employed assistants to help with commissions; their drawings, mostly in pen and ink, closely resemble his own. Prints also provided models and were copied by artists in his workshop. An engraving attributed to Berruguete himself of the Entombment of Christ that reproduces his own painting and has stylistic similarities with a number of his paintings (1860,0414.16). It is probable that the drawing of the Assumption served more than one purpose.
As a study for a sculpture the drawing equally might have recorded a stock figure, meant to be preserved and used as a reference for other compositions in the way prints were used as source material. The oval sheet has been cut down following its original format and later built up for mounting.
D. Angulo Íñiguez & A. E. Pérez Sánchez, 'A Corpus of Spanish Drawings 1400-1600', vol.i, no.60; E. du Gué Trapier, 'Notes of Spanish Drawing', Notes Hispanic, vol.i, 1941, p.12, fig.9; Mark P. McDonald, 'Renaissance to Goya: Prints and drawings from Spain', exhib.cat., British Museum, London 2012, fig.14, p.67; Mark P. McDonald, 'El trazo español en el British Museum: Dibujos del Renacimiento a Goya', exhib.cat., Museo Nacional del Prado, Madrid 2013, cat.no.1.
Not on display (Spanish Roy XVIc)
1976 BM, `Spanish Drawings`, (no cat)
2012/13 Sept-Jan, London, British Museum, ‘Renaissance to Goya: Prints and Drawings from Spain’
2013 March-June, Madrid, Museo Nacional del Prado, ‘El trazo español en el British Museum …’
2013, Aug-Nov, Sydney, AGNSW, 'Renaissance to Goya'
2013-4, Dec-Mar, Santa Fe, New Mexico Museum of Modern Art, 'Renaissance to Goya'
Prints & Drawings
Assumption of the Virgin; figure standing to front, head turned downwards, hands held in attitude of prayer, and borne by three figures Brush drawing in brown ink, with pen and brown ink and brown wash, heightened with white (oxidised)
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Object reference number: PDO200
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