Zoltán Kárpáti and Eszter Seres Raphael: Drawings in Budapest

The Museum of Fine Arts, Budapest, preserves six drawings by Raphael. Ever since the nineteenth century, they have been widely discussed and included in every significant modern œuvre catalogue and most monographs on the artist. Like the majority of Raphael’s sheets, these drawings have also given rise to a large amount of debate. Among the subjects under constant discussion are the authorship of the early pen drawing for the painter’s first Perugian altarpiece, the Coronation of the Virgin, the compositional study for The Massacre of the Innocents, engraved by Marcantonio Raimondi, and the Angel Head associated with the fresco decoration of the Sala di Costantino in the Vatican Palace.

The last comprehensive evaluation of Raphael’s Budapest drawings was offered by Loránd Zentai in his exhibition catalogue of 1998, devoted to sixteenth-century Central Italian drawings of the collection. His entries incorporated the results of events and exhibitions held in 1983 to honour the five-hundredth anniversary of Raphael’s birth. Since the 1998 catalogue, Raphael’s Budapest drawings have not formed the subject of in-depth discussion.

Following a lull in activity immediately after the anniversary year, the study of Raphael has gained renewed impetus in the last decade. Volumes of the new catalogue raisonné by Jürg Meyer zur Capellen on Raphael’s paintings have been published consecutively since 2001. A magisterial collection of documents relating to Raphael’s life and work, compiled and annotated by John Shearman, appeared in 2003. A comprehensive account of the artist has been given in two recent exhibitions. The first in 2004 at the National Gallery, London, curated by Hugo Chapman, Tom Henry and Carol Plazzotta, was devoted to Raphael’s formative years and early activity in Rome, while the second, a joint exhibition organized by Tom Henry and Paul Joannides in the Louvre and the Prado in 2012–13, covered his late Roman period. In addition to the principal articles written on Raphael, new research on the painter’s influential older colleagues and his most gifted assistants has broadened our understanding of Raphael’s art.

The present exhibition, drawn entirely from our collection, focuses on drawings by Raphael, and endeavours to shed further light on his artistic legacy by including drawings by his most talented assistants, as well as some outstanding prints from the period. As part of the preparations of the exhibition a research project was carried out by András Fáy, chief conservator of the Museum of the Fine Arts, Budapest, on Raphael’s drawings as well as the Esterházy Madonna. Ultraviolet and infrared imaging provided information on the materials of the drawings and their condition, the results of which have contributed to the studies in this volume. In the case of drawings the ultraviolet radiation was used in the property of 366 nm and infrared in the range of 1100–1200 nm. In addition, the Esterházy Madonna was also examined with ultraviolet reflective imaging technique at 403 nm. (Each high-resolution photo is available at www. raphael.printsanddrawings.hu.)

As preparation for the exhibition proceeded, we realized that the flurry of recent publications on the artist, combined with the new, detailed findings on the drawings’ technique garnered from recent technical imaging, presented the case for a comprehensive reconsideration of Raphael’s Budapest drawings. Accordingly, it was decided that the accompanying publication would focus on Raphael’s six sheets and on the Esterházy Madonna, included in the exhibition for its clearly visible underdrawing. However, as six drawings and a single panel are far from sufficient to outline Raphael’s entire career, each is integrated in the context of a broader aspect of the painter’s œuvre, presented in the form of longer studies.

Raphael’s early pen drawing for his first Perugian altarpiece, the Coronation of the Virgin, facilitated a reassessment of his relationship with two painters who were instrumental in his early career, Pietro Perugino and Bernardino Pintoricchio. The Saint Jerome, drawn in Florence, demonstrates Raphael’s new approach to figure studies, in which the pattern-book tradition of the Perugino workshop came up against the innovative method of anatomical drawing perfected by Leonardo and Michelangelo at the turn of the sixteenth century. The Massacre of the Innocents, one of Raphael’s most fervently debated sheets, demanded a clarification of its possible function, which could only be explained in the light of the Roman printmaking enterprise of Raphael and Marcantonio Raimondi.

The only painting in this volume, the small-scale Esterházy Madonna is included for its underdrawing, detectible even to the naked eye under the most transparent layers. For the first time, high-resolution infrared reflectographs were taken of the unfinished panel work, revealing its underdrawing in its entirety, and thus providing new insight into Raphael’s method of painting. His pen sketch of putti and an angel for the Disputa, frescoed in the Stanza della Segnatura in the Vatican Palace, raises the issue of the painter’s constraints when accommodating his previous preparatory methods with the growing demands placed upon him. The silverpoint Venus, one of the artist’s most beautiful female nudes drawn in all'antica style, illustrates his close connection with classical antiquity, and reveals how Raphael reutilized his motifs in a number of works. Finally, the impressive chalk drawing of an angel, destined for a fresco in the Sala di Costantino, prompted a review of Raphael’s Roman workshop practices, and served to highlight the difference between the approach of modern connoisseurship and the Renaissance definition of the artist’s hand.


First chapter in pdf