Celebrated by Oskar Fischel, the leading scholar on the artist in the early 20th Century, as 'one of Raphael's most beautiful women's heads' (Fischel 1937, op. cit., p. 167), this drawing is an auxiliary cartoon for the head of the third muse to the right of Apollo in the Vatican fresco of Parnassus.
Executed between 1510 and 1511, Parnassus was the third of four frescoes painted by Raphael in the Stanza della Segnatura, as part of the first major commission he received from Pope Julius II. For the young Raphael, these frescoes, today widely considered the artist's greatest masterpieces, were not only an opportunity to demonstrate his artistic ability in the hope of securing further patronage, but also a chance to compete directly with Michelangelo who, during the same period, was working only a few rooms away on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel.
Julius II had embarked on a complete redecoration of the papal apartments and the Stanza della Segnatura had been selected as the room to house his library, the Biblioteca Iulia. The Stanza's decorative scheme was dictated by this intended function. The holdings of libraries had been traditionally divided into four faculties: theology, philosophy, jurisprudence and medicine. Each subject was placed against a wall which was decorated with appropriate allegories and portraits of distinguished men in each field. Julius's library departed from convention in only one respect: the wall traditionally given to medicine was replaced by one devoted to poetry, and Parnassus was designed as a summary and celebration of poetry both ancient and modern.
The fresco shows Apollo, surrounded by the muses, holding court on Mount Parnassus. He is accompanied on the summit by the most renowned poets, including Homer, Virgil and Dante, while other classical and contemporary poets stand in groups at a slightly lower level of the mountain. In antiquity libraries had been dedicated to Apollo and John Shearman has persuasively argued that the decorative scheme of the Stanza della Segnatura continues this homage to the ancient god. He argues that the asymmetrical floor mosaics lead the eye to the window in the wall on which Parnassus was painted. Through this window, directly beneath the frescoed figures of Apollo and the muses, Julius could look out at the Mons Vaticanus, which in antiquity had been sacred to the god (J. Shearman, 'The Vatican Stanze: Functions and Decoration', Proceedings of the British Academy, LVII, 1973, p. 382).
The importance of the commission found expression in a large number of preparatory drawings: Paul Joannides (op. cit., pp. 181-197) lists 62 sheets connected with the decoration of the Stanza della Segnatura as a whole, including studies for the ceiling; the present drawing is the only one to remain in private hands. Eleven of these sheets are studies for Parnassus, a number surpassed only by the 29 sheets which survive for the Disputà, the first fresco to be executed; for The School of Athens and Jurisprudence eight and four sheets of studies survive respectively. The vast majority of these drawings are preparatory studies for poses and drapery, rather than cartoons, although the monumental original cartoon for The School of Athens survives in its entirety (Milan, Ambrosiana; Joannides, op. cit., no. 234) and a small fragment of the original cartoon for the Disputà, showing God the Father, also survives (Paris, Louvre, inv. 3868; Joannides, op. cit., no. 226).
An auxiliary cartoon
The present drawing, which bears a Roman watermark datable circa 1490 (E. Heawood, Watermarks, Amsterdam, 1950, pl. 141, no. 914), is an auxiliary cartoon. This is a type of drawing first described by Oskar Fischel (1937, loc. cit.) and particularly associated with Raphael and his workshop. Spolvero, a dust made of ground, powdered black chalk, was pressed through the pricked outlines of the original cartoon onto a fresh sheet of paper, leaving dotted guiding lines as can be seen clearly on the present drawing. The artist could then experiment with particularly important or complex parts of his design, the auxiliary cartoon enabling him to focus on an isolated detail in a format which was more portable than the original cartoon (the dimensions of the original cartoon for The School of Athens are 280 x 800 cm. and that for the Parnassus must have been a similar size). Playing no role in the practical transferral of the composition, the auxiliary cartoon instead acted as a reference tool during the painting of the fresco: the present drawing provided Raphael with the scope to continue refining his ideas even at this late stage of execution. In the long term, auxiliary cartoons could also serve as workshop records of the work which had been executed, the original cartoons often having been irreparably damaged by the process of transferral onto the fresco.
The present sheet, like all auxiliary cartoons, has not been pricked. The draughtsmanship of the head and shoulders shows great freedom and confidence, following the guiding dots of spolvero but not constrained by them, and the condition is remarkable: the chalk remains extremely fresh and crisp. Fischel (1937, op. cit.) notes that the dimensions of the head are identical to those of the head in the fresco. It is a record of Raphael's artistic vision at its final and most finished stage, a particularly valuable document when one takes into account the later retouching in the finished fresco, which has obscured Raphael's own brushwork on the head of this muse.
Raphael's auxiliary cartoons have precedents in the workshop practice of the Quattrocento, although he developed the process beyond its original function as a form of record-keeping. He learned the technique in the workshop of Perugino, from whose studio there survives the Head of an Angel (Private collection; Bambach, op. cit., p. 324, fig. 272), associated with the Madonna and Child with Saints in the Corcoran Gallery of Art, Washington. An auxiliary cartoon of a fragmentary Head of a Man, attributed to Fra Bartolomeo, also survives (Florence, Uffizi; Bambach, op. cit., p. 322, fig. 273). However, these precedents show little more than a quick sketch connecting the spolvero dots in order to record the composition for future reference. Raphael's innovation lay in the way he transformed a semi-mechanical form of reproduction into an extension and development of creativity.
Fischel (1937, op. cit.) argues that Raphael used auxiliary cartoons on occasions when he had particular need to formulate his ideas clearly. Although the great rarity of extant auxiliary cartoons makes generalisation difficult, those that do survive support this view: Raphael turned to this very specialized kind of drawing in order to clarify his ideas for the major commissions at each stage of his career (Joannides, op. cit., p. 44). The earliest known auxiliary cartoons are three for the 1503 Coronation of the Virgin, one showing a single apostle's head (Lille, Muse des Beaux-Arts, inv. 470; Joannides, op. cit., no. 48), another showing two bearded apostles (Windsor, Royal Collection, inv. 4370; Joannides, op. cit., no. 49) and the third showing the head of St James (British Museum, inv. 1895-9-15-610; Joannides, op. cit., no. 50). The present drawing is, chronologically, the next extant example and it shows how far Raphael's draughtsmanship had developed in the intervening seven years.
The present drawing appears to be the only auxiliary cartoon indisputably by Raphael's hand which survives for any of the frescoes in the Vatican Stanze. A study for the head of the muse immediately to the right of Apollo (Florence, Horne Museum, inv. 5643; Joannides, op. cit., no. 244), which initially appears comparable to the present drawing, does not have underlying pounced outlines and therefore cannot be considered as an auxiliary cartoon. It is, however, on the same scale as the present drawing and is therefore approximately the same size as the head of the related muse in the fresco. The auxiliary cartoon for the Head of Constantine's companion in the Stanza dell' Incendio (British Museum, inv. 1949-2-12-3; Joannides, op. cit., no. 446), which has sometimes been attributed to Raphael, is now generally accepted as being by Giulio Romano, while the attribution of an auxiliary cartoon for the head of a bishop in the same fresco (Paris, Musée du Louvre, inv. 3983; Joannides, op. cit., no. 376) is the subject of ongoing debate.
The other six auxiliary cartoons which survive from Raphael's hand are all associated with the late Transfiguration (Joannides, op. cit., nos. 433-438). Once again, they show Raphael focusing on the position and expression of heads. Most of these cartoons are in public collections: the Head of Saint Andrew (British Museum, inv. 1860-6-16-96); the Head of the apostle to the left behind Saint Peter (British Museum, inv. 1895-9-15-634); the Head and Hands of Saints John and Peter (Ashmolean Museum, inv. 568); and the Head of the apostle to the right behind Saint Peter (Vienna, Albertina, inv. Bd. V, 242). The other two are the only auxiliary cartoons, along with the present drawing, to remain in private collections: the Head of the apostle at the left edge (Devonshire Collection, Chatsworth, inv. 67) and the Head of the fifth apostle from the left, formerly at Chatsworth and, most recently, sold in these Rooms on 13 December 1996, lot 130.
From 'Raphael's sister' to Terpsichore
Now unanimously recognised as an auxiliary cartoon for the head of the third muse to the right of Apollo, the drawing has been identified in the past by other names. When engraved by Picart in 1725, it was described simply as 'The Head of a Woman' but, by the time it was exhibited at the Woodburn Gallery in 1836, it had acquired the romantic title 'Portrait of Raffaelle's sister' and was thought to be a head study for Galatea in the famous fresco executed in 1512 at the Villa Farnesina, Rome. Passavant, who had seen the drawing in William of Holland's collection, was the first correctly to associate it with Parnassus, although he did not publish this suggestion until 1860 and, in William of Holland's 1850 sale, the drawing still retains its identification as 'La soeur de Raphael'.
Once the connection with Parnassus had been established, it was widely agreed that the drawing was an auxiliary cartoon for one of the muses. A solitary counter-suggestion was provided by a review of the 1953 Royal Academy exhibition, in which the drawing was described as the 'Head of a Youth' for Parnassus (Scharf, op. cit.). This raises the question of whether the original model for the drawing may perhaps have been one of the garzoni from Raphael's workshop. Although the muse's face has the loveliness characteristic of Raphael's female heads, the hair is bound up in a kind of turban, which cannot be entirely explained by the headdress worn by the muse in the finished fresco. It may be the form of headgear worn by studio assistants to keep their hair back when they were required to pose. Raphael may have returned to a model in order to clarify the elegant turn of the neck and the fall of light on the inclined profile, but there is no question that the face already bears his idealised form of feminine beauty.
The identification of the muses in Parnassus by name is problematic, as so few of them possess attributes; even attributes such as the lyre or the trumpet can be associated with more than one of the muses. Almost the only muse who can be named with reasonable certainty is Urania, on the far right of the group, who holds a globe identifying herself as the muse associated with astronomy. Passavant did not suggest a name for the muse in the present drawing, instead describing her simply as the muse who wears a turban. Crowe and Cavalcaselle, in their description of the Parnassus fresco, identified the related muse as Euterpe (op. cit., II, p. 80), although when they mentioned the present drawing, they referred to it as the head of Clio (op. cit., II, p. 87), which is inconsistent with their earlier identification of Clio as the muse who stands in profile beside Apollo.
Recent works on Parnassus have shown greater agreement. In his catalogue of Raphael's drawings, Oberhuber identified the muse as Polyhymnia (1983, op. cit.), but in his catalogue of Raphael's paintings in 1989, he referred to the related muse in the fresco as Terpsichore, the muse of dance and theatrical choruses (K. Oberhuber, Raphael: The Paintings, London, 1999, p. 105). The same name was also suggested by Prisco and de Vecchi (op. cit.), was maintained by Emiliani and Scolaro (op. cit.) in their recent publication on the fresco, and seems today to be the most plausible identification.
Along with the absence of attributes, the potential identification of the muse in the fresco is made more problematic by the retouching in this part of the fresco, which may date back to the cleaning programme begun by Carlo Maratta in 1702, in his capacity as Superintendent of the Stanze (J. Pope-Hennessy, Raphael: The Wrightsman Lectures, New York, 1970), p. 22. Crowe and Cavalcaselle noted the damaging effects of the retouching in 1885 (op. cit., p. 88, note) and, when Fischel described this drawing, then believed lost, in his catalogue raisonné, he emphasised its great importance as the only surviving record of the original appearance of this muse's head (Fischel 1924, op. cit.).
A distinguished history
The drawing was first recorded in 1725, when Bernard Picart executed the engraved copy which would later be published in Impostures Innocentes. This was a selection of his engravings after 'the most celebrated painters', of whom Raphael was listed as the foremost, each artist represented 'according to the particular Taste of each'. Picart's engraving after the present drawing was chosen as one of eight considered most representative of Raphael's oeuvre.
At this date the drawing was in the cabinet of the Dutch collector Gosuinus Uilenbroek (1658-1740), who not only possessed one of the most important private libraries of the period, numbering some 5,000 volumes, but also a significant collection of old master drawings including several works by Raphael. In the sale of his art collection held on 23 October 1741, no fewer than 1064 old master drawings were offered (J. Storm van Leeuwen, 'A Passionate Collector: The Amsterdam Bibliophile Goswin Uilenbroek, his Collections and his Bindings', in Bibliophiles et reliures: mélanges offerts à Michel Wittock, ed. A. de Coster et al., Brussels, 2006, p. 473).
The prior history of the sheet remains uncertain. Popham (1962, op. cit.) detected the influence of this drawing in the Head of a Woman executed by Hendrick Goltzius in 1610 (Haarlem, Teylers Museum; E.K.J. Reznicek, Die Zeichnungen von Hendrick Goltzius, Utrecht, 1961, I, no. 365, II, pl. 431). Popham suggested that the present drawing was therefore already in the Netherlands in Goltzius's lifetime, perhaps even in the artist's own collection.
After leaving Uilenbroek's collection, the sheet entered the collection of Lady Bentinck. It was then purchased by Sir Thomas Lawrence (1769-1830) and entered one of the greatest collections of old master drawings ever formed.
Following Lawrence's death in 1830, his drawings were sold for a modest sum to his chief creditors, the Woodburns, a family of dealers who had helped him to assemble his collection. They hoped that the government would be persuaded to purchase some of the drawings for the nation and, in order to demonstrate the quality and richness of the collection, the best drawings were put on public display in ten exhibitions at their Lawrence Gallery. The present sheet was chosen to form part of the Raphael exhibition, a group of drawings which the Woodburns judged particularly worthy of being purchased for the fledgling National Gallery. They were, however, disappointed, as the price offered by the government was significantly lower than that they were asking, and many of the best drawings by Raphael, Leonardo and Michelangelo, the present sheet included, were sold instead to the future King William II of Holland (1792-1849) in 1838. The present sheet seems to have had a particular fascination for the Woodburn family, because a copy of the drawing was made, which remained in the family and, in 1876, was still in the possession of 'Miss Woodburn' (Ruland, loc. cit.).
William of Holland's art collection was considered by contemporaries to be one of the finest in Europe. By 1838 he had already assembled an impressive group of old master pictures and had made relatively few purchases in recent years, but the Lawrence drawings proved irresistible. When his collection of drawings was sold at auction in 1850, no fewer than 77 drawings by Raphael were listed.
Purchased for 500 florins by Colnaghi, the present drawing returned to England and, by 1876, was in the collection of 'Mr Boulton' (Ruland, loc. cit.). It is next recorded in the possession of Maurice Marignane (b. 1879), whose collector's mark is visible on the recto and, when it was included in the 1936-7 Burlington Arts Club exhibition, the drawing was heralded by Popham as 'of first-rate importance' (1937, op. cit., p. 87).
The drawing's exhibition coincided with new scholarly interest in Raphael's auxiliary cartoons. Indeed, it directly inspired Oskar Fischel to write his groundbreaking 1937 article, the first to study the subject in detail. Fischel had long been an admirer of the drawing: he had unsuccessfully appealed for information about its whereabouts in 1912 (loc. cit.) and when he came to write his catalogue raisonné of Raphael's drawings in 1924 he had come to the conclusion that it must have been lost (Fischel 1924, loc. cit.). When the drawing was exhibited in 1937, Fischel was finally able to study it in the original and his admiration for it was confirmed: he judged it 'exquisite' (Fischel 1937, op. cit., p. 167).
Although known and celebrated since the eighteenth century, the drawing has been reproduced rarely, and never before in colour; from the existing literature it is impossible to fully appreciate the power and elegance of the draughtsmanship, described by Carmen Bambach as 'superbly beautiful' (Bambach, op. cit., p. 324). It encapsulates the feminine beauty which characterised Raphael's art and which had such enduring influence on later artists, from Annibale Carracci to Ingres, who strove to capture the radiant serenity which is here achieved with little apparent effort.