- Museum number
The Flagellation of Christ; the nude Christ tied to an ionic column, surrounded by five, equally nude, flagellators, with a figure and child to far r. and Pilate sitting on a raised seat to the left. 1516
Red chalk over an elaborate stylus underdrawing with some underdrawing and unrelated marks (top r. and l.) in black chalk
- Production date
Height: 233 millimetres
Width: 235 millimetres
- Curator's comments
- This drawing is an early idea for Sebastiano del Piombo's mural altarpiece of 'The Flagellation' in the Borgherini chapel in S. Pietro in Montorio, Rome, the church believed to be the site of St Peter's martyrdom in Rome. This was the second project for which Michelangelo provided drawings to help his friend and protégé, the Venetian painter Sebastiano who was his proxy in combating the inexorable rise of his hated rival Raphael. Michelangelo's help extended in the case of the Borgherini chapel to getting him the commission from the Florentine banker, Pierfrancesco Borgherini, a patron whom he had earlier disappointed by not painting a work for him. Vasari records that Michelangelo supplied to Sebastiano a 'piccolo disegno' from which Sebastiano worked. A letter from Michelangelo records that his final design for 'The Flagellation', known through a copy by Guilio Clovio in the Royal Collection (Joannides, 1996, no. 34), arrived in Rome in August 1516.
Hirst (1981) considers W15 to represent an advanced study in the preparation for the mural, and the lateral spread of the whole to suggest Michelangelo's intention at this stage to extend the scene right round the lower register of the altar bay. Compared with W15, the figures in the Clovio copy have gained in monumentality and focus, and the orientation of Christ (apart from the direction of his gaze) and the lateral source of light are reversed, the latter change a response to the chapel context and the true source of light within the church. The composition of the flagellators remains largely unchanged between this drawing, the Clovio copy and the altarpiece as executed. However, whilst the Clovio copy appears to contain just one column, that behind Christ, W15 depicts a two bay arcade of ionic columns in anticipation of the definitive arrangement in the altarpiece.
Hirst (1988) describes this drawing as 'one of Michelangelo's most beautiful compositional drawings [...] the invention not yet constricted by concerns about Sebastiano's powers of transcription'. The stylus underdrawing is executed in remarkable detail and with great fluency. It is interesting to note where Michelangelo departs from the stylus drawing in his chalk over drawing, in, for example, the torso of the flagelator to the r. and the l. leg of the flagellator to the l. of Christ.
Like W15A, a study of Christ for the same commission in black chalk over stylus, and the two preparatory studies in red chalk for 'The Raising of Lazarus' (W16 and W17), the attribution of W15 has oscillated between Michelangelo and Sebastiano. Although Thode favoured the attribution to Sebastiano, he suggested that Michelangelo may have drawn the figure of Christ, his perceiving a difference in handling between this and the surrounding figures. Wilde argued cogently for the re-attribution of this drawing, and W16 and W17 (but not W15A), to Michelangelo, on the basis that they accord with neither Sebastiano's technique nor his style. This view was upheld by J.A Gere and N. Turner (1979) while Dussler, followed by S.J. Freedberg (1963), were of the opposite opinion.
Lit.: J.C. Robinson, 'Descriptive Catalogue of Drawings by the Old Masters, forming the Collection of John Malcolm of Poltalloch, Esq.', London, 1876, no. 63; H. Thode, 'Michelangelo: Kritische Untersuchungen über seine Werke', Berlin, 1913, III, no. 349, pp. 152 3; J. Wilde, 'Italian Drawings in the BM, Michelangelo and his Studio', London, 1953, no. 15, pp. 27-9 (with further literature); L. Dussler, 'Die Zeichnungen des Michelangelo', Berlin, 1959, no. 570, pp. 261-2 (attributed to Sebastiano del Piombo); P. Pouncey and J.A Gere, 'Italian Drawings in the BM, Raphael and his Circle', London, 1962, under no. 276, pp. 163-5; S.J. Freedberg, 'Drawings for Sebastiano or Drawings by Sebastiano ?: The Problem Reconsidered', "The Art Bulletin", XLV, 1963, pp. 253-8; J.A. Gere and N. Turner, in exhib. cat., London, BM, 'Drawings by Michelangelo', 1975, no. 37, p. 41; C. de Tolnay, 'Corpus dei disegni di Michelangelo', Novara, 1975, I, no. 73; J.A.Gere and N. Turner, in exhib. cat., New York, Pierpont Morgan Library, 'Drawings by Michelangelo from the BM', 1979, no. 8, pp. 44 54; M. Hirst, 'Sebastiano del Piombo', Oxford, 1981, pp. 59-60, fig. 79; M. Hirst, 'Michelangelo and his Drawings', New Haven and London, 1988, pp. 6, 24, 47; . 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. 34; A Gnann, in exhib. cat., Mantua, Palazzo Te and Vienna, Albertina, 'Roma e lo stile classico di Raffaello', 1999, no. 129, p. 194; H. Chapman, in exhib. cat., BM, 'Michelangelo Drawings: closer to the master', London, 2005, no. 32, pp. 146-7
- Not on display
- Exhibition history
1879 May-Jun, Paris, École des Beaux-Arts, 'Des Dessins de Maîtres Anciens', no. 69
1964 BM, Michelangelo, no. 15
1975 Feb-April, BM, 'Drawings by Michelangelo', no. 37
1996 BM, Malcolm Drawings, apx.
1999 Mar-May, Mantua, Palazzo Te, 'Roma e lo stile classico di Raffaelo', No.129
1999 July-Sep, Vienna, Albertina, 'Roma e lo stile classico di Raffaelo', No.129
2005/6 Oct-Jan, Haarlem, Teylers Museum, 'Michelangelo Drawings: Closer to the Master'
2006 Mar-June, BM, 'Michelangelo Drawings: Closer to the Master'
2008 Feb-May, Rome, Palazzo di Venezia, 'Sebastiano del Piombo'
2010/11 Oct-Jan, Vienna, Albertina, Michelangelo-the drawings of a Genius
2017 15 Mar-25 Jun, London, The National Gallery, Sebastiano-Michelangelo
- Acquisition date
- Prints and Drawings
- Registration number