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Michelangelo Buonarroti (Caprese 1475-Rome 1564)

Recto: A male nude with proportions indicated. Verso: A male nude c.1515-20

Recto: Red chalk, two shades. Verso: Red chalk over styluls. | 29.1 x 18.0 cm (sheet of paper) | RCIN 912765

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  • A red chalk study of a male nude, annotated in Michelangelo’s hand marking the proportional divisions of the body. On the right elbow: ‘terzo duna testa’; upper leg: ‘dua e u(n) terzo a l a(n) guinaia (groin); left ankle: ‘dua e terzi’. Measurements are also given of the anatomical sections sketched in the margins: the width of the upper arm sketched at upper right: ‘2 terzi’; the knee sketched at the lower left edge: ‘(u)na’; the foot sketched in the lower left corner: ‘un(a) 3 quarti’. On the verso, another male nude, the figure partially outlined with the stylus.

    Michelangelo was primarily responsible for establishing the tradition in post-classical art that conceives of the body as the physical manifestation of emotional and spiritual states. Intense feeling thus requires powerful form and his figures can on occasion be oppressively heavy, though they are always based on the most attentive study from the life. The main drawing here is finished with great care, with two shades of red chalks, and ranks as one of Michelangelo's most majestic nudes; yet it seems to have had a didactic function, for it is statically posed and the proportions of various parts of the body are indicated. It is possible that it was drawn for Sebastiano del Piombo (c.1485-1547), the most accomplished of Michelangelo's immediate followers. The style of this drawing suggests a date around 1515-20, a period of close association with Sebastiano.

    The unit used in the drawing on the recto is described as a testa (head), defined in the sketch at top right as the distance from chin to hairline or the length of a hand. Overall the model stands eleven and a half units tall, and while this would normally pertain to a gracefully elongated figure, this ratio is here due to an unusually small head which further emphasises the breadth of the shoulders. The musculature is anatomically accurate, if greatly exaggerated, and reflects the artist's lifelong investigation of the male nude. Though this is one of few surviving drawings to be so explicit, Michelangelo's biographer Ascanio Condivi (Vita di Michelangelo, Rome, 1553) stated that the artist was preoccupied with proportion, and indeed it would have been most surprising if the architect, sculptor and painter had not been interested in the subject.

    The drawing of a standing nude on the verso of the sheet is stylistically related to a drawing made in preparation for the Young Slave in the École nationale supérieure des Beaux-Arts in Paris (Inv. 197 recto) datable about 1516. Interestingly, when drawing from the life model, Michelangelo often included peripheral details; here, he shows the model’s long hair caught up behind in a knot.

    Text adapted from P. Joannides, Michelangelo and his influence: Drawings from Windsor Castle, London 1996, no. 33.

    Provenance

    Listed in George III's 'Inventory A', c. 1800-20, p. 43, 'Mich: Angelo Buonarroti' / Tom. I (c. 1802): '11. 'Various studies of the naked….Red Chalk'.

  • Medium and techniques

    Recto: Red chalk, two shades. Verso: Red chalk over styluls.

    Measurements

    29.1 x 18.0 cm (sheet of paper)