- Museum number
Working drawings for a recumbent statue: a River-God planned for the Medici tombs in the New Sacristy of San Lorenzo, Florence. 1525
Pen and brown ink
Verso: a short line of handwriting and dots and dashes (covered by a sheet of paper in the present mount)
Pen and brown ink
- Production date
Height: 137 millimetres
Width: 209 millimetres
- Curator's comments
- The two main recto sketches are elevations, with the dimensions marked, for what has generally been regarded - since Meyer (1919) - as the same block figure, turned ninety degrees. The two drawings are, however, discrepant in the representation of the figure's r. leg. Berenson was the first to propose (1903) that they were drawn for stone cutters - demonstrations from Michelangelo of the size and shape of marble block required, although the sheet's survival means that, if this were the case, it can never have been sent to the marble quarries. Pen and ink is Michelangelo's usual medium for block drawings, giving a necessary precision of line.
The two drawings are fluid, drawn with long strokes of the pen indicating the outlines of the two figures. Michelangelo has rapidly corrected the contour of the head and l. elbow in the l.-hand sketch and the upper legs of that to the right. The artist has completed the lines which define the measurements of the figure - and hence the minimum dimensions of the marble block required - with small circles to clearly differentiate them from the contours of the figure. These appear to have been drawn before the adjustments of the outlines.
As Popp (1922) observes, in the r.-hand sketch, the outline of the marble block has been indicated above the figures raised arms, descending to the thigh to the l. and vertically on the r.-hand side. This observation would seem to confirm the destination of this sheet and summons to mind the famous conceit Michelangelo elaborated in verse:
Non ha l'ottimo artista alcun concetto
C'un marmo solo in se' non circonscriva
col suo superchio, e solo a quello arriva
la man che ubbidisce all'intelletto.
Not even the best of artists has any conception
that a single marble block does not contain
within its excess, and that is only attained
by the hand that obeys the intellect.
(trans. J.M Saslow, 'The Poetry of Michelangelo', New Haven and London, 1991, no. 151, p. 302).
The vertical line giving the height of the figure, 'two and three quarter braccia', also appears to define the sketch in depth (the distance between the shoulder blades). The outer contour to the top l. of the r.-hand figure would appear to correspond to the frontal plane indicated by a curving vertical line marked 'three braccia' in length in the l.-hand sketch (interpreted as the height of the block by Popp  although this is indicated as two and three quarter 'braccia' in the r.-hand sketch). Drawn with the sheet turned upside down, in the top l. corner, is the beginning of a sketch for the same figure, confined to the upper part of the body for lack of space.
A.E. Popp (1922) identified this sketch as being for the figure to be placed to the r. of the sarcophagus of Giuliano de'Medici in the Sacrestia nuova (New Sacristy) in San Lorenzo, Florence (see W 25-8, 45-9). She considered the r. hand sketch to be the predominant view and provided an ingenious visual reconstruction of the tomb ensemble (1922, fig. 11). The statues of the River Gods remained an essential part of Michelangelo's conception of the Ducal tombs in the lateral bays, necessary to complete the pyramidal composition formed by the reclining allegories with the Ducal representations as the apex: this composition is seen in block form on the verso of a letter contained in the Archivio Buonarroti (de Tolnay 477) and in figurative detail in W27 recto - and would seem to confirm the side view as being the intended main orientation (although see Joannides  below).
In a letter of October 1525 Michelangelo explained that he had not yet begun the tomb sculptures because he had no suitable marble blocks, Wilde proposing that an increase in scale had made the ordered blocks useless. The present sketch would seem to correspond to Michelangelo's new conception of the Gods to a larger scale since the dimensions marked are greater than those of the extant fragment of the clay River God in the Accademia in Florence. Joannides (2000) concurs although he notes that the drawings are more detailed than most of those executed for the masons in Carrara, and suggests that this study may have been produced purely in relation to the second models in wax for which it would have been necessary to construct an 'armatura metallica'. Joannides also suggests that Michelangelo may have changed his mind concerning the orientation of the statues, the l. elevation becoming the predominant view since it demonstrates 'tutte le qualità del movimento, contrapposto, sinuosità ed espressività emotiva che sono invece nascoste nello schizzo di destra', as well as recalling earlier compositions by Michelangelo, notably the Tondo Doni in the Ufizzi.
By September 1534 the sculptures still had not been begun, although at least two of the full size clay models of figures in the chapel produced by Michelangleo between 1524-6 were of River Gods. The line of writing on the verso - 'if the King of France dies a prisoner' - is of identical character to that of the measurements given to the recto sketches, and thus confirms the dating of the recto to the period of the letter of October 1525, its being the autumn of that year when news reached Florence that Francis I was dying. For Perrig (1991) this drawing, 'authenticated as original', provides a template for Michelangelo's technique.
For a discussion of the importance of the models in Michelangelo's artistic practice see J. O'Grody, 2001.
Lit.: B. Berenson, 'Drawings of the Florentine Painters',Chicago, 1938, II, no. 1491, p. 183; A.E. Popp, 'Die Medici Kapelle Michelangelos', Munich, 1922, Berlin, pp. 145 ff., pl. 46; J. Wilde, 'Italian Drawings in the BM, Michelangelo and his Studio', London, 1953, no. 35, pp. 69-70 (with further literature); C. de Tolnay, 'Michelangelo III. The Medici Chapel', Princeton, 1959, p.149 and no. 95, p. 215; L. Dussler, 'Die Zeichnungen des Michelangelo', Berlin, 1959, no. 154, pp. 98-9; F. Hartt, 'The Drawings of Michelangelo', London, 1971, no. 252; J.A. Gere and N. Turner, in exhib. cat., London, BM, 'Drawings by Michelangelo', 1975, no. 62, p. 65; C. de Tolnay, 'Corpus dei disegni di Michelangelo', Novara, 1976, II, no. 227; N. Turner, in exhib. cat., London, BM, 'Florentine Drawings of the sixteenth century', 1986, no. 76, p. 112; M. Hirst, 'Michelangelo and his Drawings', London and New Haven, 1988, p. 74; A. Perrig, 'Michelangelo's drawings: the science of attribution', New Haven and London, 1991, pp. 18-19, 40, 64, fig. 55; A. Perrig, in exhib. cat. (E.G. Güse and A. Perrig eds), Saarbrücken, Saarland Museum, , 'Zeichnungen aus der Toskana', 1997, no. 32, pp. 128-31; P. Joannides, in exhib. cat. (S. Androsov and U. Baldini eds), Florence, Casa Buonarroti and St Petersburg, Hermitage, 'L'Adolescente dell'Ermitage e la Sagrestia Nuova di Michelangelo', 2000, no. 2, pp. 81-3; J. O'Grody, 'Michelangelo: The Master Modeller', in exhib. cat. (B. Boucher ed.), Houston, The Museum of Fine Arts and London, Victoria and Albert Museum, 'Earth and Fire: Italian Terracotta Sculpture from Donatello to Canova', 2001, pp. 33-42; H. Chapman, in exhib. cat., BM, 'Michelangelo Drawings: closer to the master', 2005, no. 43, pp. 175-6
- Not on display
- Exhibition history
1964 BM, Michelangelo, no. 63
1975 Feb-Apr, BM, Drawings by Michelangelo, no. 62
1980 Palazzo Strozzi, Il primato del disegno, no. 307
1986 BM, 16thC Florentine Drawings, no. 76
1997 Sep-Nov, Saarbrucken, Saarland Mus, Zeichnungen aus der Toskana (Drawings from Tuscany)
2000 May-Jul, Florence,Casa Buonarroti, 'L'Adolescente dell'Ermitage...', no. 2
2000 Sep-Nov, St Petersburg, Hermitage, L'Adolescente dell'Ermitage...', no. 2
2005/6 Oct-Jan, Haarlem, Teylers Museum, 'Michelangelo Drawings: Closer to the Master'
2006 Mar-Jun, BM, 'Michelangelo Drawings: Closer to the Master'
- Acquisition date
- Prints and Drawings
- Registration number