Tuesday, 7 May 2013

Drawings at Christ Church Picture Gallery

It's a while since I've updated on my quest to see all of Raphael's drawings, but in the long gap since my last post I've been to the British Museum print room three or four times, a couple more times to the Ashmolean, and also to the print rooms in Cambridge, Berlin, Florence, Windsor Castle and Christ Church College Picture Gallery.    I've now seen more than half of the drawings with a reasonable claim to be by Raphael.

Christ Church has some great paintings, and one of the most important collections of old master drawings in the country.  It's a small gallery that doesn't have the print room facilities of more famous collections, and it took a while to get an appointment.  Despite their limited resources, they were extremely helpful and accommodating and I got to spend much of the day looking through their sixteenth century Italian drawings. 

Picture: MS
This worn and faded drawing is a copy from Michelangelo's Sistine Chapel.  It's often attributed to Raphael, although without much confidence or enthusiasm.  It's in red chalk with some white highlighting, although it's not clear that the highlights are original.  The highlighted areas are quite worn and the white areas now rather rubbed, but the undifferentiated 'lumpy' application doesn't seem consistent with Raphael's occasional and subtle use of highlights.  The problem to keep in mind is that this is a copy of a painting, not a representation of real figures.  That makes the problem of attribution harder, because it reveals less of the individual hand of the draughtsman.  On balance I'm doubtful about the attribution to Raphael, but it's not an opinion I hold with much conviction. 
Picture: MS
This damaged drawing is rarely reproduced, but the catalogue entry intrigued me.  It's listed as 'Raphael (?) or Giulio Romano (?) Head of the Child Christ, for or from the Madonna of Francis I (Louvre)' in the  catalogue by James Byam Shaw and it's described as possibly the 'sad relic' of the original cartoon, with later colouring.  It's hard to say just how good it might have been in its original state, but I can't see an attribution to Raphael as sustainable.  The hair, whilst rubbed, hasn't been coloured in.  The 'finicky' treatment is quite unlike Raphael's, and is especially unlike the bravura hair in some of his surviving cartoons. 

This image hasn't reproduced well, but it's an excellent authentic Raphael. It's part of a small group of drawings of putti that Joannides speculates may have been for a decorative project.  They may simply have been designs for prints, as there is a related print after Raphael by Raimondi.  The coherence established by skillful depiction of interaction between the putti is masterful, and well ahead of what Raphael's students and imitators could achieve; it's a really beautiful drawing.  There is a third Raphael, studies for a Madonna and Child from his Florentine period, once part of his Pink Sketchbook.  It's a fine and undoubtedly authentic drawing, but not as beautiful as the Putti.

The drawings at Christ Church were collected by General John Guise in the eighteenth century, and they're a mixed bag.  There are many minor and damaged drawings alongside outstanding masterpieces.  I saw a lot of drawings that aren't illustrated in the excellent two-volume catalogue, and to be honest many deserved their obscurity.  But there were some other fabulous drawings, including a remarkably lively Perugino cartoon fragment.  I've come to appreciate Perugino more and more, as both draughtsman and painter; I think he's under-rated because he's so much less inventive than the greatest stars of the Renaissance.  Raphael's school is well-represented with a fine series of designs by Giulio Romano and good examples by Polidoro, Perino del Vaga and Peruzzi, and a charming Study of Pigeons ascribed to Giovanni da Udine.

The majority of the collection is Italian, but there are some good drawings from other schools.  In a small exhibition in the drawing gallery I was struck by the powerful and beautiful Jacob and Rachel attributed to Hugo van der Goes (above).  The small number of extant early Netherlandish drawings makes attribution hazardous, and Byam Shaw justifies the attribution because of its similarity to a drawing in the Seilern Collection (now at the Courtauld) that is no longer believed to be by van der Goes.  Whoever the artist, it's a fantastic drawing. 

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