Backed by the banker Thomas Coutts (1735-1822), Fuseli journeyed to Italy in 1770 and settled in Rome, where he largely remained until 1778. There he studied classical sculpture and Michelangelo’s frescoes in the Sistine Chapel. According to Allan Cunningham in his Lives of the Most Eminent British Painters, 1830, 'It was a story he loved to repeat, how he lay on is back day after day, and week succeeding week, with upturned and wondering eyes, musing at the splendid ceiling of the Sistine Chapel - on the unattainable grandeur of the Florentine…He fulfilled the injunction of Reynolds - he ate and drank and slept and waked upon Michelangelo’.
The inscriptions on the recto of the present drawing refer to Michelangelo as 'choice amongst the Tuscans’. Fuseli has noted part of the inscription taken from a contemporary portrait engraving of the artist. The reference is very complimentary nodding towards Cicero’s Brutus and the reported description of the Consul Marcus Cornelius Cethegus as the 'chosen one of the people: flos delibatus populi’. The majority of the figure studies in the present work are what Schiff referred to as Fuseli’s ‘paraphrases’ of figures in the Sistine Chapel frescoes. The central drawing is a free version of Adam from The Creation of Adam, and the trumpet-player comes from The Last Judgement. The twisting figures below the trumpet-player and the figure to the immediate right of Adam come from The Battle of Cascine, the latter in reverse. Characteristically, the first of these formed the basis of two of Fuseli’s much later erotic drawings of girls, turned to show the back of their heads and their extravagant hairstyles. The inscription ‘invicti Membra Glyconis’ refers to the statue of Hercules by the sculptor Glycon: the Farnese Hercules. Fuseli has sketched the statue in the lower left corner. Hercules is shown resting on his club, undefeated by his labours.
For other studies by Fuseli after Michelangelo and the Antique see the album of drawings belonging to Miss Harriet Moore sold in these Rooms, 14 April 1992, particularly lots 45, 47, 48 and 52-57.
We are grateful to Martin Butlin for his help in preparing this catalogue entry.