- Museum number
Studies of a reclining male nude: Adam in the fresco 'The Creation of Man' on the vault of the Sistine Chapel. c. 1511
Dark red chalk over some stylus underdrawing (left calf and elsewhere)
Verso: Head of a youth; turned to right, wearing a headscarf
Red chalk over stylus underdrawing
- Production date
Height: 193 millimetres
Width: 259 millimetres
- Curator's comments
- The recto drawing is a study from life for the reclining figure of Adam in the third bay on the ceiling of Sistine chapel in the Vatican. The sheet has been trimmed on all sides, parts of the composition being cut on the top and the left. The worn and damaged paper impedes the appreciation of the drawing. The uncharacteristic, almost scarlet colour of the red chalk is caused, as Wilde notes, by the sheet having been varnished at an unrecorded time in its history.
W11 recto represents an unparalleled observation and idealization of the male form, symbolic of the perfection of God`s creation before the Fall: the ease of Adam`s pose and the candid display of his splayed thighs are at one with the generative meaning of the image. The prime focus of the study, the undulating forms of the muscular torso, are described in both hatching - consistently directed - and stippling whereby the point of the chalk is used to create fine gradations of tone. The head has not been indicated above the neck and the figure`s r. hand has been left off, being studied subsequently and to a larger scale immediately below - and again to the far right. The modelling within the body is married with the thickened contours, Michelangelo`s striving to achieve a definition of form which would be clearly visible for the floor of the chapel: adjustments to the outer contours are seen, especially, in the upper l. thigh below the outstretched l. arm and, lightly drawn, in an initial positioning of the lower contour of the r. thigh.
Red chalk is Michelangelo`s preferred medium at this period, and although it gives slightly lesser contrasts of tone than black chalk, Michelangelo obviously appreciated its lustrous surface quality (it can be shaved to a finer point than black) and its saturated hue, in accord with the destination of the studies for figures to be rendered in the luminous hues of `buon fresco`. Michelangelo did not use red chalk exclusively, however, Corpus 120 in Detroit contains (its length somewhat cut) a study in broad strokes of black chalk for the outstretched l. arm and hand of Adam. It is to a much larger scale than W11 and thus represents a stage closer to the execution of the cartoon by which the composition would be transferred to the surface of the ceiling. Significantly, the only surviving fragment of a final-stage cartoon, for the face of Haman, on the verso of a sheet at Haarlem (Corpus 120/CvT 50; no. 30 in the 2005 exhibition), is also briskly drawn in black chalk. On its recto are contained detailed studies in red chalk for the same figure, revealing Michelangelo`s workman-like attitude to his earlier studies, willingly sacrificed once their purpose was elapsed in order to provide paper for a cartoon. It also displays his rigorously consecutive working practice, in which moved swiftly from conceiving and studying each portion of the ceiling on paper to its execution before moving on to the next area to be painted.
The recto is closely linked with two sheets - originally one - in the Teylers Museum, Haarlem (Corpus 135-6; nos 26-7 in the 2005 exhibition) which contain red chalk studies for the group of God the Father and angels within the `Creation of Adam`. There is a good, close copy in red chalk in the Louvre (Joannides 2003, no. 96), executed when the present sheet was larger. In the Musée Ingres, Montauban, there is a copy in black chalk (867.4110).
The authenticity of W11 was questioned by Berenson in his first edition of `Florentine Drawings` published in 1903 (although accepted with reservations in the second edition of 1938), and by J.A Gere and Nicholas Turner in 1979 who considered the figure`s contours `flaccid` and the internal modelling as `lacking in rhythm` in comparison with the Haarlem sheets which they perceived as presenting an `emphatic and springy contour`. Having considered W11 a copy in 1945, de Tolnay was persuaded of its autograph status in 1975.
Dussler (1959) rejected the study, even though he considered it of higher quality than the drawings on the two Haarlem sheets. Previously, Wilde had firmly placed W11 within Michelangelo`s surviving graphic oeuvre, calling for a careful comparison with the frescoes to dispel doubts concerning both the recto and verso. Joannides (1981) called Gere and Turner`s view an `aberration`, noting `very swift and alert hatching on abdomen and lower thigh, the chalk worked into the paper in the shadowed areas, and fused in areas of deepest shadow, under the armpit.` Most recently Michael Hirst (in Vatican 1990) and Turner (1999), the latter revising his earlier view, have defended the attribution to Michelangelo. The former writes, `Come studio di un modello, questo foglio é esemplare`, this opinion coinciding with de Tolnay`s earlier comments: `Lo studio é stato esguito dal naturale, a giudicare dalla richezza della muscolatura del torso di Adamo`. Hirst`s observation (1990) that a confirmation of the drawing`s authenticity is provided by its watermark is a lapsus since the sheet does not possess one.
The head on the verso is related to the ignudo above and to the l. of the Persian Sibyl, the igundo next to Adam. Wilde vigorously defended the authenticity of this study which Berenson and others described as a copy. The drawing is unquestionably less lively than the recto (`alquanto secco nei contorni` according to de Tolnay), and this may be explained by the extensive, deep stylus indications which suggest that it is largely based on an earlier study whose contours have been incised into the surface of the present sheet. These lines differ form Michelangelo`s normal preliminary stylus under drawing in the depth of the scoring and their fidelity to the main contours of the form. Joannides (1981) regards the verso study as `directly comparable with Michelangelo`s idealized studies in the elongation of the nose and treatment of mouth`. A copy after the verso by Degas is in the Kunsthalle, Bremen (64/611; Gernsheim 63519).
Lit.: B. Berenson, `The Drawings of the Florentine Painters`, Chicago, 1938, IIi, no. 1519A, pp. 189-90; C. de Tolnay , `Michelangelo II. The Sistine Chapel`, Princeton, 1945, no. 6A, p. 207; J. Wilde, `Italian Drawings from the BM, Michelangelo and his Studio`, London, 1953, no. 11, pp. 23-4 (with further literature); L. Dussler, `Die Zeichnungen des Michelangelo`, Berlin, 1959, no. 580 (recto and verso), p. 265 (as apocryphally attributed to Michelangelo); J.A. Gere and N. Turner, in exhib. cat., London, BM, `Drawings by Michelangelo`, 1975, no. 18, p. 28; C. de Tolnay, `Corpus dei disegni di Michelangelo`, Novara, 1975, I, no. 134; J.A.Gere and N. Turner, in exhib. cat., New York, Pierpont Morgan Library, `Drawings by Michelangelo from the BM`, 1979, no. 7, pp. 40 2; P. Joannides, `Review of `Corpus dei disegni...``, "The Art Bulletin", 63, 1981, p. 682; M. Hirst, `Michelangelo and his Drawings`, New Haven and London, 1988, p. 2; M. Hirst, in exhib. cat. (F. Mancinelli ed), Vatican, Biblioteca Apostolica Vaticana, `Michelangelo e la Sistina; : la tecnica, il restauro, il mito`, 1990, no. 5, pp. 45 6 (incorrectly illustrated); A. Perrig, `Michelangelo`s drawings: the science of attribution`, New Haven and London, 1991, p. 131, n. 166 (as a facsimile copy); K. Weil-Garris Brandt, `Michelangelo`s Early Projects for the Sistine Ceiling: Their Pratical and Artistic Consequences`, in C. Hugh Smyth (ed.), `Studies in the History of Art. 33. Michelangelo Drawings`, Washington, 1992, pp. 57-87; C. Bambach, `Review of A.Perrig, `Michelangelo`s drawings...``, "Master Drawings", XXXV, 1997, pp. 67-72; C. Echinger Maurach, `Zu Michelangelos Skizze für den verlorenen Bronzedavid und zum Beginn der `gran maniera degli ignudi` in seinem Entwurf für den Marmordavid`, "Zeitschrift für Kunstgeschichte", 61, 1998, p. 333, pl. 16; N. Turner, `The Creation of Adam`, "The National Art Collections Fund Quarterly", Summer 1999, pp. 40-3; C van Tuyll van Serooskerken, `The Italian Drawings of the Fifteenth and Sixteenth Centuries in the Teyler Museum`, Haarlem, Ghent and Doornspijk, 2000, under nos. 47-8 (= Corpus 135-6), pp. 100-5; P. Joannides, `Inventaire général des dessins italiens, Musée du Louvre, Cabinet des Dessins: Michel-Ange, élèves et copistes`, Paris, 2003, under no. 96 (= copy of W11), p. 243; H. Chapman, in exhib. cat., BM, `Michelangelo Drawings: closer to the master`, London, 2005, no. 25, pp. 129-30; C. Van Cleave, `Master Drawings of the Italian Renaissance`, London, 2007, p. 122, illustrated p. 122
- Not on display
- Exhibition history
1964, BM, 'Michelangelo', no.14
1975 Feb-Apr, BM, 'Drawings by Michelangelo', no.18
1977 May-Jun, Hermitage, 'Italian Renaissance', no.29
1977 Jul Aug, Pushkin, Moscow, Italian Renaissance, no.29
1978, BM, Gainsborough and Reynolds in the BM, no.217
1979 New York, Pierpont Morgan Library, Drawings by Michelangelo, no.7
1980 Adelaide and Melbourne, no.29
1990 Mar-Jul, Rome,Vatican Museum, 'Michelangelo e la Sistina', no.5
1996 Feb-Apr, Tokyo, Nat Mus Western Art, Italian Drawings/BM, no.2
1996 Apr-May, Nagoya, Aichi Pref Mus of Art, Italian Drawings/BM, no.2
2000/1 Dec-Feb, BM Great Court, The Human Image
2003/4 Oct-Jan, London, Hayward Gallery, Saved! NACF, no.35
2005/6 Oct-Jan, Haarlem, Teylers Museum, Michelangelo Drawings, no.25
2006 Mar-Jun, BM, 'Michelangelo Drawings: Closer to the Master', no.25
2015 Mar-Jul, BM, 'Defining Beauty: the body in ancient Greek art'
- Acquisition date
- Acquisition notes
- Offered to the BM by Mr Godfrey Locker-Lampson for £600, 'an extremely moderate price for a drawing by so great a master and for so great a masterpiece' (to quote Dodgson's report of 6 July 1926). It was purchased for the BM by the NACF (£400), with contributions of £100 each by Sir Joseph Duveen and Mr Henry Van der Bergh.
"The following were the most interesting lots: The Adam, a drawing in red chalk, by M. Angelo, for the Creation of Eve [sic] in the Sistine Chapel, with a sketch of a man's head on the other side, both engraved by Ottley, £42...' ('Fine Art Gossip', 'Athenaeum', 16 June 1860, p.828)
- Prints and Drawings
- Registration number