- Museum number
The Epifania: the Virgin is in the centre, in conversation with a standing, gesturing man, a young saint or prophet (Isaiah?) to her right. Her left arm reaches back to a bearded man, St Joseph, who stands, with his arms crossed, turned away from her. The Virgin`s right hand rests on her upper right thigh above the head of the Christ Child who sits on a cushion between her legs. To the right the Infant St John the Baptist, with his arms raised, looks down at the Christ Child. Behind the Virgin to the right is a bearded head, his eyes either closed or cast downwards; two further background heads, schematically drawn appear in the top left. To the left of the Virgin is the incomplete oval of another head looking outwards, perhaps an initial idea for the head of the Virgin.
Black chalk, rubbed in places. 232.7 x 165.5 cm. A strip at least 22 cm wide is missing from the left-hand side. Cartoon made up of 26 sheets of blue-green paper (now discoloured), of which at least 12 were originally folded in half, and of which nine remain uncut, 61 x 48 cm each. Surface much abraded. Fragments of paper missing from bottom and left edge. Mounted on a wooden panel since the 16th century.
- Production date
Height: 2327 millimetres
Width: 1656 millimetres
- Curator's comments
- Michelangelo`s `Epifania` cartoon is discussed under seven headings:
1. Introduction: history and provenance
2. Function as a cartoon
3. The composition: form and iconography
4. The iconographical interpretations of Thode and Gombrich
5. The cartoon as a composition for an altarpiece
6. The cartoon within Michelangelo`s surviving graphic oeuvre
1. Introduction: history and provenance
This drawing (henceforth described as W75 after its catalogue number in Wilde 1953) was executed in the early 1550s to aid Ascanio Condivi (c. 1525-74) in the production of a panel painting which survives, unfinished, in the Casa Buonarroti in Florence. This aid to an otherwise undistinguished artist, is bound to the fact that Condivi was nominally responsible for the biography of Michelangelo published in 1553, conceived as a riposte to Vasari`s life of the artist published in 1550, and, especially, the Aretine artist`s account of the Julius tomb project, the `tragedy of the tomb`.
W75 is a cartoon, a term deriving from the Italian for a large piece of paper, `cartone`, meaning that it is drawn to the same scale as the intended painting for which it is preparatory. The only other extant cartoon by Michelangelo is that in the Galleria di Capodimonte, Naples (Corpus 384), produced c. 1546 for a portion of one of Michelangelo`s own commissions, the group of soldiers within the frescoed `Crucifixion of St Peter` in the Pauline Chapel in the Vatican. W75 was mounted on wood in the 16th century and this has no doubt contributed to the considerable darkening of the sheets.
W75 is extremely well documented and its attribution to Michelangelo has in consequence been rarely contested. Vasari recorded the collaboration between Michelangelo and Condivi in the second edition of `Le Vite` published in 1568, eighteen years after the first:
`Ascanio della Ripa Transone durava gran fatiche ma mai non si ne vedde il frutto ne in opere ne in disegni. E pestó parecchi anni intorno una tavola di che Michelagnolo gli aveva dato un cartone. Nel fine se n è ito in fummo quella buona aspettatione che si credeva da lui.`
(Ascanio`s hard labour bore fruit neither in paintings or drawings. He spent many years on a panel for which Michelangelo had given him a cartoon. In the end however the high expectations for him vanished in smoke).
The mediocre artistic quality of Condivi`s panel confirms Vasari`s opinion. Although he does not mention this cartoon in particular, Ascanio alludes to the help he received from Michelangelo in his 1553 biography. A notarial inventory of Michelangelo`s possessions drawn up by Luigi della Torre in February 1564, shortly after the artist`s death, describes, `un altro cartone grando, dove sono designate et schizzate tre figure grande e dui putti` (`another large cartoon where three large figures and two children are drawn and sketched`). In a Latin postscript to the same document it is called the Epifania, a title which has survived to this day. A further inventory was drawn up by Daniele da Volterra for Vasari of works left by Michelangelo. In it is mentioned, `l`altro quello che dipingeva Ascanio, se ve ne ricorda` (`the other that Ascanio painted, if you remember`). W75 passed into the possession of Fulvio Orsini who also owned the Naples cartoon and in whose inventory it received yet another description as `un quadro grande con un cartone d`una Madonna et un S. Giuliano et altre figure` (`a large painting with a cartoon of a Madonna and a St Julian and other figures`). Orsini`s collection passed to the Farnese.
Wilde notes that Vasari`s observation provides a date for the cartoon since it was only in the years 1550-3 whilst in Rome that Vasari could have followed Condivi`s career. Moreover Condivi left Rome definitively in 1554. The fact that the cartoon was in Michelangelo`s studio at his death would seem to indicate that Condivi executed the panel whilst still in Rome. Gombrich, however, posits a date late in the 1550s (see 4. below), a dating with which Joannides (2001, in conversation) concurred on stylistic grounds.
A pen copy after the upper parts of the main figures in Condivi's panel is in the Giuliano Ceseri collection, Lafayette, Lousiana, see Olszewski 2008, I, no.141 (as Follower of Condivi).
2. Function as a cartoon
The purpose of a cartoon is to facilitate the transferring of a completed composition, or part of a completed composition depending on the scale, onto the surface to be painted. A cartoon is thus drawn to the size of the intended image and - when this is larger than a single sheet as is the case here - is necessarily made of sheets glued together, as described in chapter xvi of Vasari`s `Vite`. W75 is made up of twenty-six sheets (originally of a size between `foglio reale` and `imperiale` [Bambach, 1997]), the Naples cartoon of nineteen. As demonstrated by Bambach (1987 and 1999), the latter has been pricked along all its main compositional lines to transfer it through pouncing, not directly onto the fresco wall as traditionally assumed, but onto a secondary sheet which could be cut into more manageable portions and subsequently discarded.
Whilst the Naples cartoon represents only part of a much larger composition and is highly finished, W75 is, in contrast, more vigorously executed (`at speed`, according to Hirst, 1998), and represents the whole of the intended composition, surely that of an altarpiece (see 6. below). It has not been pricked and this suggests that the composition was transferred through incision, the verso having been blackened with chalk to create a carbon copy. Bambach (1999) considers that the outlines have `a rigidity of stroke that, though not showing a noticeable indentation, could well be the result of this procedure [of incision]`. She notes that the incising instrument could well have been chalk rather than a stylus, explaining to some extent the reinforced contours of the cartoon. However, when the cartoon was taken out if its frame in preparation for the 2005 exhibition there were no visible signs of the lines having been incised. The flattened state of the paper after having been glued down for so long might explain why signs of the incising have disappeared, if indeed the drawing ever was incised because it is also possible that a tracing could have been made.
Allowing for the missing strip, the cartoon and panel are of similar measurements, 232.7 x 165.6 cm and 240 x 187 cm respectively. Condivi`s panel also closely follows the main compositional lines of Michelangelo`s cartoon, heightening the probability that the cartoon provided the direct basis for Condivi`s work. In the panel the Virgin is placed slightly off centre to the r., the standing saint or prophet to the l. assuming an equally massive presence; the effect of the loss of the strip down the l. edge of the cartoon is to shift the Virgin into the exact centre of the composition (the extent of this can be measured by observing the sequence of sheets, five wide, of which the cartoon is composed). The places in which Condivi`s composition varies from the cartoon are mentioned below.
3. The composition: form and iconography
The central figure unquestionably represents the Virgin: she dominates the composition, almost reaching its full height despite being seated (although no support is visible). The Virgin`s r. arm has been shifted significantly to the r. and her r. hand upwards.
The opinion of Michael Hirst and Diane Zerbas in their joint paper on the `Epifania` presented at the National Gallery seminar organized by Carol Plazzotta on 12 June 2006 is that the Virgin is depicted in the act of drawing back the drapery between her legs to reveal the Christ child, their giving renewed importance to Thode`s interpretation of revelation (see 4. below). The reading of Hirst and Zerbas is in contrast to that of Wilde who describes the Virgin as holding the lead strings of the Christ child who nestles between her legs, influenced no doubt by Condivi`s panel where the Virgin is thus depicted. Given the compositional ambiguities of the cartoon, and Condivi`s inability to successfully transcribe the whole (witness his crowding of the background with bystanders), Hirst and Zerbas are surely correct in considering it unwise to use (whether consciously or not) Condivi`s panel to infer Michelangelo`s intention. For example, the strap Condivi depicts under the Child`s right arm in the panel would appear to be rather an adjustment of contour in the cartoon. An equal adjustment running down the Child`s back is interpreted by Condivi as a line of drapery.
The splayed index and forefinger of the Virgin`s hand would certainly seem to convey a sense of the hand`s grasp. The representational ambiguities in this area remain myriad, however: what appears at first sight to be a diagonal fold directly beneath the Virgin`s hand would seem, in part at least, a pentimento resulting from the diminishing of the size of Christ`s head (the Virgin`s hand and the Child`s thus almost touch in Condivi`s rendering).
The Virgin`s bare r. shoulder has been reduced, its outer contour being numerously re-drawn. Her breasts and torso are clothed in lightly delineated drapery. The Virgin`s face was originally depicted in complete profile to the left; Michelangelo subsequently turned the face into a three-quarter profile, reducing the size of the head to the right in corresponding manner. This change produces a nice visual ambivalence: upon prolonged observation, the Virgin`s head slips from three-quarter profile into the earlier single profile, and back.
The direction of the Virgin`s gaze is countered by her l. arm outstretched towards the bearded man depicted on a plane behind. Over the Virgin`s arm hangs a fold of drapery which meets the r. hand of the Infant Baptist, appearing to mask an earlier solution in which the Virgin`s hand held that of the Baptist (this was pointed out by a visitor to the department in 1992, see the departmental dossier on W75). For Gombrich (1986), the motif of the Virgin`s outstretched l. arm looked like an afterthought (he nevertheless saw the gesture as a key to the interpretation of the meaning of the cartoon - see 4. below).
Forming a pyramidal composition between the Virgin`s legs, his head awkwardly tilted and pressed against the Virgin`s l. thigh, is the crouching figure of the Christ child. His head and upper body are shrouded in shadow, emerging to the light diagonally to the left. In accord with his importance, the Christ child is depicted upon a cushion. The deliberation Michelangelo gave to the drawing of the divine infant is seen in the figure`s many drawn contours and re-modelled body. Christ`s r. arm has been shifted to the right. The lower foreground upon which the Child is placed appears tilted upwards towards the viewer, the cartoon thus combining several view points and an acknowledgement of the relatively high viewing position of the intended panel painting above an altar - see 5. below.
The Virgin appears to be in dialogue with the standing figure bending towards her and gesticulating with his l. hand, his bare arm of great muscularity. He is nominated the `speaker` by Wilde. The l.- most portion of this figure is lacking and the l. edge, from which a strip has been cut (see above), is considerably damaged. The `speaker` is fluently conceived, and does not present significant alterations in composition, although the contours of the r. profile are many times redrawn. A pentimento each in the `speaker`s` l. hand thumb, and in the position of the toes of the r. foot, display Michelangelo`s attention to detail. The face is deftly executed with the intimacy of a drawing done to a much smaller scale, the `speaker`s` pursed lips adding to the sense of dialogue, conveyed also by the almost impinging curves of the two figures` shoulders. In type the `speaker` would appear to represent a young male saint or prophet (Condivi`s panel provides no iconographic attribute). The `speaker`s` gender is not unambiguous and if considered female would nevertheless seem too young to represent Saint Elizabeth, the Baptist`s mother. In Condivi`s panel the `speaker` becomes demonstrably male. Berenson (1938), followed by Goldscheider (1951), considered this figure to be St John the Evangelist. Thode`s view (1908 - see 4. below) that the `speaker` represents the Prophet Isaiah proved the most persuasive (he noted the figure`s resemblance to the Sistine Ezechiel).
Between the heads of the `speaker` and the Virgin, lightly drawn in broad, largely uncrossed strokes, is an earlier position for the Virgin`s head. The portions of the head which would have impinged on the r. shoulder of the re-positioned Virgin have been erased by the artist. The contours of the r.-hand side of the head have been either erased or submerged in the expansion the Virgin`s head to three-quarter profile. This head, its orientation changed, was included as a bystander by Condivi and consequently interpreted as such in the cartoon by most commentators subsequently. Thode (1913) considered the head to represent St Anne, with Wilde suggesting the names of Saints Anne or Elizabeth. Hirst and Zerbas followed Thode (National Gallery seminar, see above). However, a head in this position would interfere with the dialogue between the Virgin and the striding figure, surely not Michelangelo`s intention, a view upheld by Chapman (2005). The faintness of the head would seem to confirm that it is a pentimento, a status reinforced by the comparison with the two peripheral male heads at the top right of the cartoon, drawn in thick strokes, one in profile, the other facing out. These two heads, if not considered simply to represent bystanders or potential witnesses to the central scene, are of indeterminate identification (see 4. below).
Forming a smaller-scale compositional balance to the `speaker` is the standing Infant Baptist: visible are the pelts (camel`s hair in St Luke), denoting the Baptist`s destined role as an exemplary desert ascetic. Condivi raises the Baptist`s r. hand and adds the attribute of a reed cross, thus reducing the iconographic value of the pelts which are transcribed as rags. Like the Christ child, the Baptist is robustly modelled with numerous and subtle strokes of the chalk, his downward gaze continuing the diagonal line formed by Christ`s back. Like the `speaker`, the Baptist projects from the picture plane, as he peers down at the Christ child, heightening the dialogue with the viewer.
Set on a plane behind that occupied by the principal figures is a bearded figure to whom the Virgin`s l. arm is outstretched, her hand resting on the figure`s upper r. arm. This figure has been consistently identified as St Joseph as his older, bearded appearance and the context of the Holy Family would suggest. The pointing index finger of St Joseph`s l. hand (the drawing of which is seemingly unfinished) gives the saint a quizzical air. He is depicted in contrapposto, his face turned towards the Virgin. Significant pentimenti are seen in the outline of his r. shoulder and elbow. Beneath this elbow a fold of drapery reinforces the thrust of the Virgin`s outstretched arm.
Above and to the r. of the Virgin is an unidentified man standing with his back to St Joseph. In type he is a younger version of St Joseph, also bearded, and is far more satisfactorily integrated into the composition than the two peripheral figures to the top left. The figure is summarily yet powerfully drawn with uncrossed parallel hatching representing shade to the right. The figure`s gaze is downcast, mirroring that of the Baptist and the closed eyes of the sleeping Christ child, directing the spectator`s gaze downwards. A portion of the figure`s head - to the top r. - is missing consequent to a large loss of paper. This figure is of conjectural identification (see below). To the l. of this figure is what appears to be the portion of a tree trunk with a broken branch, providing a complementary diagonal; Condivi added another head at this position.
4. The iconographical interpretations of Thode and Gombrich
The cartoon was called the `Epifania` in Luigi della Torres` notarial inventory of Michelangelo`s posthumous possessions and later a `quadro grande con un cartone d`una Madonna et un S. Giuliano et altre figure` in the inventory of Fulvio Orsini`s collection (d.1600). The Epiphany is the Church feast in which is celebrated the manifestation of the Child Christ`s divine nature to the Gentiles represented by the Magi. Although the Magi are not represented in the cartoon, it is by this name that the cartoon has been traditionally called. Wilde described the cartoon as some kind of a `Sacra Conversazione`, while Chapman (2005, p. 261) considered the notary`s title a guess.
In the Eastern Church, the feast of the Epiphany allowed for a variety of early manifestations of Christ`s divinity, including his nativity and baptism, and it was to this broader significance of the Epifania that Thode turned in his analyses of 1908 and 1913. Thode considered the figure to the Virgin`s r. (the viewer`s l.) to represent Isaiah, the Old Testament prophet who foresaw the revelation of God`s son to the world (c.f. Isaiah 9:6; 11:10). Thode notes that Isaiah`s prophetic rôle is acknowledged in one of the earliest of Christian images, that of the Madonna in the Catacombs of Priscilla in Rome. In 1913 Thode amplified his quotes from Isaiah, noting those which also foretell in Christian exegesis the Baptist (Isaiah 40:3). The Child Baptist`s stance, appearing to peer at the Christ child almost hidden between the Virgin`s knees, combined with the background figures not privy to the sight of the Christ child, could be seen to promote a sense of revelation. W75 would thus depict the moment of the fulfilment of Isaiah`s prophesy, and the Virgin`s gesture towards St Joseph signify that Christ does not descend from him. Thode (1913) writes, `es erklärt sich endlich allgemein der Charackter der hinteren Figuren: sie sind Vertreter der vorchristlichen Menschheit`, that is, the bystanders are finally understood as being the representatives of mankind before Christ.
Berenson (1938) simply described W75 as a cartoon for a Holy Family, and the `speaker` as probably St John the Evangelist, an identification which accords well with the figure`s appearance. However, neither is the figure distant from Michelangelo`s representation of Isaiah on the Sistine Ceiling, and the Evangelist would seem an unlikely pairing with the Infant Christ, more usually depicted in Christ`s equivalent age, present, for example, in images of the Deposition and Lamentation.
Thode`s analysis held sway until the Gombrich`s proposal published in 1986. For Gombrich the central theme of the cartoon is that of the Virgin`s continuing purity after her marriage to St Joseph, conveyed by her gesture towards St Joseph and `the strange ambiguity` of the Virgin`s r. hand (by which Gombrich means, presumably, the way in which she draws attention to the site of Christ`s incarnation within her) and her relation to the Christ child. Gombrich considers the documented title of the Epifania to allude to the ninth-century monk Epiphanias, a father of the Greek Church, occasionally cited in the decrees and canons of the Council of Trent, who argued for the perpetual virginity of the Mother of Christ. Epiphanias explained the problematic references to the brothers and sisters of Christ in the Gospels (Matthew 13: 54-6; Mark 6:3) as referring to St Joseph`s children from his previous marriage, and described Joseph as any way too old to father children by the time of his marriage to the Virgin. The background figures in the cartoon would thus represent Joseph`s children, Christ`s kin.
Gombrich extends his argument by seeking, ingeniously, to reconcile the Epifania appellation with the next documented identification of the Virgin`s interlocutor as St Julian. He speculatively identifies the `speaker` as St Julian of Antioch to whom there is a possible reference as one of the patrons of the chapter of S. Giovanni dei Fiorentini in Rome, a church with which Michelangelo was involved in the last years of his life. The main devotional aspect of St Julian`s life is his chastity, his marriage to a virgin bride remaining unconsummated. St Julian`s putative representation would complement the theme of the Virgin`s enduring purity and be a fitting companion to the group of the Virgin and her rebuffed husband. Given this context, the Infant Baptist would be of particular relevance considering the dedication of the church to the Florentines` patron saint.
Gombrich`s interpretation is not unproblematic. The three background are visually marginal and insecure signifiers of Christs kin. Indeed, the bearded figure behind St Joseph, although younger than the Virgin`s husband, would seem especially inappropriate in this relation. The two heads to the top l. are summarily drawn, and not integral to the composition. The suggested destination of S. Giovanni de Fiorentini is extremely tentative and requires the dating of the cartoon to the late 1550s something for which Gombrich states there is no solid evidence to prevent us from doing. This would not appear to be the case since, as Hirst (1988, p. 77, n. 13) notes, Condivi had left Rome by then. De Tolnay (1978) upheld Thode`s interpretation, considering Gombrich`s suggestion over-sophisticated and asking if Michelangelo could have known of Epiphanias` text (it would seem de Tolnay knew of Gombrich`s proposal from the brief communication of Gere and Turner ). In a letter contained in the departmental dossier on W75, B. Sewell objects to Gombrich`s Epiphanias theory on the grounds that it would be highly unusual for an image to be described by its iconographic source rather that its subject, a view upheld by Chapman (2005, p. 310, n. 98). P. Joannides (1992) would appear to favour Gombrich`s interpretation, observing, `[W75] has an iconography which, whatever it exactly may be, certainly has a northern inflection in the gathering of what appears to be the Holy Kin - very uncommon in Italy.`
Both Thode and Gombrich see the Virgin`s gesture towards St Joseph as one of rejection, a sense reinforced in their readings by St Joseph`s stance with his back to the Virgin. Thode interprets the Virgin`s gesture as signifying the fact that Christ does not descend from Joseph, Gombrich the Virgin`s spurning of carnal relations - views fine in difference, Thode`s allowing the theoretical commencement of a sexual relationship after Christ`s conception and birth. The image sustains both readings.
We need neither to be persuaded by Thode`s and Gombrich`s interpretation of the Virgin`s gesture towards St Joseph nor the identification of the theologian Epiphanias as an iconographic source (only one amongst many early fathers, from St Irenaeus to St Jerome, who argued the Virgin`s perpetual virginity), nor indeed the first documented title as an accurate one, to acknowledge a concern in the image for projecting the Virgin`s purity: the centrality of the Virgin and the way in which her hand guides the beholder`s eye to the pyramidal form of the Christ child between her legs, would appear to underscore the Virgin`s rôle as a divine - and necessarily pure - vessel for the son of God. For Chapman (2005), `The position of the Christ child between the Virgin`s legs is strongly suggestive that one of the cartoons themes is the miraculous incarnation`.
While the Virgin`s immaculate conception, in the manner of her son, provided contentious contemporary theological debate unresolved until the middle of the nineteenth century, it was Catholic dogma (defined in the Lateran Council of Pope Martin I in A.D. 649) that she remained spotless in life and beyond her marriage to St Joseph. Michelangelo`s image promotes the theological beliefs contained in every Renaissance representation of the Mother of Christ - and reasserted by reformatory theologians such as Francesco Suárez (1548-1617) in reaction to Protestant heresy:
I maintain ... that the Blessed Virgin from the time she attained the use of reason had the firm and unconditional resolve to preserve perpetual virginity.
(F. Suárez, The Dignity and Virginity of the Mother of God [disputations I, V, Vi from De mysteriis vitae Christi, 1592], trans. R. OBrien, 1954, p. 89)
Catholic theology required that Christ`s mother be a spotless vessel in a fashion commensurate with her divinely conceived and immaculate son. Although Gombrich`s identification of St Julian is attractive since it corresponds with the apparent emphasis in the image on the Virgin`s purity, St Julian could be replaced by any number of male saints with a similar hagiographic emphasis. The weight of opinion in the National Gallery seminar (see above) favoured Thode`s interpretation of revelation, an aspect downplayed by Gombrich who was concerned to pin his argument to the figure of Epiphanias. Thus the Virgin, rather than passively holding the lead strings of Christ, is seen as actively lifting the drapery between her legs to reveal the Christ child, the miraculous product of her womb. In this light, the notary`s original Epifinia epithet would seem apposite. The incarnation theme may be considered to be reinforced by the presence of the child Baptist, the acknowledged precursor (by six months) of Christ and who was sanctified within Elizabeth`s womb at the Visitation.
5. The cartoon as a composition for an altarpiece
The purpose of the cartoon as the exemplar for an altarpiece was seen as central by Gombrich but has otherwise largely gone unconsidered even though this would have significantly determined Michelangelo`s conception of the work. Combining several points of view, the cartoon would appear to acknowledge the display at reasonable height above an altar. The figure of the Virgin fills the picture surface, and is given a frontality and presence which an altarpiece - the visual focus of a chapel ensemble - requires. The Virgin`s interlocutor, the `speaker`, has patent intercessorial power, heightened by his left hand pointing downwards and out of the picture plane, a gesture linking the altarpiece and spectator. The Virgin and the `speaker` would no doubt have fulfilled a dedicatory function in the intended chapel.
The Christ child forms a stable triangular composition to be seen rising from the altar below, the site of the liturgical celebration of Christ`s sacrifice. The composition contains elements of narrative movement and stasis (the animated relationship between the Virgin and the `speaker` matched by the Virgin`s pulling back the drapery over her legs to reveal the sleeping Christ child) in a manner similar to the liturgy to be enacted before it. In support of Thode`s interpretation of revelation, Dussler (1959) noted that Isaiah is quoted in the liturgy at Christmas and the Epiphany.
6. The cartoon within Michelangelo`s surviving graphic oeuvre
The composition of W75 is consistent with Michelangelo`s artistic concerns as represented in his surviving graphic oeuvre. The Virgin and Child were central devotional foci and subjects to which Michelangelo continuously returned; in Michelangelo`s figure-centred oeuvre they take on an especial significance. The summary drawing on W5 in pen and ink of some fifty years earlier for his marble sculpture of the Brugges Madonna is remarkably similar to the solution W75 presents - in particular in the blockish nature of the Virgin, parallel to the picture plane and the position of her r. arm. As Berenson (1938) noted, a suggestive formal analogy is offered with the incomplete panel in the Ashmolean (Corpus 389 bis) dated to the 1530s. The woman (the Virgin?) is symmetrically placed in a manner similar to W75. She holds a child to either side of her, that to the r. by the hand, that to the l. by lead lines. A further, stooping figure is seen to the woman`s right.
As Wilde notes, the robust figures in W75 recall those of the Cappella Paolina executed in the late 1540s. In particular, the striding figure is a variant in reverse of that in the background of `The Martyrdom of St Peter`, which closes the compositional line formed by St Peter`s raised cross. Five sketches on three small sheets at Oxford (Corpus 427-8, 430) and one each in the Casa Buonarroti and formerly in the Gathorne-Hardy Collection (Corpus 368 and 429 respectively) reproduce the motif of the striding figure - for which they were considered preparatory by Berenson, only generically related by Wilde.
The deceptively simple composition of W75 with the Virgin placed in undramatic contrapposto, parallel to the picture plane and symmetrically flanked to either side by a male figure, is in sharp contrast with the cramped, twisted posture of the Christ child between the Virgin`s legs. This contrast of relative simplicity and complexity is characteristic of Michelangelo. The motif of the Christ child recalls those of the figures within the study of the Medici tombs on W25 recto, but, in particular, the figure of the sleeping soldier to the r. of Christ in the Resurrection sheet, W52. The Christ of W75 might be considered a re-working of the Virgin crouching beneath the raised r. arm of Christ within the `Last Judgement` painted roughly a decade earlier.
The motif of the Christ child between the Virgin`s legs is also seen in a sequence of three sheets in red chalk in the Louvre (Corpus 241-3) dated to the early 1530s. W58 and W65, dated within the 1530s, also offer suggestive analogies with W75, especially in consideration of the presence of the child Baptist. Thode (1913) noted the similarity of the `speaker`s` pose with that of the lower apostle study on the verso of the Teyler sheet for the dome of St Peters dated to the late 1550s (Teyler A 29 / Chapman, 2005, no. 104).
Given the early documentation of W75, the first reference placing the cartoon in Michelangelo`s studio at his death, the attribution of W75 has rarely been contested. The somewhat nebulous nature of its composition has hindered its artistic appreciation - although the figures are robustly defined, the many-drawn contours, pentimenti and the darkening of the sheets give an impression of indistinctness which only tends to lift after sustained observation, hence Berenson`s opinion (1938) that to discern the hand of Michelangelo in the cartoon `it requires much patient study, and some faith`.
It is not difficult to imagine Condivi`s dismay at the cartoon, less finished and defined than was the norm for this category of drawing. The contours are many times redrawn in the manner of a working drawing, and there are a significant number of pentimenti. A significant pentimento in the Virgin`s head and shoulder, first drawn considerably further to the l., is seen by Perrig (1991) as an example of the draughtsman`s lack of skill. The latter is the exception in rejecting the traditional attribution of W75, seeing instead the hand of Ascanio Condivi - despite the fact there are no known graphic works by Condivi with which to make comparison. He interprets Daniele da Volterra`s reference to `l`altro che dipingeva Ascanio` as relating to the object itself rather than the painting derived from it (ignoring Vasari`s evidence cited in 1. above). He also rejects the cartoon on a close formal and technical analysis. Although of blockish appearance - to some extent dictated by its destination - W75 is an impressive work, of lyrical handling in parts, and Perrig does not explain how the artist who produced it could subsequently produce a painting of such extreme mediocrity as the Casa Buonarroti panel, misinterpreting his own composition prepared in the cartoon. Perrig (2014, n. 284) maintains the attribution to Condivi, accounting for Daniele da Volterra`s reference to painting, `quello che dipingeva Asciano` (see 1. above), with the explanation that `dipingere` (to paint) covered both drawing and painting in Renaissance use. In both 1991 and 2014 Perrig ignores Vasari`s evidence in his second, 1568 life of Michelangelo (see 1. above).
For Wilde the sole interest of the panel is in showing the missing left strip from the cartoon, his unconscious, perhaps, of the way it had influenced his reading of the cartoon itself. Despite his consistently ultra-critical stance, Dussler (1959) offers an extremely positive assessment of W75, describing the `wundervolle, weiche und transparente Vortrag der Modellierung, der feine zittrig umspielende Kontur` (`the beautiful, light and transparent modelling, with its fine and nervously playful contours`) as comparable to a drawing of much smaller conception such as W71 representing the Annunciation, equally a moment of revelation. Hartt (1971) writes, `For all the immense bulk and nebulous extent of the figures, they move and speak with an uncanny grace.` The cartoon is precious testament to Michelangelo`s drawing practice in late life.
Watermarks: five sheets contain an anchor (see `Conservation Divisions report Michelangelo Cartoon `Epifania`` in Departmental Dossier on W75): unlisted in J. Roberts, A Dictionary of Michelangelo`s Watermarks, Milan, 1988, but would appear close to Anchor C.
The above text is by Daniel Godfrey
Lit.: J.D. Passavant, `Tour of a German Artist in England`, London, 1836, (translation from the original German ed. published in Frankfurt, 1833), I, p. 241; J.C. Robinson, `Descriptive Catalogue of Drawings by the Old Masters, forming the Collection of John Malcolm of Poltalloch, Esq.`, London, 1876, no. 81; H. Thode, `Michelangelo: Kritische Untersuchungen über seine Werke`, vol. ii, Berlin, 1908, pp. 439-43; H. Thode, `Michelangelo und das Ende der Renaissance. Der Künstler und seine Werke`, vol. iii, Berlin, 1912, pp. 702-6; H. Thode, `Michelangelo: Kritische Untersuchungen über seine Werke`, vol. iii, Berlin, 1913, no. 552, p. 260; B. Berenson, `The Drawings of the Florentine Painters`, Chicago, 1938, I, pp. 231-2, II, no. 1537, p. 193, and under nos. 1569 (= Corpus 427-8, 430), p. 202 and 1725A (= Corpus 389 bis), p. 239; L. Goldscheider, `Michelangelo Drawings`, London, 1951, no. 118, p. 56; J. Wilde, `Italian Drawings in the BM, Michelangelo and his Studio`, London, 1953, no. 75, pp. 114-16 (with further literature); L. Dussler, `Die Zeichnungen des Michelangelo`, Berlin, 1959, no.178, pp. 113-14; C. de Tolnay, `Michelangelo V. The Final Period`, Princeton, 1960, no. 236, pp. 213-15; F. Hartt, `The Drawings of Michelangelo`, London, 1971, no. 440, pp. 308-9; G. Settimo, `Ascanio Condivi, biografo di Michelangelo`, Ascoli Piceno, 1975; J.A. Gere and N. Turner, in exhib. cat., London, BM, `Drawings by Michelangelo`, 1975, no.153, p. 130; C. de Tolnay, `Corpus dei disegni di Michelangelo`, Novara, 1978, III, no. 389; J. Wilde, `Michelangelo: Six Lectures`, London, 1978, p. 5, fig. 4; E. Gombrich, `Michelangelo`s Cartoon in the British Museum`, in `New Light on Old Masters. Studies in the Art of the Renaissance`, Oxford, 1986, pp. 171-8; C. Bambach, `Michelangelo`s Cartoon for the Crucifixion of St Peter Reconsidered`, "Master Drawings", XXV, Summer 1987, pp. 131-42; M. Hirst, `Michelangelo and His Drawings`, New Haven and London, 1988, pp. 75, 77-8; M. Hirst, in exhib. cat., Washington, National Gallery of Art and Paris, Louvre, `Michelangelo Draftsman`, 1988, under no. 53 (= Corpus 384), pp. 128-32; A. Perrig, `Michelangelo`s drawings: the science of attribution`, New Haven and London, 1991, pp. 86-93, figs. 95-7 (as Ascanio Condivi); P. Joannides, `Primitivism in the Late Drawings of Michelangelo: the Master`s Construction of an Old-age Style`, in C. Hugh Smyth (ed.)., `Michelangelo Drawings`, Washington, 1992, p. 250; H. Chapman, in exhib. cat., London, BM, `Old Master Drawings from the Malcolm Collection`, 1996, no. 24, p. 60; C. Bambach, `Review of A. Perrig, Michelangelo`s drawings...`, "Master Drawings", XXXV, 1997, pp. 69-70; M. Hirst, `Introduction`, in G. Nencioni ed. of A. Condivi, `Vita di Michelagnolo Buonarroti`, Florence, 1998, p. iv; C.C. Bambach, `Drawing and Painting in the Italian Renaissance Workshop: Theory and Practice`, 1300-1600, Cambridge, 1999, pp. 268, 280-1, 287-9, 338, 390 n. 73; H. Chapman, in exhib. cat., BM, `Michelangelo Drawings: closer to the master`, 2005, no. 95, pp. 261-2; E. Olszewski, 'A Corpus of Drawings in Midwestern Collections, Sixteenth-Century Italian Drawings', London/ Turnout, 2008, II, under no. 141; A. Perrig, `Das Vermächtnis des Don Giulio Clovio und die wundersame Vermehrung der Zeichnungen Michelangelos`, Würzburg, 2014, pp. 18 (n. 6,7), 100 (n. 284), 136 (n. 399), 138 (n. 403), 231 (n. 661).
- Exhibition history
1964, BM, Michelangelo, no. 26
1975 Feb-Apr, BM, Drawings by Michelangelo, no. 153
2006 Mar-Jun, BM, 'Michelangelo Drawings: Closer to the Master'
- Acquisition date
- Prints and Drawings
- Registration number