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Raphael (Urbino 1483-Rome 1520)

Christ’s Charge to Peter c.1514

Offset from a drawing in red chalk over stylus. Watermark of a crossbow in a circle. | 25.7 x 37.5 cm (sheet of paper) | RCIN 912751

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  • This is an 'offset' from a study by Raphael for the tapestry cartoon of Christ's Charge to Peter, preparatory for the tapestries woven for the Sistine Chapel. (See RCIN 912749 for a dicussion of the project.) Raphael’s full-scale cartoon is also in the Royal Collection, on loan to the Victoria and Albert Museum since 1865. Three fragments of the original drawing survive, the figure of Christ in the Louvre, Paris, and two groups of the heads of the disciples in the National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.

    The offset was made by laying a blank, slightly dampened sheet of paper over the original chalk drawing and rubbing the two, producing a reversed impression. Such offsets could be used to monitor the final effect of a composition when the end product reversed the artist’s design, as with tapestries (which are woven from the back) and prints. The present offset may have been made by Raphael for this purpose, for all his studies for the Sistine cycle are in the direction of the cartoons and not of the tapestries, but this is the only surviving example of an offset made in connection with the Sistine tapestries; other extant offsets made in Raphael's studio have no relevance to the creative process and were probably made only as records.

    The original drawing is a study of workshop models, drawn from the life in contemporary dress, to fix the poses before adding the classicising drapery. The disciples correspond closely in pose with those in the cartoon, but the figure of Christ was wholly revised: there he stands more frontally, pointing to the keys held by Peter and with the other hand to a flock of sheep in the background. The scene thus conflated two passages from the Gospels – Matthew 16:19: ‘And I will give unto thee the keys of the kingdom of heaven: and whatsoever thou shalt bind on earth shall be bound in heaven: and whatsoever thou shalt loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven’; and John 21:17: ‘Peter was grieved because he said unto him the third time, Lovest thou me? And he said unto him, Lord, thou knowest all things: thou knowest that I love thee. Jesus saith unto him, Feed my sheep.’

    The final composition is studied in a careful sheet in the Louvre, a drawing in poor condition whose authorship has been disputed in the past, but which is of high quality and worthy of Raphael himself. Shearman (Raphael’s Cartoons, 1972, p.97) suggested that the change in Christ's pose necessitated by the introduction of the flock of sheep may have led Raphael himself to cut up the original study, to try out alternative spacings of the figures by moving the fragments around.

    What was probably this drawing, framed and glazed, was recorded in the 1696 inventory of Silvestro Bonfiglioli, Bologna, as ‘Un Dissegno con Christo egl'Apostoli mano di Raffaele in Cornice e Cassetta dorata con vetro’. That sheet was in 1719 seen by Jonathan Richardson in Palazzo Bonfiglioli: ‘Feed my Sheep, an Excellent Design of Raffaelle; Sketch Red Ch. manner of the Baptism my Father has.’ After entering the Royal Collection it was however thought to be a derivation after Raphael, and was thus not mentioned in Richard Dalton's article of 1787 on the tapestry cartoons (Gentleman's Magazine, LVII(2), pp. 853-5) or bound in George III's Raphael album. Indeed it was described in George III’s ‘Inventory A’ as a ‘Study of Christs charge to St: Peter, the Heads are noble Ideas, but the Christ and St: Peter are very disagreeable, being half Studys only of the naked Body. The thought stolen from Raphael's design in the Cartoon.’

    At lower right is a fragment of a pen inscription, R[...]

    Text adapted from M. Clayton, Raphael and his Circle, 1999, no. 26

    Bonfiglioli family, 1696; from whom bought by Zaccaria Sagredo, 1728; from whose heirs bought by Joseph Smith, 1752; from whom bought by George III, 1762. Recorded in Inventory A, c.1810, p. 48, no. 49

  • Medium and techniques

    Offset from a drawing in red chalk over stylus. Watermark of a crossbow in a circle.


    25.7 x 37.5 cm (sheet of paper)


    watermark: crossbow in circle [verso]

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