- Museum number
Studies for a Christ in a Transfiguration; including putti above columns and arches at l
Pen and brown ink
Verso: Studies of various figures including Moses and Elijah in a transfiguration and grotesque decoration
Pen and brown ink
Pouncey & Gere 1962
[Please see Pouncey & Gere 1962, cat. no 218 for further discussion of the compositions]
'A'. The centre and l.-hand compartments of a triptych, the frame of which is surmounted by putti holding garlands; the centre panel contains the 'Transfiguration', the left. one, a standing figure (angel of the Annunciation ?). 'B', 'D', 'E', 'F', and 'H'. Studies for a Christ in a 'Transfiguration'; in 'F' and 'H' He stands on a cloud, 'C. A seated man, with nude torso and his arms extended in the attitude of a Christ in glory, 'G'. Back and r. leg of a seated naked man. 'I'. Probably a variant of 'D', though but for its presence on this sheet one would think rather of a Christ in a 'Deposition'.
'J' and 'L'. Studies for Moses and Elijah in a 'Transfiguration'. 'K', 'P', and 'Q'. Strips of grotesque decoration. 'M'. A sleeve and hand. 'N', 'O', and 'S'. Studies of a nude figure reclining on a bench. 'R'. A monk seated between two standing men. 'T'. A seated nude figure leaning forward and reaching down with its r. arm. 'U'. A cloaked figure sitting on the ground, holding an open book.
- Production date
- 1530-1535 (circa)
Height: 213 millimetres
Width: 157 millimetres
- Curator's comments
- The majority of studies on 1918,0615.2 and 1936,1010.3 are related to a dismembered altarpiece in a triptych format with the 'Transfiguration' at the centre painted by Polidoro in the first half of the 1530s for the main altar of the church of Santa Maria del Carmine, Messina in Sicily. The altar was damaged in an earthquake in 1783 and taken apart and sold off, but its apperance can be reconstructed thanks to a detailed description in Susinno's 1724 history of painting in Messina (quoted by Leone de Castris 2001, pp. 357-8) from which it is known that it was made up of six elements, the main part of which was the Transfiguration of Christ flanked by Moses and Elijah (by legend the founder of the Carmelite order), on the right of this was life-size images of St Angelus (a Carmelite with Sicilian connections as he was martyred in the 13thc in Licata on the south coast of the island) and to the left St Albert of Trapani (the Carmelite patron saint of Messina). At the top of the altarpiece were three small compartments with a half-figure of God the Father and child angels on either side. At the base was a 'gusto antico' (ie. pre-dating Polidoro's work) painting of the Virgin suckling the Christ Child flanked by compartments with St Peter and St Paul on the right and left.
The tempera on canvas paintings of the two Carmelite saints survive: St Albert in the Galleria Sabauda, Turin and the now three-quarter length St Angelus in a private collection (de Castris 2001, figs. 420 and 417). The appearance of the lost 'Transfiguration', sketched out on the recto and verso of the present sheet, can be guessed at from three Polidoro compositional drawings at Lille, Berlin, and in a UK private collection with perhaps the last known stage of his thoughts known from a copy in Frankfurt (Leone de Castris figs. 413-416). In addition there are painted copies and variants by Deodato Guinaccia, Marco Pino and an anonymous Messinese follower of Polidoro (idem figs. 409-412) The status of the Courtauld painting (illustrated in colour in idem as pl. 81, p. 314, (mentioned in a note by Pouncey and Gere as having been on the London art market in 1960) is still contested, but Pierluigi Leone de Castris includes it in his monograph as a small-scale oil sketch by Polidoro for the Carmelite commission.
Lit: P.Pouncey and J.A. Gere, 'Italian drawings in the BM, Raphael and his circle', London, 1962, I, no. 218, II, pls. 190, 191 ; A. Marabottini, 'Polidoro da Caravaggio', Rome, 1969, I, nos. 162, 163, II, pl. L, LI; L. Ravelli, 'Polidoro Caldara da Caravaggio', Bergamo, 1978, no. 177, 178; P. Leone de Castris, in exhib. cat., Naples, Capodimonte, 'Polidoro da Caravaggio fra Napoli e Messina', 1988, no. IX.4, pp. 111-112; P. Leone de Castris, 'Polidoro da Caravaggio, l'opera completa', Naples, 2001, no. D 126, figs. 406-7 (with additional literature)
Pouncey & Gere 1962
The attribution of 1918,0615.2 and 1936,1010.3 to Polidoro, found in the Poynter Sale catalogue, is no doubt traditional. In handling and general appearance they resemble the group of sketch-book leaves at Berlin (cf. 'Prussian Jahrbuch', xli (1920), pp. 344 ff.) some of which contain drawings connected with the temporary decorations designed by Polidoro for the entry of Charles V into Messina in 1535.
The majority of the studies are for a 'Transfiguration'. A picture of this subject which Polidoro painted for S. Maria del Carmine, Messina, is referred to by Placido Samperi, "Iconologia della gloriosa Vergine . . .", Messina, 1644, p. 182: "Le Imagini pure del Cappellone maggiore della Santissima Vergine, della Transfiguratione del Signore, e l'altre, che quivi si veggono, sono opera di molta stima, per essere del Polidoro, & è della Nobilissima Famiglia de' Marulli, dove stà sepolto D. Giovanni Marullo Conte di Condoianni, che fù Stratego di Messina." Polidoro's work in this Carmelite church no longer exists, having probably been destroyed in the earthquake of 1783. It is worth noting that the monk at 'R' in 1936,1010.3 verso seems to be either a Dominican or a Carmelite. A composition study by Polidoro for a 'Transfiguration', formerly at Wilton House (sale, Sotheby, 1917, 9 July, lot 420) and subsequently in the collection of the late Sir William Rook, differs in proportions from the central panel of the composition-sketch 'A' on 1936,1010.3 recto; it is rectangular and less elongated, since it is without the two standing figures below.*
We have not been able to identify the coat of arms at 'R' and 'V'on the verso of 1918,0615.2. Rietstap gives those of the Marullo family of Messina as or a 'wolf sable'.
Studies 'K', 'L', 'M', 'O', 'P', 'Q', 'S', and 'U' on the verso of 1918,0615.2 are for a composition known in a more complete form from two drawings by Polidoro, one in the Louvre (10703) and one formerly in the collection of Richard Cosway. The latter, which was attributed to Giulio Romano and engraved in facsimile by Metz (Weigel 2885), gives additional background detail including a herd of cattle and sheep. Weigel identifies the subject as 'The Death of Adonis'. This is certainly wrong but we can suggest no alternative.
See Addenda and Corrigenda, p. xvii.
* A small painting of the Transfiguration attributed to Polidoro, recently sold in London, was said in the sale catalogue (Christie, 1960, I Apr., lot 102) to be connected with 1918,0615.2 and 1936,1010.3. The resemblance between this picture and the study on 1936,1010.3 is of the most general kind. In our opinion Polidoro's authorship of the painting is out of the question: the most that can be said is that it might be by some weak follower since it shows certain affinities with Polidoro's painted modelli, especially in the drapery.
- Not on display
- Exhibition history
1962/3 Nov-Sep, BM, Raphael and his Circle (P+G)
1978, BM, Gainsborough and Reynolds in the BM, no.213
1988/9 Nov-Feb. Gallerie Nazionale Di Capodimonte, Naples, no. IX.4
2019, 13 Sep–13 Dec, USA, University of San Diego, University Galleries, Christ: Life, Death and Resurrection, Italian Renaissance Drawings & Prints from the British Museum
2020, 25 Jan–28 Sep, USA, Santa Fe, New Mexico Museum of Art, The birth, death and resurrection of Christ: from Michelangelo to Tiepolo
- Acquisition date
- Prints and Drawings
- Registration number