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Sheet of Studies of Faces in Profile to the Left
Anonymous (Workshop of: Michelangelo (Michelangelo Buonarroti))
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Anonymous (Workshop of: Michelangelo (Michelangelo Buonarroti))

Sheet of Studies of Faces in Profile to the Left

First quarter of the XVI century. Red chalk on yellow paper.
Not on display

This is one of the drawings in the Prado carried out by one or more of Michelangelo’s associates, possibly copied from original studies by the master himself. Along with the two drawings by Michelangelo himself, these three studio drawings have stayed together from at least as early as the eighteen century, when they were all in the Martelli collection in Florence.

Although Michelangelo did not run a studio in the sense that Raphael did, he took in young assistants from time to time, whom he fitfully attempted to teach, setting them his drawings to copy, or drawing models for them to repeat on the same sheet. Examples of this practice may be found in several collections, but the most instructive are two sheets in the Ashmolean Museum, Oxford (KTP, no. 317 and 323; Parker, 1956, nos. 317 and 323; Tolnay, 1975-80, II, no. 237, and I, no. 96). As with many exercises in drawings of the time, it was mastery in the representation of the human head that was the pupil’s starting-point, for the ability to construct heads was, for most artistic tasks, more useful than depicting the body. Sometimes Michelangelo set two pupils to work on the same sheet, in order to encourage the young man to emulate each other rather than be daunted by the unattainable height of the master’s own work. One of the pupils who frequently copied from Michelangelo’s drawings was Antonio Mini (1506-1533/34) and another Pietro Urbani (active in 1518).

The Shet of Studies of Faces in Profile is the finest of the Prado’s group of drawings from Michelangelo`s Studio. The profile head of a youth at the top of the sheet is drawn with great accomplishment, as is shown by the delicate shading in the side of the face and the subtly handled pentiment for the lips and chin. The slightly glossy evenness of the flesh and the transparent look to the eye suggest the assistant could have been studying a head akin to those of Michelangelo’s beautiful ignudi in his fresco decoration of the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel, painted between 1508 and 1512. On the other hand, the prototype could have been an actual drawing by the master, now lost, as suggested by the proximity in handling to that in his famous red chalk Studies for the Libyan Sybil in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, especially in the separate study for the head in the bottom left of the sheet (inv. no. 24.197.2; Tolnay, 1975-80, I, no. 156). Although striking, the Prado drawing unquestionably suffers from the comparison with the New York sheet, revealing an artist whose line is far weaker and less assured. Glancing again at the Prado youth, the eye seems strangely flat, with the upper lid curiously rectangular, as compared with the graceful curve of the sibyl’s as she looks downwards to the left, and the rhythm of the hatching over the cheeks and neck is stiffer and less fluent than in Michelangelo’s own drawings, while the hatching over the jaw is quite crude.

The head of the older man at center left is more craggy in form, and reminiscent of some of those of the Sistine Prophets. The drawing is extensively stumped, and the vigor of the chiaroscuro imbues this head with an energy that the first one lacks. But notwithstanding the real talent displayed, it is unlikely that any part of it is by Michelangelo himself: the restriction to pure profile, the relative simplicity of the contour, the comparative loss of structure in the eye -all tell against the master’s authorship, although it certainly represents a response to a model by him. The third drawing of a profile, at the lower right, is another, weaker version of the head at the top of the sheet, perhaps by a different hand. A fourth, fragmentary profile of the nose and lip of the older man, in outline alone, is superimposed over the eye and forehead of this third profile.

Paul Joannides has suggested that the Sheet of Studies of Faces in Profile could be by no less than three different pupils at work at different times: the upper drawing and that on the left perhaps by Pietro Urbano (rated Michelangelo’s ablest assistant by Vasari) or another, unidentified student; and the drawings in the lower right, done a few years later, by Antonio Mini and Andrea Quaratesi, respectively, while both were drawing together in Michelangelo’s house (Text drawn from Turner, N.; Joannides, P.: "Some drawings by Michelangelo and his circle in the Prado", Boletín del Museo del Prado, XXI, no. 39, 2003, pp. 99-105).

Technical data

Inventory number
Anonymous (Workshop of: Michelangelo (Michelangelo Buonarroti))
Sheet of Studies of Faces in Profile to the Left
First quarter of the XVI century
Red chalk
Yellow paper
Height: 205 mm; Width: 105 mm
Bequest of Pedro Fernández Durán y Bernaldo de Quirós, 1931

Bibliography +

Pérez Sánchez, Alfonso E., I Grandi Disegni Italiani Nelle Collezioni Di Madrid, Silvana Editoriale D'Arte, Milán, 1978, pp. 40 y 85, nº 39.

Turner, Nicholas y Joannides, Paul, Some drawings by Michelangelo and his circle in the Prado, Boletín del Museo del Prado, XXI, 2003, pp. 11-13.

Museo Nacional del Prado, Catálogo de dibujos. Dibujos italianos del siglo XVI (por Nicholas Turner, con la colaboración de José Manuel Matilla), V, Museo Nacional del Prado, Madrid, 2004, pp. 56, 314.

Turner, Nicholas, From Michelangelo to Annibale Carracci. A century of Italian drawings from the Prado, Art Services International, Chicago, 2008, pp. 56,314.

Other inventories +

Inv. Legado Pedro Fernández Durán, 1931. Núm. 53.

Exhibitions +

De Miguel Ángel a Annibale Carracci. Un siglo de Dibujos Italianos en el Museo del Prado
25.10.2008 - 26.07.2009

Un siglo de dibujos italianos en el Museo del Prado. De Miguel Ángel a Annibale Carracci
23.11.2004 - 13.02.2005

Update date: 04-11-2021 | Registry created on 28-04-2015

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