Michelangelo's Drawings

Michelangelo's drawings offer a unique insight into how the artist worked and thought. They are beautiful artworks in their own right but also provide a crucial link between his work as a sculptor, painter and architect. This tour traces Michelangelo's life from youth to old age through drawings.

Michelangelo was extraordinarily famous during his lifetime, so much so that other artists produced portraits of him and three biographies were written. His artistic achievements set him in a class apart from his contemporaries; after the death of his main rival Raphael in 1520, he was to dominate the Roman art world for more than four decades. His primary focus as an artist was the male body, and his drawings chart his relentless search to find poses that would most eloquently express the emotional and spiritual state of his subjects.

Most of Michelangelo's drawings were never intended for public display. In fact, he would have been appalled to see them exhibited as he hated showing them to outsiders. He destroyed a large number before he died, probably to prevent them from falling into other hands; he may also have wished to conceal the amount of preparation behind his major works.

This tour was written to accompany the exhibition Michelangelo Drawings: Closer to the Master, at the British Museum from 23 March to 25 June 2006 (Room 5). The exhibition included drawings from the collections of three museums: the British Museum, the Ashmolean Museum in Oxford and the Teyler Museum in Haarlem.