Sunday, 20 January 2013

More Raphael at Oxford

Picture: Ashmolean
I've had two more fabulous days viewing Raphael drawings at the Ashmolean.  It's the world's best collection of drawings by the greatest draughtsman who ever lived, including really great drawings from every period. 
Picture: Ashmolean
First I saw a group from the end of his Florentine period to his first years in Rome. The drapery studies were a revelation - an outstanding group in superb condition. The range of techniques on the Study of Drapery for a Standing Figure in the Disputa is striking, and hard to appreciate in reproduction (but provided above anyway). The Four Heads and a Right Hand: studies for the Disputa is a fine drawing, but I suspect the study of the hand has been re-worked. The area is generally rubbed, and there is a repaired tear, but parts of it are sharply - but ineffectively - defined. Comparison with the Leonardesque sheet with studies after the Battle of Anghiari is instructive, because there he has precisely and beautifully defined the fingers down to the cuticles on the nails. We shouldn't expect exact replication of effect, but the quality of the fingers, particularly the nail on the middle finger, is not high.  I've been struck generally by the paucity of information that catalogues provide on the condition of drawings, so I'm making a particular effort to learn to identify damage, repair and re-working.  
This trip was a half day, then I cycled back to London - causing me to regret the purchase of Too Many Books from the Oxfam nearby.  But I returned a fortnight later for a full day, justifying an over-priced return train journey because it was snowing (wimpish, I know).

The Combat of Nude Men makes a powerful initial impression, and it was chosen for the front cover of the catalogue of the 1983 Raphael Drawings exhibition that brought together virtually all Raphael drawings in British collections.  But somehow those spindly legs and mannered bodies didn't work for me.  Its authenticity is unquestionable, but the anatomy of the men standing left and right is unsatisfying. 

On the other hand, A Nude Man Sitting on a Stone is one of my favourites, another of the Chigi Chapel studies that so impressed me at the Frankfurt exhibition.  It's discussed rather dismissively by Joannides, who describes it as 'brittle' and lacking 'atmospheric continuity', and the 1983 exhibition only showed its verso (another fine drawing containing rapid studies in different positions, reminiscent of Leonardo and anticipating Veronese).  I thought it a brilliantly dramatic study, and I valued it in its own terms, achieving a different effect from the other more atmospheric studies.  The sense of rippling muscles is conveyed much more effectively than in the more pedantic anatomy Combat of Nude Men.  The hatching is surprisingly sculptural, particularly in the right leg. 
Next time I will spend more time looking at drawings from Raphael's studio and circle. 

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