- Museum number
Ajax the Lesser (son of Oileus) on the left pulling Cassandra from the Palladium, the cult image of Pallas Athena, during the Sack of Troy
Metalpoint (likely silverpoint), on pale pink prepared paper (made up sections above Athena's shield, the lower left and along the lower edge)
- Production date
- 1509-1511 (circa)
Height: 114 millimetres
Width: 143 millimetres
- Curator's comments
- The drawing illustrates an episode from the Trojan War after the Greeks had entered the city by hiding in the wooden horse and were sacking the city. The male figure is Ajax the Lesser (son of Oileus king of Locris) who is shown prising the Trojan princess, Cassandra, from her hold of the cult image of Pallas Athena, the Palladium, before either dragging her from the sanctuary of the goddess's temple to be one of his captives, or in some versions of the story raping her.
The drawing's 18th or 19thc. attribution to the Venetian/ Roman artist Battista Franco (c. 1510-1561) is certainly wrong as the level of draughtsmanship in the 'Ajax and Cassandra' is far beyond his abilities, not to mention the employment of metalpoint which was a medium that virtually disappeared in Italy after Raphael's death in 1520. However it may reflect the recognition that the composition was based on an Antique cameo since Franco is known to have studied them in prints and drawings (such as Bartsch XVI.148.82; BM impression 1874,0808.412-422). It was Francis Russell who first spotted the present drawing was by Raphael in 1987 when it was part of a miscellaneous album of Old Master drawings from Knole, possibly assembled by John Sackville, 3rd Duke of Dorset. Most of the drawings from the album, minus the present work, were sold by Christie's on 1 April 1987.
Ruth Rubinstein subsequently published this new addition to Raphael's corpus in 1987. She identified that the artist's source for Ajax pulling Cassandra from the Palladium was likely to have been an Antique cameo: in the article she illustrated a similar representation of the scene, but with the figures in reverse direction to those in the drawing, carved on a 1st or 2nd century A.D. onyx Roman cameo in the Greek and Roman Department of the British Museum (registration number: 1890,0304.1). The reversal of the figures in Raphael's drawing suggests that the British Museum work might not have been his direct source, but it does suggest that his inspiration was a classical treatment of Ajax's brutal violation of Cassandra and the sacred space of the temple. As Rubinstein noted, the drawing matches even more closely (such as in the detail of Ajax pulling Cassandra by the hair) a 'piedra antigua', but more likely a cameo, reproduced as a woodcut in an Italian translation of 1592 of Antonio Agustin's 'Dialogos de medallas, inscricionesy, otras antiquedades' first published in Tarragona in 1587 (Rubinstein fig. b). (A cast bronze medal after the cameo recorded by the woodcut, or perhaps based on the print, dating from the 17th century or possibly later is in the British Museum, inv. M. 9219). As the model for the woodcut was not known to Rubinstein it is uncertain if it reverses the orientation of the cameo.
David Ekserdjian observed that the pose of Ajax in the silverpoint is also repeated in the reverse sense in an engraving by Agostino Venziano (Bartsch XIV.343.461; cut BM impression H,3.701), one of the printmakers in the immediate circle of Raphael. The pose of the figure in the print is taken from one in an Antique cameo of a warrior pulling another from his horse by his hair. This 2nd-century A.D. sardonyx cameo was formerly in the Gonzaga or Grimani collection and is now in the collection of the Earl of Yarborough (see I. Jenkins and K. Sloan, in exhib. cat., BM, 'Vases and Volcanoes, Sir William Hamilton and his collection', 1996, no. 71). Raphael's study of these cameos may have led his inclusion of a warrior yanking back a fleeing mother by her hair in the background of his design for Marcantonio's 'Massacre of the Innocents' engraving (Bartsch XIV.21.20; BM preparatory study 1860,0414.446) from around the same period, c. 1509. Raphael was probably unaware that the motif of Ajax pulling Cassandra from her grasp of the statue by her hair was to be found on much earlier Greek representations of the subject: see for examples two vase paintings in the British Museum from 5thc. B.C. Athens and 4thc. B.C. Campania (1873,0820.366 and 1824,0501.35)
The present drawing is from a group of small-scale metalpoint studies, almost certainly silverpoint, on pink preparation that Raphael made early on his time in Rome, c. 1509-11, that Oskar Fischel first proposed came from a single sketchbook see O. Fischel, 'Raphael's Pink Sketch-Book', "The Burlington Magazine", 74, April 1939, pp. 180-7). Six of these metalpoint on pink preparation drawings are in Lille (P. Joannides, 'The Drawings of Raphael', Oxford, 1983, nos. 229, 268-70, 272 and 274); four, excluding the present one, in the British Museum and one in Cleveland (idem no. 273). Whether or not the drawings were actually bound in a sketchbook or drawing book is open to question, however it is generally agreed they were executed around the same time. Raphael also used the same technique to make larger scale preparatory figure studies around 1509 for his frescoes in the Stanza della Segnatura in the Vatican (Joannides nos. 230-32, 243; two of these are in the BM: 1895,0915.629 and Pp,1.73). The present drawing is therefore the fifth metalpoint on pink preparation drawing in the Museum's collection. Raphael's employment of the technique to make a study after the Antique is paralleled in one of the drawings in Lille (Joannides no. 268) after a bust of Homer.
The present drawing is far more than a transcription of a classical source as Raphael's imbues the scene with an emotional power and dramatic intensity that a carving on the miniature scale of a cameo does not allow. This is perhaps most readily observable in the anguished expression of Cassandra looking imploringly upwards at the implacable face of the statue just as her right arm is torn free of its grasp. By slightly separating the figures Raphael places greater emphasis on Ajax's movement backwards, his outstretched left arm forming the base of an inverted triangle with the apex formed by the two figures' feet. Raphael's subtle change to the position of Cassandra's head so that it tilted further upwards also imparts a far more compelling sense than in the two cameos of the violent force of the Greek's tugging on her hair. The drama of the scene is underpinned by the artist's command of the metalpoint medium, visible perhaps most clearly in the lucid three-dimensional rendering of Ajax's muscular body with a remarkable economy of line .
Lit.: R. Rubinstein, 'Ajax and Cassandra: An Antique Cameo and a Drawing by Raphael', "Journal of the Warburg and Courtauld Institutes", 50, 1987, pp. 204-5; P. Joannides, in exhib. cat., Cleveland, Museum of Art and Lille, Palais des Beaux Arts, 'Raphael and His Age, drawings from the Palais des Beaux-Arts', Lille, 2002, under no. 42, p. 156; H. Chapman, 'Two additions to the British Museum's collection of Raphael drawings', in J. Jacoby (ed.), 'Raffael als Zeichner (Raphael as Draughtsman), Die Beiträge des Frankfurter Kolloquiums', Frankfurt, 2015, pp. 84-8, fig. 2
- Not on display
- Exhibition history
2014, 7 May-11 June, G90 display (no cat),'Recent Italian drawing acquisitions'
2015 10 Sep-6 Dec, London, British Museum, 'Drawing in Silver and Gold'
2017 01 Jun -03 Sept, Oxford, Ashmolean, Raphael: The Drawings
2018-2019, Oct 4 – 27 Jan, London, BM G90, Recent Acquisitions: Gozzoli to Kara Walker
- Acquisition date
- Acquisition notes
- From 2007-2013 the work was on long term loan to the Museum from the Knole Settled Estates.
'Accepted by HM Government in lieu of Inheritance Tax and allocated to the British Museum 2014'
- Prints and Drawings
- Registration number