Tuesday, 1 January 2013

Raphael at the Ashmolean

Photo: All About Drawing
I recently spent a day looking at Raphael drawings at the Ashmolean.  The great highlight of the Ashmolean is the collection of drawings by Raphael and Michelangelo, and they allow you to see only six of each on one visit.  This seems eminently reasonable to me; it promotes conservation and forces you to look slowly.  I was here for Raphael only this time, so they were a bit flexible.  In the end I saw seven Raphaels, and then looked at some drawings from his circle to develop my appreciation of the different styles in his entourage.
I particularly wanted to see the late drawings, including the incomparable study for the Transfiguration (above) in preparation for seeing the Late Raphael exhibition in Paris later this month.  Raphael drew in preparation for painting, not as an independent art form, but this is a drawing of astonishing beauty. 
Raphael's drawings show a huge range of styles and media.  The Jehovah in a Flamng Cloud Attended by Angels creates a poor first impression.  The flames and clouds seem quite crude, but we should remember that Raphael wasn't overly concerned with the final appearance of the drawing; he was solving problems for a painting.  Looking closer at the figures, particularly the finely drawn angels, it is clearly a Raphael.
I struggle more with the well-known drawing of Two Male Nudes for the Battle of Constantine.  Parts of it are very fine, but the lack of modelling in the back of the right hand figure doesn't meet Raphael's standards, in my view.  There is an interesting analysis in the catalogue of the 1983 exhibition of Raphael drawings in the British Museum where it is concluded that it is by Raphael, because the invention in clearly his, it cannot be argued as a copy by another artist in his circle, and parts (e.g. the knee) are very finely drawn.
The drawings by his school are less well-known are rarely seen.  I was particularly taken by a fine copy of a drawing by Giulio Romano in the Uffizi of the Virgin and Attendants in 'Spasimo di Sicilia'.  It is clear that it's a copy - the shading suggests that it's copying a relief rather than capturing the volume of the figures.  The shading between figures doesn't distinguish the forms effectively, and the outlines are drawn too harshly relative to the shading, but it still makes a good impression for an anonomous copy. 

I'm going back for more next weekend.


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