- Museum number
The prophet David playing a Psaltery, seated and turned to right
Pen and brown ink, with purple wash, over stylus indications, some ruled, on vellum with the blank areas such as the halo burnished (?)
- Production date
- 1430 (circa)
Height: 197 millimetres
Width: 178 millimetres
- Curator's comments
- The attribution to Fra Angelico can only be traced back to1866 when it was sold as such in the Wellesley sale. This is one of the few drawings that most critics agree has the best chance of being by Fra Angelico. Despite Bernard Berenson's description of it as 'the only drawing by Fra Angelico which leaves no grounds for doubt', John Pope-Hennessy in the first edition of his monograph on the artist attributed it to the artist's pupil Zanobi Strozzi (1412-1468). The absence of drawings by Fra Angelico make it impossible to be totally confident that the BM work is by him, however the physical type of the prophet with his tightly curled mass of curls and delicate features are comparable with those in the artist's paintings from around 1430: compare, for example, the predella panels of the 'Santa Lucia' altarpiece of c. 1429-30 (no. 25, pp. 121-32 in Metropolitan catalogue) and those in the Louvre 'Coronation of the Virgin' of about 1432-4 (illustrated in colour p. 140 in Metropolitan catalogue).
Popham and Pouncey's contention that that the writing on the verso was much earlier in date, and the artist has merely used a piece of waste parchment, went against Berenson's idea that the drawing was a cutting from a psalter or Book of Psalms. Pia Palladino's entry in the recent Metropolitan show conclusively proved that Berenson was correct. The verso, originally the recto (it is written on the smooth side of the vellum) contains an index on the left giving the list of hymns and Psalms to be recited at the appropriate times of day, followed by the incipit (ie. the opening lines) on the right: 'In Christi nomine amen. Incipit psalterium secundum morem et consuetudimen romane curiae' ('In the name of Christ. Amen. Here begins the psalter according to the customs and uses of the Roman curia). Below this is written: 'Ad nocturnum. Psalmus David' ('At nocturns. The Psalm of David'). Fra Angelico's drawing on the other side would have faced Psalm 1 'Beatus vir' ('Blessed is the man'). Book of Psalms of the period frequently began with an image of King David because he was believed to be the Psalms's author.
In some areas, such as the lateral ends of the bench, the front part of the raised dias on which David is seated and David's halo, the surface of the vellum appears to have been burnished so that it stands out from the unburnished vellum. This would presumably have been done before the pen and wash was applied.
Lit.: J.C. Robinson, 'Descriptive Catalogue of Drawings by the Old Masters, forming the Collection of John Malcolm of Poltalloch, Esq.', London, 1876, no. 1; B. Berenson, 'Drawings of the Florentine Painters', Chicago, 1938, II, no. 162; A.E. Popham and P. Pouncey, 'Italian drawings in the BM, the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries', London, 1950, I, no. 2 (with previous literature), II, pl. I; J. Pope-Hennessy, 'Fra Angelico', London, 1952, p. 205 (as Zanobi Strozzi); M. Salmi, 'Il Beato Angelico', Spoleto, 1958, p. 124; L. Grassi, 'I disegni italiani del Trecento e Quattrocento: scuole fiorentina, senese, marchigiana, umbra', Venice, n.d [1960?], no. 21 (as Zanobi Strozzi); S. Orlandi, 'Il Beato Angelico. Note chronologico', "Rivista d'Arte", 29, 1954, pp. 157 and 164; P. Pouncey, review of 1961 edition of Berenson's 'Drawings of the Florentine Painters', "Master Drawings", 3, 1964, p. 282; B. Degenhart and A. Schmitt, 'Corpus der italienischen Zeichnungen, 1300-1450, Süd-und Mittelitalien', Berlin, 1968, I-2, no. 369, I-4, pl. 307b; J. Pope-Hennessy, 'Fra Angelico' (2nd. edition), London, 1974, p. 235; J. Rowlands (ed.), in exhib. cat., BM, 'Master Drawings and Watercolours in the BM', 1984, no. 1; H. Chapman, in exhib. cat., BM, 'Old Master Drawings from the Malcolm Collection', 1996, no. 2; G. Bonsanti, 'Fra Angelico: catalogo completo', Florence, 1998, no. XX, p. XX; Pia Palladino, in exhib. cat., New York, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 'Fra Angelico', 2005, no. 26, pp. 133-4; C. Van Cleave, 'Master Drawings of the Italian Renaissance', London, 2007, p. 34, illustrated p. 35; H. Chapman and M. Faietti, exhib. cat., BM, London, `Fra Angelico to Leonardo: Italian Renaissance Drawings`, 2010, no. 10, pp. 110-11 (cat. entry by M. M. Rook).
Popham & Pouncey 1950
In his second edition Berenson reaffirms his original opinion that this is "the only drawing by Fra Angelico which leaves no ground for doubt". In quality it certainly stands as high as any other sheet attributed to the master.
It should be noted that the present drawing provides no evidence that Fra Angelico worked as an illuminator of manuscripts: the script on the verso stops short and it is clear that the artist merely made use of a piece of waste parchment.
Literature: JCR 1; BB 162, fig. 17 and pl. 11 of 1st ed.; B.M. Guide, 1895, no. 13; L. Douglas, Fra Angelico, 1900, p. 199; F. Schottmüller, Fra Angelico (Klassiker der Kunst), 1911, repr. p. xxx; L. Douglas, note to Crowe and Cavalcaselle, iv, p. 104; Van Marle, x, p. 140.
- Not on display
- Exhibition history
1965, BM, Masterpieces of the Print Room, (no cat.)
1972, BM, 'The Art of Drawing', no.71
1984, BM, 'Master Drawings and Watercolours in the BM', no.1
1996, BM, 'Old Master Drawings from the Malcolm Collection', no.2
2005/6 Oct-Jan, New York, Met Mus of Art, 'Fra Angelico'
2010 April-July, BM, 'Fra Angelico to Leonardo', no. 10
2011, March-June, Uffizi, Florence, 'Figure, Memorie, Spazio: Disegni da Fra'Angelico a Leonardo', no.10
2017 5-28 September, BM, G90a, The Age of Gozzoli
- Acquisition date
- Prints and Drawings
- Registration number