This large and highly finished study relates to Daniele's bronze sculpture - of almost identical size to the figure in the drawing (18 x 42.1 x 18.5 cm.) - now in the Bayerisches Nationalmuseum, Munich (Fig. 1; Inv. 64/24; P. Joannides, op. cit., p. 819, fig. 43). The figure also appears in a painting by (or after) Daniele da Volterra, showing Aeneas commanded by Mercury to leave Dido, present whereabouts unknown (Fig. 2; P. Barolsky, op. cit., no. 19).
A painter as well as a sculptor, Daniele often cast bronze models in preparation for his pictures. These sculptures, maybe even more than his paintings, display the powerful influence of Michelangelo (1475-1564), for whom Daniele probably cast a bronze of Samson killing two Philistines. Daniele used his casts to explore compositions in great detail through drawings, presumably to test which viewpoints would best suit the final painting. The present drawing is such an instance and it follows the Munich bronze with precision. While the bronze was acquired by the museum as by Adriaen de Vries (circa 1556–1626), it was correctly identified as being by Daniele by Professor Paul Joannides in his 1993 Burlington Magazine article.
The drawing displays Daniele's extraordinarily delicate technique; the shadows are indicated with very fine hatching and the body is modulated with such fine lines that they almost dissolve and give the figure a sculptural quality. It primarily focuses on the figure of Dido, indicating the bed, its pillows and mattress - fully shown in the sculpture and in the painting - with quick sketchy lines. The picture, first published by Hermann Voss in 1922, shows the figure of Dido almost unaltered asleep in an interior, with Mercury swooping down urging Aeneas to leave (H. Voss, 'Ein wiedergefundenes Bild des Daniele da Volterra', Kunstchronik, XXIV, 1922-23, pp. 375-8). This painting has since its publication been generally identified as a copy after a lost original by Daniele, described by Vasari in his Vite. According to Vasari, a painting of the rare Virgilian subject was commissioned in late 1555 or 1556 by Giovanni della Casa (G. Vasari [edited by G. Milanesi], Le Opere.., Florence, VII, 1906, p. 63), and this drawing no doubt dates from this period.
The large number of studies for the painting are testimony to the care that Daniele took in preparing it. While we have here the only surviving drawing of Dido, there are five studies for the child assisting Aeneas to disrobe. A large and highly finished drawing, the figures very close to the painting, is in the Albertina (Inv. 497; V. Birke and J. Kertész, Die Italienischen Zeichnungen der Albertina, Vienna, Cologne and Weimar, 1992, I, pp. 278-9). It is of similar size (52,2 x 35 cm.) and technique to the Sewell drawing and shows the same refinement of handling. A drawing related both in style and subject to the Albertina sheet, which was used for a detail in The Baptism of Christ in the S. Pietro in Montorio, Rome (executed by Daniele's assistant Michele Alberti), is in Musée Fabre, Montpellier (Inv. 870.1.182; E. Pagliano, op. cit., no. 30). Four further smaller sized sketches for Aeneas and the child are known; two in the British Museum (Inv. 1956-10-13-13 and 1976-5-15-2); another in the Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam (Inv. RP-T-1959.268); and the fourth in the Courtauld Institute, London (PG 425 verso) (see E. Pagliano, op. cit., figs. 3-5, 11). The latter is the verso of a drawing of the subject drawn by Michelangelo and Daniele seems to have traced it through the recto. Another drawing by Michelangelo showing the same group, but with Dido just discernable in the background, is in the Teylers Museum, Haarlem (Inv. 32 A; E. Pagliano, op. cit., fig. 9). It has been suggested that, while Daniele was struggling with the subject, Michelangelo supplied drawings to inspire him just as he had done earlier for Sebastiano del Piombo (circa 1485-1547).