Raphael The Drawings at The Ashmolean

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Before reading this post it is a good idea to read Michelangelo vs Sebastiano so that some of the references back make more sense!

“Raphael’s hand generated lines that gave shape to his pursuit of eloquent forms” From the Ashmolean’s supporting text

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Raphael self portrait, 1501

In a similar manner to the way that a young Sebastiano would approach his works a young Raphael, as seen in the self-portrait above, works in a rough, almost carefree manner. But his work is far from carefree as he works on the proportions and final image on the canvas rather than in a series of working sketches before hand, to get the precise composition, level of detail and anatomy accuracy that the subject deserves – all whilst in his teens.

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Head of an Apostle, circa 1503

His work seems to quickly develop from the early ‘have a go’ style of his self-portrait, through large collections of sketches and workings of smaller sections of a picture. The sketch of the Head of an Apostle above shows Raphael’s ability to bring a sense of movement to a simple black chalk sketch. The lines are swift, the hatch shading and flowing curls of the hair evoke the feeling of movement and enhance the gesture of the turning face.

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Madonna Studies, 1511/13

Through all of the sketches that Raphael did he grew as an artist and fed his grand appetite for learning. The sheets of sketches shown within this exhibition, as with the one above where the central sketch is surrounded by smaller studies of figures and buildings, have pen studies juxtaposed with soft pencil studies – a burst of workings from the mind to paper. Giving a sense of a need to get things down onto paper.

 “With his voracious appetite for new stimuli, Raphael studied the battle scenes designed by Leonardo and Michelangelo and the antique sources that inspired them.” From the Ashmolean’s supporting text

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Raphael’s studies after Michelangelo’s David, 1507/8

It has been noted that Michelangelo was throughout his career jealous and threatened by young Raphael. So, Raphael’s work that took Michelangelo’s and developed it further, adapting it for his own purpose surely added salt to the wound!

Raphael took Michelangelo’s David and scaled him down changing our perspective of him and developing him from a statue to a sketch that conveys movement and depth. Raphael did not just take the ideas from Michelangelo, he fused visual memories of the sculptures, classical reliefs and print sources always seeking to create a greater expressive energy. He confronted these influences with his pen using drawing to understand them and adapt them, putting his mark on great imagery and making it his own. 

Here is what we found most interesting… 

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The Heads and Hands of Two Apostles, 1519–1520

Raphael’s ability to draw heads stood out in this exhibition. From larger refined sketches like the above to little sketches in the corner of a sheet full of other sketches they all had the same ability to show the subject’s emotion. From the warn lines of the elder gentleman to the smooth skin of the younger, Raphael captured a point in time in the subject’s life on their skin and their feelings in their emotion.

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Study for the Massacre of the Innocents, 1509–1510

In the same sense as when a character within a film or TV program breaks the fourth wall* and you get a slight feeling of confusion and in some cases unease, when you notice the lady running straight for the viewer in Raphael’s Massacre of the Innocents the work seems somehow more realistic and unsettling. This woman and child running forward are seen all throughout the development and in the final presentation of this piece. It gives the sense that the mother is running to you for safety and the fact is that you as a viewer cannot do anything about it – it puts you in the scene and that’s what makes it unsettling, but brilliant.

*The fourth wall is a theatre term for the invisible line or imagined wall that separates the stage and actors from the audience. The audience can see through this wall and the actors cannot. In cinema this is ‘broken’ when the actor would talk directly through the camera and screen to the audience.

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Drapery Study for a Sibyl, 1511-12 and Study of a Horseman for the “Repulse of Attila”, 1513/14

As well as Raphael’s studies of various faces, his workings of drapery stood out within the sketches. He created movement in the material using dark and light shading to produce the various folds, and to show the body of the figures underneath the material. Here Raphael’s variety and delicacy in pose and character within these unfinished sketches of Sibyl respond to Michelangelo’s more weighty and masculine female imagery. He also used white chalk to add extra depth to the figures and material highlighting where the light would hit the body and accentuating the muscles and folds.

The exhibition succeeded in showing how studies in simple medial fuelled the development of a young artist to an established one. Our only criticism is the limited space for circulation in the first two rooms.

By far, our favourite part of the exhibition was to watch on video (at the end of the second room) the processes that Raphael would have used to make his studies. Seeing how he used a stylus to create inductive traces before working over with pen. To understand how sketches were made in the 1500s and understand what it would have taken to create the images changed the way that you viewed the sketches. The last room of sketches seemed even more interesting as you began to see the pre-workings and imagine the process of their creation. The video that showed his process would change the whole exhibition if it were viewed earlier.

Thank you for reading!

Bethvictoria.com

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