- Museum number
A study of a seated nude man for the 'Battle of Cascina'. 1504-5
Pen and brown ink, grey and brown wash, heightened with white (partly discoloured) over lead point and stylus. The back ground to right of the torso is shaded in brown wash
Verso: Studies of nude figures and legs. 1508-10
- Production date
Height: 419 millimetres
Width: 286 millimetres
- Curator's comments
- The nude figure on the recto is a finished study drawn from the life for one of the figures in the 'Bathers', the title given to the cartoon (same size drawing) for the central section of his unrealised fresco of the 'Battle of Cascina'. A spidery ink sketch of this striking, albeit anatomically impossible, pose is found on the verso of Wilde 3 (illustrated in colour in Chapman 2005, fig. 23 on p. 84). The attribution of the drawing continues to be questioned, even though the dense ink cross-hatching used to map the swelling contours and the emphatic outline contours are paralleled in other Michelangelo studies of the same period such as Wilde 4. What is unusual in the drawing is the combination of media with the artist electing to add with a brush white highlights and in the torso brown and grey wash. The dainty application of the white highlights is exactly like that in some of Michelangelo's black chalk Cascina studies, such as the two from Haarlem (de Tolnay 50 and 51; Chapman 2005, nos. 9 and 10). Michelangelo's attempt to use wash to model the the shaded area on the right side of the torso is less succesful as can be seen from the muddied lack of definition in this area. The drawing appears to have been an experiment that he did not repeat as in future he chose to use chalk for such detailed figure studies.
The twisting figure was to be at the centre of Michelangelo's planned battle painting in the Sala Grande del Consiglio in the Palazzo Vecchio, the seat of the Great Council of over 3,000 male Florentines, constructed in 1495-6 soon after the fall of the Medici regime in 1494. The subject of Michelangelo's work, the Battle of Casacina, was a Florentine victory over the Pisans in 1364. This rare Florentine military success (the city being better known for trade and banking than warfare) had a particular topical relevance because the newly formed Florentine Republic was trying to recapture Pisa. This key strategic port had been lost when the Pisans regained their independence after Florence under Piero de'Medici foolishly tried to resist the French invasion of Italy in 1494 (for a summary of the historical context see Chapman 2005, pp. 77-80)
Michelangelo was almost certainly commissioned to paint the battle by Piero Soderini, the head of state of the Republic, the 'Gonfaloniere a vita', who had earlier commanded Leonardo to paint a victory over the Milanese, the Battle of Anghiari. Leonardo began work on his cartoon in October 1503, six months or so before Michelangelo received the commission for his companion work in the summer of 1504. It is believed by most scholars that Michelangelo's work was intended for the left-side of one of the long walls of the Great Council (whether it was the east or west wall is still disputed). The two works were on a gigantic scale as the space to be filled measured roughly 18 x 7 metres or 19 x 48 feet. Soderini's bold plan to harness the talents of the two greatest Florentine artists of their respective generations to create patriotic works to give heart to the embattled Republic failed as neither of them delivered. Leonardo went so far as to paint part of the fresco, but he choose to do so in an experimental oil-based pigment that did not adhere properly to the wall and his damaged, unfinished composition was covered over by Vasari in his decoration of the room in the 1560s. Michelangelo progressed no further than the creation of a cartoon of the the central 'Bathers' section. The black chalk or charcoal drawing with white highlights of over life-size figures survived for no more than a decade, destroyed it is said by Vasari by the artists who flocked to study it. Although in the 1560s when Vasari was writing his biography fragments of the cartoon were still in existence, none now survive.
Vasari records that Michelangelo produced the cartoon in a room of the Dyers' Hospital in Santo Onofrio and emphasizes the profound impact it had when unveiled. The cartoon represented the moment the Florentine soldiers were surprised whilst bathing in the Arno based on accounts given in the fourteenth-century chronicler Filippo Villani and in Leonardo Bruni's Latin history of the Florentine people which Michelangelo could have read in translation. The figure on W6 is seen in the Holkham copy: he sits on the river bank, turning back towards his hurriedly dressing comrades. Wilde first drew attention to the fact that the figure in its earliest conception is seen in a quickly delineated compositional sketch in black chalk for the whole group in the Uffizi (de Tolnay 45). The dynamic movement of idealised, classically inspired figures was unlike any work before it and the cartoon had a profound effect on Michelangelo's contemporaries. Cellini in his biography called the work 'a school for all the world' and one of the most attentive students of it was the young Raphael who is known from a drawing in the Biblioteca Apostolica Vaticana to have copied the Michelangelo figure in the cartoon studied here.
Wilde writes, 'I see in our drawing one of the most conspicuous studies by Michelangelo that we possess', and as 'the surest basis for the reconstruction of the style of his [Michelangelo's] lost cartoon', copies of which show that Michelangelo used this study almost unaltered. The best known copy is the grisaille oil painting on panel in Holkham Hall, Norfolk, attributed to Bastiano (known as Aristotile) da Sangallo (ill. in Joannides, 1996). This is most likely the work painted at the request of Vasari in the early 1540s on the basis of a small drawn copy ('cartonetto') after Michelangelo's work made in Sangallo's youth.
Wilde dates the verso studies, drawn in red chalk with the sheet inverted, to 1508-10 when Michelangelo started work on the Sistine ceiling, the period when he began to use red chalk extensively. He suggests that two of the studies on the verso, although not used, may have been intended for the lunettes of the chapel. De Tolnay considers the outlines of the recto figure to have been gone over from the verso. He follows Dussler in questioning the attribution to Michelangelo of both recto and verso, a modification of his opinion of 1943 when he had considered W6 a copy after an original. Gere and Turner (1979), however, uphold Wilde's ascription to Michelangelo of both the recto and verso. Joannides (1981) observes that Michelangelo must have particularly valued the recto study, keeping it with him and later using the verso for the Sistine ceiling.
Watermark: Ladder in circle with star (see, J. Roberts, 'A Dictionary of Michelangelo's Watermarks', Milan, 1988, p. 23)
Lit..: C. de Tolnay, 'Michelangelo I. Youth', Princeton, 1943, no. 31, p. 189 (as a copy after a lost original by Michelangelo); J. Wilde, 'Italian Drawings from the BM, Michelangelo and his Studio', London, 1953, no. 6, pp. 14-16 (with further literature); L. Dussler, 'Die Zeichnungen des Michelangelo', Berlin, 1959, no. 324 (recto), pp. 177-8 (attributed to Michelangelo), no. 565 (verso), p. 259 (as apocryphally attributed to Michelangelo); P. Barocchi, 'Michelangelo e la sua scuola: i disegni de Casa Buonarroti e degli Uffizi', Florence, 1962, I, under no. 6 (= de Tolnay 49), pp. 12 13; J.A. Gere and N. Turner, in exhib. cat., London, BM, 'Drawings by Michelangelo', 1975, no. 4, pp. 16-17; C. de Tolnay, 'Corpus dei disegni di Michelangelo', Novara, 1975, I, no. 52 (recto ascribed to Michelangelo; verso as studio); J.A.Gere and N. Turner, in exhib. cat., New York, Pierpont Morgan Library, 'Drawings by Michelangelo from the BM', 1979, no. 3, pp. 24-7; P. Joannides, 'A Review of C. de Tolnay, 'Corpus', "The Art Bulletin", LXIII, 1981, p. 681; R. Cocke, 'Michelangelo and the Dying Gaul in Naples', "Zeitschrift für Kunstgeschichte", 48, 1985, pp. 109-16; N. Turner, in exhib. cat., London, BM, 'Florentine Drawings of the sixteenth century', 1986, no. 13, pp.35-7; M. Hirst, 'Michelangelo and his Drawings', New Haven and London, 1988, pp. 25-6, 67; R. Ward, in exhib. cat., Cambridge, Fitzwilliam Museum, 'Baccio Bandinelli, 1493-1560', 1988, no. 2, pp. 19-20; A. Perrig, 'Michelangelo's drawings: the science of attribution', New Haven and London, 1991, p. 120, n. 55 (as Benvenuto Cellini); P. Joannides, in exhib. cat., Washington, National Gallery of Art and London, Queen's Gallery, 'Michelangelo and his Influence, Drawings from Windsor Castle', 1996, under no. 35, p. 122; H. Chapman, in exh. cat. (by H. Chapman, T. Henry. C. Plazzotta et al), London, National Gallery, 'Raphael: from Urbino to Rome', 2004, no. 56; H. Chapman, in exhib. cat., BM, 'Michelangelo Drawings: closer to the master', 2005, no. 11, pp. 86-8
This drawing was issued as a coloured facsimile by the British Museum in 'Reproductions of Drawings by Old Masters in the British Museum', Part I, Published by the Trustees, in 1888 where it was number XI and described there as 'Michelangelo Buonarroti, Study from Life for a Figure in the Cartoon of the Battle of Pisa.'
- Not on display
- Exhibition history
1964 BM, `Michelangelo', no. 5
1975 Feb-April, BM, `Drawings by Michelangelo', no. 4
1979 Apr-Jul, New York, Pierpont Morgan Library, 'Drawings by Michelangelo', no. 3
1986 BM, `Florentine Drawings 16thC', no. 13
1988 May-July, Cambridge, Fitzwilliam Museum, 'Bandinelli', no. 2
2004-2005 Oct-Jan, London, National Gallery, 'Raphael: From Urbino to Rome'
2005-2006 Oct-Jan, Haarlem, Teylers Museum, 'Michelangelo Drawings: Closer to the Master'
2006 Mar-Jun, BM, 'Michelangelo Drawings: Closer to the Master'
2010-2011 Oct-Jan, Vienna, Albertina, Michelangelo-the drawings of a Genius
- Acquisition date
- Acquisition notes
- Inscribed with Vaughan's initials: "H.V." (recto and verso)
- Prints and Drawings
- Registration number