Drawing 11


1 in stock



Exquisite red chalk on laid paper, large format drawing after Michelangelo. From the Estate of Joseph Lindon Smith, founder of the progressive Dublin Lake Art Colony, NH. Purchased during a European trip with Smith’s friend, Isabella Stewart Gardner. The enveloping scene of twisted souls hopelessly clutching one another in a futile attempt to avoid the abyss, depicts muscular sinews of bodies in torment seeking surcease from life’s struggle. The scenes above represent a large panorama, divided into sections. The unknown 16th century artist was true to his art and resisted temptation of slavishly copying the famous version, relying instead on the general tone of Michelangelo’s composition to recreate his own individual tableau.


This intriguing drawing is a study by an anonymous 16th-century Italian artist after a vignette in Michelangelo’s fresco of “The Last Judgement” in the Sistine Chapel. The altar wall of the Sistine Chapel was already richly decorated when Pope Clement VII commissioned Michelangelo to paint his “Last Judgment”, replacing Perugino’s frescoed altarpiece of the Assumption of the Virgin and other works. Michelangelo’s colossal work, fusing the physical power of nude bodies with the redemptive potentiality of the Church to damn or to save, made a huge impact in Rome after its unveiling in 1536. “It was engraved shortly thereafter by Giorgio Ghisi, which helped circulate the imagery beyond the borders of Rome, making it accessible to artists both near and far. Artists flocked to the Sistine Chapel to learn from Michelangelo’s remarkable paintings, and the number of drawings made after the “Last Judgment”, many of which similarly concentrate on small groups of figures, shows the profound effect Michelangelo’s fresco had on future generations of Italian artists.” (Robert Simon Fine Art).
The present drawing is based on several sections of the fresco: the lower left section where the embodied souls of the dead are being directed in their journey by angels (Top Fig.). The artist has here focused in on two angels, one presses her hand into the head of an unrepentant soul, rejecting his ascent to the heavenly realm any further. The soul is handcuffed, as it were, and the group below him are aghast at the prospect of what faces them. The figures of three souls beneath the angel, one in awe at the scene and two others grappling with one another, fitfully describe the moral dilemma Michelangelo alluded to in this Christian allegory of repentance. The human figure, shown upside down, is being cast downwards by an intervening demon. The angel at top left, however, judiciously stays out of the fray, pointing heavenward. The group below him are being pulled downward, with a demon beneath the three souls working in concert with his partner above to render the descending spirit bereft of redemption.
The faithful reproduction of the fresco’s themes and minor details in our drawing demonstrate that its author had direct knowledge of Michelangelo’s “Last Judgment” and likely executed the drawing in front of it. The fact that Daniele da Volterra was tasked with covering the nudity of the figures in the fresco in 1564 does not help us with dating this sheet, as the unclothed bodies in the lower left segment were left uncovered during both his and subsequent campaigns to sanitize the painting. However, it appears to be drawn by a roughly contemporary hand.
This section of the fresco was frequently copied by artists. Not only was it the most clearly visible and easily studied given its proximity to the ground, but also the compositional arrangement of the figures in this area are particularly dynamic and inventive, undoubtedly exciting Michelangelo’s viewers, including fellow artists.


Red chalk on laid paper. Conserved with minor fold appearing center.

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