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Raphael’s lines of influence at the Queen's Gallery

The Royal collection of drawings by Raphael and his circle to cross the Atlantic

The Raphael drawings at Windsor are not so spectacular as those by Leonardo or Michelangelo but they consist of a core group of eighteen drawings covering the artist’s career, from about 1503, when he was still working in Umbria, to the height of his fame in Rome in about 1518.

Including works of great tenderness (the study for the lost painting of “The Virgin and Child with St Elizabeth and the Infant Baptist”), of extreme beauty (“Poetry, a study for a detail in the Stanza della Segnatura”) and of dramatic power (“Two nude men crouching on the ground, protecting their eyes with a shield”), the collection also incorporates important drawings for the “Disputa” and a vivid “Landscape with figures and the ruins of a column” anticipating Raphael’s follower, Polidoro da Caravaggio.

Around this accepted group of drawings by Raphael, Martin Clayton, the author of the catalogue which accompanies the exhibition, has reinstated two drawings by examination with ultra-violet photography. One, “The Virgin and Child with the Infant Baptist”, previously attributed to Granacci, is stylistically compatible with the well-known drawing at the Ashmolean for “Madonna of the Meadow”; The other is a damaged study of “The Last Supper”, long associated with Raphael. Clayton’s approach is expansionist and he has also attributed to Raphael a drawing previously associated with Pollaiuolo, “A battle of nude men”. This subject was popular with Raphael early in his career but he usually modelled the figures with some hatching, not the case here, and I hesitate in giving it to Raphael himself.

The artist is set in his context by the famous “Woman standing before rocks”, the only drawing universally accepted as being by his father, Giovanni Santi, and by a small group of drawings by or attributed to his master Perugino, of which “A man in armour” is outstanding. In his own version of “Leda and the swan”, Raphael pays direct tribute to Leonardo and there is awareness of Michelangelo in his studies of the male nude.

Of Raphael’s pupils, Giulio Romano is best represented. His youthful debt to Raphael is well shown by “A nude man hurling a stone” and the problem of late Raphael/early Giulio is exemplified by “The Virgin and Child with St Elizabeth and the infant John Baptist”, attributed by Clayton to Raphael but considered by Gere and Turner in their catalogue of the 1983 Raphael exhibition held at the British Museum to be by Giulio.

To Polidoro da Caravaggio, in many ways the most interesting of Raphael’s followers, is reattributed the anonymous Roman drawing of “A woman and two putti”. He is otherwise represented by characteristic drawings showing his invention, his skill in crowded composition, and his concern with the everyday.

The strengths of the Royal Collection are manifest in this exhibition; it is an admirable continuation of the series of exhibitions of drawings by Leonardo and the fascinating “Michelangelo and his influence” shown between 1996-98. It is to be hoped that the team of scholars at Windsor continue to produce stimulating exhibitions of this nature, enabling the public to appreciate, understand and marvel at the wealth of the collections there. Not just the most famous names of the Renaissance but the fine series of drawings by Parmigianino and the Carracci and the unparalleled group of works by Domenichino should also be made available in this way.

o “Raphael and his Circle: drawings from Windsor Castle” at The Queen’s Gallery, London (until 10 October), National Gallery of Art, Washington (14 May 2000-23 July 2000), Art Gallery of Ontario, Toronto (6 August 2000-15 October 2000), J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles (31 October 2000-9 January 2001). Catalogue published by Merrell Holberton £35 (hb), £14.95 (pb)

Appeared in The Art Newspaper Archive, 93 June 1999