- Museum number
Studies for the Last Judgement: groups of falling figures and studies for individuals
Black chalk; the two first-drawn figures in a softer black chalk. 1534
Verso: Studies for the Last Judgement: two heads and falling figures
Black and red chalk
- Production date
Height: 384 millimetres
Width: 252 millimetres
- Curator's comments
- The W60 recto is a palimpsest, being composed of several layers of sketches, all studies for the fresco of the 'Last Judgement' commissioned from Michelangelo by Pope Clement VII to decorate the altar wall of the Sistine chapel in the Vatican, Rome. The commission for the fresco, a logical complement to Michelangelo's ceiling fresco of 1508-12 (see W7-14), is first hinted at in a letter from Sebastiano del Piombo to Michelangelo in Florence dated July 1533. Condivi relates that Clement saw a modello for the fresco (now lost), for which the main composition on W60 recto must be closely related, before he died in September 1534. The commission was enthusiastically taken up by his successor, Paul III, and Michelangelo began its physical execution in 1536. It was unveiled on the eve of the feast of All Saints in 1541. The BM has four other sheets related to this commission: W61, 62, 63, and 63*.
The main study on W60 r consists of three inter-connected groups corresponding to the compositional diagonal within the fresco which follows Christ's downward gaze, likened to a bolt of lightening by Wölfflin. It displays Michelangelo's organic conception of the 'Last Judgement' fresco, unarticulated by fictive architecture: the three groups form a pendulous whole, a homogeneous mass of interconnected bodies. In the lower group especially, Michelangelo has used the sharpened point of the black chalk to articulate a remarkable range of poses in nuanced detail despite the small scale.
The groups are labelled C1-3 by Wilde in a diagram in the 1953 BM catalogue. He considers them have been drawn in that order, from top l. to bottom right. C1 consists of a group of three running figures which corresponds 'in position and configuration' (Wilde) with the group to the r. of Christ although none of the individual figures occurs in the fresco. What is perhaps a study for the r. hand figure of this group, with back turned, is seen among other studies related to the 'Last Judgement' on the verso of a sheet in the Casa Buonarroti (de Tolnay 91). C2, the semi circular group below, is reproduced with 'only a few transpositions and changes' (Wilde) in the martyr group of saints who act as a bulwark, displaying their instruments of passion, against the struggling damned souls below; already identifiable in the drawing by their respective attributes of arrows and a broken wheel are Saints Sebastian and Catherine. The two figures to the l. of St Sebastian, one standing, the other crouching, are drawn without attributes but are recognizable in the fresco. The figure of Blaise and Catherine were much criticised and following Michelangelo's death amended by Daniele da Volterra, but the drawing shows (Chapman 2005, p. pp. 235-6) that at this stage the artist was thinking of having the male figure rest his arm on the female martyr's back. A similar case of self-censorship is the dropping off the startling idea of one of the angels on the left of the group strangling one of the Damned souls. C3, the lowermost group, shaped 'like a reversed trapezoid', shows figures (angels) fighting off clambering figures (damned souls). It corresponds to the group in the fresco (following Vasari and Condivi) known as the 'Deadly Sins', 'clearer in construction and more strongly articulated' than the drawing. Three of the figures in the sketch recur in the fresco, one reversed.
Scattered around C1-3 are nine subsidiary studies for individual figures within the main group: the two to the far l. (D and E, following Wilde's labelling), one barely outlined, are for the central figure of C2 (St Philip in the fresco) whilst the rest are identifiable as for figures within C3. The fact that they do not overlap the main composition demonstrates their contemporaneity to the latter, Perrig's observing (1991) that they proceed 'from a preliminary draft of the main sketch, for whose final version they again form the direct or indirect basis'. Unusually, Dussler (1959) considers that in this group Michelangelo first drew the main contours in thick lines of the chalk adding adjustments with lightly drawn strokes, a reversal of his usual procedure. De Tolnay (1960) differed from Wilde in his analysis of C1-3, not considering the groups to overlap and judging the sequence of execution to be C2 (Martyrs), C3 (the Deadly Sins) and C1 (which he regards a second group of Martyrs not a first version of the group to the r. of Christ). Thode's opinion (1913) that C1 is a separate study for the lower part of the fresco has never been taken up; it is true that C1 is drawn to a larger scale than C2-3, and with broader, less detailed strokes of the chalk. However, there would appear to be a deliberate descending of proportions, the figures of C1 being in turn of a slightly smaller scale than those of C2.
For Wilde, W60 and a sheet each in Bayonne, the Casa Buonarroti and Windsor (de Tolnay 347, 346, and 351 respectively) are the most important documents for tracing the genesis of the 'Last Judgement'. Of this group, Wilde judges W60 and the Windsor sheet to have closely resembled the lost modello for the fresco that Michelangelo was working upon when Clement died. He consequently dates the sheet to the first half of the 1534. Dussler (1959) concurs, drawing attention to the conceptual analogy between the C3 group and that of the Fall of Phaeton seen in W55 and a sheet each in Venice and Windsor (de Tolnay 342 and 343 respectively) drawn in Rome in 1533.
C1-3 are partly drawn over a seated figure (with penitmenti in the l. arm) executed in soft black chalk (A in Wilde). It is the first drawn study on the sheet, described by Wilde as resembling the ignudo to the r. above the Delphic Sibyl in the ceiling fresco, and within the altar wall fresco, to be most closely related, in reverse, to the figure of St Lawrence below Christ. The second of the first layer studies (B) was drawn above the first with the sheet inverted. It is considered by Wilde as perhaps a sketch for one of the Martyrs or Witnesses and he invites its comparison with the cross carrying figure on the extreme r. in the fresco, 'The Good Thief'. The third layer (C1-3 being the second), drawn to the largest scale and partly over some of the subsidiary studies of C1-3, consists of two studies for a floating figure of uncertain destination within the main group or the fresco. Sketches were drawn in the remaining spaces (see Wilde for a detailed description) to form a fourth, final layer.
In contrast to A.E Popp (1925), Wilde strongly upheld the attribution of all the subsidiary drawings to Michelangelo, describing them as disclosing 'the same sureness of hand' as the main studies. De Tolnay, echoing Popp, commented in 1960 of the first drawn studies that 'the usual vigour of Michelangelo's lines is lacking' and that in the final layer, there is 'a calligraphic play in the wavy outline'. By 1978, however, de Tolnay supported the ascription to Michelangelo of all the sketches, although he differed from Wilde in dating the sheet to 1535-6 due to its closeness to the definitive composition. Gere and Turner (1979) highlight the contrast in Michelangelo's artistic vision between the ceiling and mural frescoes - a contrast also reflected in the respective groups of drawings, those for the 'Last Judgement' seeming to have 'an almost deliberate lack of charm'. For Perrig (1991) all the studies on the sheet are autograph and, together with de Tolnay 347 and 351, demonstrate in their technical execution, 'all signs of that rapid and economical manner of movement typical of someone who is attempting to formulate a still largely unstable, expandable, and changeable pictorial idea'.
To a larger scale on the verso are drawn, with the sheet turned clockwise by ninety degrees, two studies of the head of a man, described by Dussler (1959) as the most perfect detail studies for the 'Last Judgement' to have come down to us. The lower of the two, probably drawn second, is less finished and in profile. The contours of the first drawn head are more carefully delineated, although, interestingly, the line of the nose is left faint. Brief indications of the volume of the head of the top study have been cut by the trimming of the sheet. For de Tolnay the head is drawn from a death mask but what is probably the same model appears in the Haarlem sheet (de Tolnay 357) representing studies for the St Lawrence within the 'Last Judgement' and, in reverse, on the verso of the Casa Buonarroti sheet (de Tolnay 91) mentioned in relation to the recto group, C2. The verso head studies may share the destination of the Haarlem sheet; they certainly bare a close resemblance in profile to the St Lawrence. Following this reading, the line above the forehead of the top head, and the diagonal line to the r. of the ear in the lower head might be taken as indications of St Lawrence's tonsure. The possible destination of the first drawn study on the recto is also suggestive in this relation. Wilde, however, considers that Michelangelo may have made these heads 'while he was looking for a model suited for the image of Christ'; Gere and Turner (1979) consider the purpose for which the heads were drawn as moot; Hartt (1971) judged the head studies to be closest to the cross carrying saint at the extreme r. of the martyr group. Earlier, Goldscheider (1951) had considered the heads as 'probably intended' for the Good Thief.
Lightly drawn with the sheet turned ninety degrees clockwise is a group of seven figures, studies for the damned souls (C3) on the recto. The group was drawn after the recto since two (top r.) were traced from the recto probably by a later hand since Michelangelo eschews red chalk in this period. One figure was used in the fresco for the form of a damned soul climbing in the group of the Deadly Sins. Wilde notes that a variant of the top l. figure representing the St Lawrence occurs in the Codex Vaticanus 3211 (de Tolnay 356).
Watermark: Mermaid in circle: large (J. Roberts, 'A Dictionary of Michelangelo's Watermarks', Milan, 1988, p. 25). This is the same watermark as W10.
Lit.: J.C. Robinson, 'Descriptive Catalogue of Drawings by the Old Masters, forming the Collection of John Malcolm of Poltalloch, Esq.', London, 1876, no. 80* (the asterix denoting it was bought after the end of Robinson's involvement with the Malcolm collection); H. Thode, 'Michelangelo. Kritische Untersuchungen über seine Werke', Berlin, 1913, III, no. 364, pp. 159-61; A.E. Popp, 'review of A.E. Brinkmann 'Michelangelo-Zeichnungen', "Belvedere / Forum", 8.1925, p. 75; L. Goldscheider, 'Michelangelo Drawings', London, 1951, no. 101; A.E. Popham and J. Wilde (Michelangelo entries by the latter), 'The Italian Drawings of the XV and XVI Centuries in the Collection of His Majesty the King at Windsor Castle', London, 1949, under no. 432 (= de Tolnay 351), pp. 255 6; L. Goldscheider, 'Michelangelo Drawings', London, 1951, no. 101 (recto), no. 103 (verso), p. 52; J. Wilde, 'Italian Drawings in the BM, Michelangelo and his Studio', London, 1953, no. 60, pp. 98-100 (with further literature); L. Dussler, 'Die Zeichnungen des Michelangelo', Berlin, 1959, no. 333 (ascribed to Michelangelo), pp. 181-2; C. de Tolnay, 'Michelangelo V. The Final Period', Princeton, 1960, no. 178, pp. 186-7; P. Barocchi, 'Michelangelo e la sua scuola: i disegni di Casa Buonarroti e degli Uffizi', Florence, 1962, I, under nos. 145 (= de Tolnay 355) and 283 (= CB 27 F), p. 182 and pp. 323-4; F. Hartt, 'The Drawings of Michelangelo', London, 1971, nos. 374 5, pp. 266-7; J.A. Gere and N. Turner, in exhib. cat., London, BM, 'Drawings by Michelangelo', 1975, no.131, p. 114; C. de Tolnay, 'Corpus dei disegni di Michelangelo', Novara, 1978, III, no. 350; J.A.Gere and N. Turner, in exhib. cat., New York, Pierpont Morgan Library, 'Drawings by Michelangelo from the BM', 1979, no. 18, pp. 85-8; B. Barnes, 'A Lost 'Modello' for Michelangelo's 'Last Judgement', "Master Drawings", XXVI, Autumn 1988, pp. 239-48, fig. 5; M. Hirst, in exhib. cat., Washington, National Gallery of Art and Paris, Louvre, 'Michelangelo Draftsman', 1988, under no. 52 (= de Tolnay 351); A. Perrig, 'Michelangelo's drawings: the science of attribution', New Haven and London, 1991, fig. 32, pp. 53 4, 62, 65, 80 1, 83; H. Chapman, in exhib. cat., BM, 'Michelangelo Drawings: closer to the master', 2005, no. 82, pp. 233, 235-6; A. Gnann, 'Review of H. Chapman, Michelangelo Drawings: closer to the Master', "Journal für Kunstgeschichte", 11/2007, 1, p. 62; I. Seligman, 'Lines of Thought', London, 2016, no. 15, p. 52.
- Not on display
- Exhibition history
1964 BM, Michelangelo, no. 39
1975 Feb-Apr, BM, Drawings by Michelangelo, no. 131
1979 New York, Pierpont Morgan Library, 'Drawings by Michelangelo from the BM', no. 18
1990 Apr-Aug, BM, Treasures of P&D (no cat.)
2005/6 Oct-Jan, Haarlem, Teylers Museum, 'Michelangelo Drawings: Closer to the Master'
2006 Mar-Jun, BM, 'Michelangelo Drawings: Closer to the Master'
2016 3 Sep - 6 Nov, Poole Museum, 'Lines of thought: Drawing from Michelangelo to now', no. 15
2017 1 Jan - 25 Feb, The Brynmor Jones Library Art Gallery, University of Hull, 'Lines of thought: Drawing from Michelangelo to now', no. 15
2017 12 Mar - 5 May, Ulster Museum, Belfast, 'Lines of thought: Drawing from Michelangelo to now', no. 15
2017 May - Sep, New Mexico Museum of Art, Santa Fe, 'Lines of thought: Drawing from Michelangelo to now', no. 15
2017-2018 Oct - Jan, RISD Museum, Rhode Island School of Design, Providence, 'Lines of thought: Drawing from Michelangelo to now', no. 15
- Acquisition date
- Acquisition notes
- According to Gabburri a large part of Cicciaporci's collection of drawings came from the sale in Rome in 1736 by the heirs of the Roman painter Giuseppe Cesari, see M.S. Bolzoni, 'Il Cavalier Giuseppe Cesari d'Arpino, Maestro del disegno: catalogo ragionato dell'opera grafica', Rome, 2013, pp. 148-153
- Prints and Drawings
- Registration number