In this swiftly executed drawing, Correggio shows three angels in levitation, of which two, at left, were used in the so-called Madonna della Scodella ('Madonna with the bowl'), begun in 1522 and finished in 1530, now in the Galleria Nazionale, Parma (Fig. 1; D. Ekserdjian, Correggio, Yale, 1997, pp. 218-233, fig. 222). The altarpiece was painted for the church of San Sepolcro, Parma and is the artist’s last altarpiece for the city. We are rather well-informed about the commission's history, from the artistic process to its patronage and its original location. Three studies for the picture have survived, making this the 'least incomplete sequence that survives for any of Correggio’s altarpieces' (ibid., p. 230). These drawings, with their many alterations, show the artist struggling to get to his final composition.
The earliest known study for the Madonna della Scodella, which broadly sets out the composition in red chalk worked up with spirited pen-work and wash, is now in the National Gallery of Art, Washington (inv. 1991.217.6.a; ibid., fig. 228). The drawing is still unresolved in certain passages, most importantly in Joseph’s pose. The next stage in the preparation for the picture is only known from a copy attributed to Vincenzo Meucci after a now lost drawing by Correggio, in the Royal Collection, Windsor Castle (inv. RCIN 990360; ibid., fig. 226). The most important adjustment in that sheet is the addition of the figure between Joseph and the seated Virgin. A further copy, only showing the Virgin and Child, also has been related to the altarpiece on the basis of the similar composition, and in particular the distinctive right hand of the Virgin as she pulls up her sleeve (ibid., fig. 229).
The second autograph drawing, which is damaged and has lost its upper half, is in the Galleria degli Uffizi, Florence (inv. 1956F; ibid., fig. 230). The sheet is closer to the final picture and Eskerdjian has suggested that its rather crude quality might be explained by the fact that the drawing could be a tracing (ibid., p. 228). The significant changes between the above-mentioned sheets, and the two known copies after lost drawings, indicate that there were a number of now unknown intermediate stages and that many more drawings related to the project must have existed.
The Bloxam sheet explores the positions of the angels that appear at the top of the picture. Their positions were dramatically changed; while they float above each other in the drawing, they embrace each other in the picture. The exact place of this drawing in the sequence is not clear, but both Ekserdjian and George Goldner suggest that it should be situated late in the project (G. Goldner, op. cit., p. 56, under no. 21). Besides the altered position of the angels, there are some further differences between the Rugby sheet and the painting. As Ekserdjian has noted, the drawing is "sparer and more conventional in its atonomy'' and the angel top left lacks the ''fleshy thighs characteristic of Correggio of around 1530" (op. cit., p. 230). Furthermore, the angels are partly covered by clouds in the picture. Ekserdjian has suggested that the third angel, while perhaps first intended for the picture, was later used in the fresco of the cupola of the cathedral of Parma where the angel is shown, in reverse, in the band below the Virgin (ibid., p. 229).
Fig. 1. Correggio, Madonna della Scodella, oil on panel, Galleria Nazionale, Parma.
Fig. 2. Correggio, Assumption of the Virgin, fresco, Parma Cathedral.