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Michelangelo Buonarroti (Caprese 1475-Rome 1564)

The Risen Christ c.1532

Black chalk | 37.2 x 22.1 cm (sheet of paper) | RCIN 912768

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  • A drawing of the resurrected Christ, rising from his tomb.

    Michelangelo was primarily responsible for reviving the tradition in post-Classical art that conceives of the body (and especially the male nude) as the physical manifestation of emotional and spiritual states. Intense feeling requires powerful form and, though they are always based on the most attentive study from the life, Michelangelo’s figures could on occasion be oppressively heavy. Here, however, the figure of Christ springs athletically from the tomb, his limbs spanning the entire composition, the relatively small head allowing attention to focus on the magnificently modelled torso at the centre. Michelangelo used tiny stippled strokes of chalk to build up the body, which stands out in implied relief from the plane of the paper, emphasised by the flattened, decorative swirl of the shroud.

    Around 1530 Michelangelo made more than a dozen drawings of the Resurrection or the Risen Christ alone. While these may have been prompted by a specific project, the care taken over this drawing suggests that it was intended not as a preparatory sketch but as a finished work of art. Two further large studies of the Risen Christ survive, and a fourth is known through copies. Such highly finished drawings were a speciality of Michelangelo, and his handful of ‘presentation drawings’ stand at the very pinnacle of European draughtsmanship. Made as gifts for his closest friends, they were painstakingly worked and often imbued with personal meaning, the full extent of which is not always clear to us. The Royal Collection holds the largest extant group of presentation drawings by Michelangelo, including three of the four made for the young nobleman Tommaso de’ Cavalieri in 1532-3 - the Punishment of Tityus, the Fall of Phaeton, and the Bacchanal of Children (together with a copy by Giulio Clovio of the fourth, the Rape of Ganymede). The Risen Christ may share a common provenance with those sheets, all of which are in a similarly excellent condition. By 1600 the Farnese in Rome owned at least five of the drawings by Michelangelo now in the Royal Collection, though for works of such renown their subsequent history is surprisingly obscure, and it is not known how they reached England at some point over the next two centuries.

    Text adapted from Holbein to Hockney: Drawings from the Royal Collection

    First recorded in a Royal Collection inventory of c.1810 (Inventory A, p. 45).

  • Medium and techniques

    Black chalk


    37.2 x 22.1 cm (sheet of paper)