- Museum number
Study for the left-hand lower part of the 'Disputa'; a group of ecclesiastics, some seated, turned to an altar with the sacrament at r, the Holy dove above
Pen and brown ink, with grey-brown wash, heightened with white (oxidised)
- Production date
Height: 245 millimetres
Width: 400 millimetres
- Curator's comments
- Amended version of the entry in National Gallery Raphael catalogue:
A study for the lower left-hand corner of the fresco depicting the Dispute on the Holy Sacrament, commonly known as the 'Disputa', painted c. 1509-10 in the Stanza della Segnatura in the Vatican. The room was named by Vasari (in his 1550 and 1568 'Lives of the Artists) as the Stanza della Segnatura because it was used by the the 'Signatura gratiae' (a divison of the supreme tribunal of the Roman Curia). There is overwhelming evidence that the function of the room in Raphael's day was as a library. This elucidates the function of the decorative programme because the frescoes relate to the way in which books in Renaissance libraries were arranged according to their subject matter into four categories or faculties: Theology, Poetry, Philosophy and Jurisprudence. (It also explains the inordinate number of books represented in the frescoes.) Female personifications of these abstract notions are painted in roundels on the ceilings, and between these at the corners of the vault are upright scenes with subjects relevant to the tondi on either side. For example, the 'Judgement of Solomon' between 'Jurisprudence' and 'Philosophy' illustrates both concepts as it shows a wise man making a legal judgement. This link extends to the scenes on the wall, so that under 'Philosophy' is the scene showing a gathering of philosophers, the 'School of Athens', likewise beneath 'Theology' is the 'Disputa', in which theologians contemplate the mystery of the sacrament. The broad concept of the room's decoration was almost certainly devised by someone at the court of Pope Julius II, yet the dramatic changes to the composition which occur in the preparatory studies for the 'Disputa' make plain that that it was Raphael who was responsible for finding the brilliantly effective visual means of expressing these complex abstract notions.
Thirty studies for the 'Disputa' are known, more than for any other in Raphael's oeuvre and indeed more than the combined total of preparatory drawings for all the other frescoes in the room. The 'Disputa' has generally (but not universally) been regarded as the first of the walls to have been painted, the number of studies indicating the artist's inexperience in tackling such an esoteric subject and working on such a grand scale. That the Disputa was the test bed which established the pattern for the entire scheme is strongly suggested by the process of trial and error shown in the preparatory drawings which led to the emergence of the final composition. (For arguments in favour of the 'School of Athens' having been painted before the 'Disputa' see Arnold Nesselrath's essay, 'Raphael and Julius II' in the National Gallery catalogue, pp. 284-8).
The BM drawing is very different from Raphael's initial concept of the composition shown in brush and wash drawings in the Royal Collection at Windsor Castle (Joannides 1983, no. 197; illustrated in colour in NG catalogue as no. 78) and Chantilly (Joannides 1983, no. 212r). The introduction of an altar on which stands a chalice and wafer (in the fresco this is replaced by a monstrance) containing the Host, provides a central focus lacking in his early draft, while at the same time making the subject of the fresco a great deal clearer. The sacrament is the physical manifestation of God's presence, and it is the mystical nature of the transformation of the Host into Christ's flesh that inspires the study and debate of the assembled company. The elimination of the column at the far left shown in the Windsor drawing, and its replacement by a low balustrade, opens up the space thereby allowing more figures to be included. Raphael cleverly avoids the distribution of the theologians becoming monotonous by varying their height by means of the stepped platform on which the altar stands. It is drawn with marvellous assurance and economy of means, the supple rhythmical pen outlines that define the figures augmented by minimal hatching or broadly applied wash. The artist made a free preliminary underdrawing in stylus (most evident in the area around the head of the rightmost kneeling man) before taking up the pen. The drawing differs from the fresco principally in the absence of the group disputing in the foreground by the balustrade, and also of the figure seen from behind standing beside St Gregory seated on the foremost throne.
The next stage in the evolution of the design is represented by a study of the figures in the nude at Frankfurt (Joannides 1983, no. 205). There are a number of copies of the present drawing: at Budapest (by Battista Franco) , Chatsworth and in the Louvre (3884; Knab, Mitsch and Oberhuber 1983, no. 287).
Lit.: P. Pouncey and J.A. Gere, 'Italian Drawings in the BM, Raphael and His Circle', London, 1962, I, no. 33, II, pl. 41; J.A. Gere and N. Turner, in exhib. cat., BM, 'Drawings by Raphael from the Royal Library, the Ashmolean, the British Museum, Chatsworth and other English collections', 1983, no. 88; P Joannides, 'The Drawings of Raphael', Oxford, 1983, no. 204; E. Knab, E. Mitsch and K. Oberhuber, 'Raphael Die Zeichnungen', Stuttgart, 1983, no. 289; H. Chapman, in exhib. cat. (H. Chapman, T. Henry, C. Plazzotta et al.), London, National Gallery, 'Raphael from Urbino to Rome', 2004, no. 80; C. Van Cleave, 'Master Drawings of the Italian Renaissance', London, 2007, p. 144, illustrated p. 148
- Not on display
- Exhibition history
1962-1963 Nov-Sep, BM, Raphael and his Circle (P+G)
1965, BM, Masterpieces of the Print Room, (no cat.)
1972, BM, 'The Art of Drawing', no.134
1984, BM, 'Master Drawings and Watercolours in the British Museum', no.12
1983, BM, 'Drawings by Raphael', no.88
1998-1999 Dec-April, Bonn, Kunst und-Ausstellungshalle, Renaissance at Vatican
2004-2005 Oct-Jan, London, National Gallery, Raphael: From Urbino to Rome
2012-2013 Nov-Feb, Frankfurt, Stadel Museum, Raphael as Draughtsman
2017 01 Jun -03 Sept, Oxford, Ashmolean, Raphael: The Drawings
- Acquisition date
- Prints and Drawings
- Registration number