Undeniably one of the most gifted from the group of the so-called Leonardeschi – the Milanese pupils of Leonardo da Vinci (1452-1519) – the Lombard artist Cesare da Sesto was instrumental in spreading the artistic vocabulary of his great master beyond Milan, especially throughout central and southern Italy. Executed during his first trip to Rome, between 1508 and 1513, this double-sided sheet provides an important testament to Cesare’s artistic interests and talent as a young draftsman. On the verso, there is an early copy of the figure of Eleazar (Moses’ nephew), frescoed by Michelangelo (1472-1564) in a lunette of the Sistine ceiling (Fig. 1). Its execution must follow the partial unveiling of Michelangelo’s frescoes in October 1511, towards the end of Cesare’s stay in Rome. The artist's significantly precocious interest in Michelangelo is further attested by a few other drawings made after the Sistine ceiling, including two ignudi quickly drawn in his sketchbook now in the Morgan Library, New York (inv. II, 50v and II,59r; see M. Carminati, Cesare da Sesto 1477-1523, Milan and Rome, 1994, pp. 63-64, ill.).
Done in red chalk, reworked with pen and brown ink and finely shaded with tight parallel hatching, the present drawing represents one of the earliest records of appreciation for Michelangelo and the newly-unveiled Sistine frescoes among contemporary artists in Rome. Boldly drawn in pen and ink over faint traces of a red chalk underdrawing, the recto of the same sheet features a seductive dancing woman, possibly a Maenad, holding a bull’s head. The drawing reveals the artist’s interest both in classical antiquity and Raphael, whose style is clearly channeled here with unprecedented monumentality. In his own personal way, Cesare was clearly inspired by Raphael’s muses in the Parnassus in the Vatican Stanze, a fresco that he copied extensively, as proved again by other sketches in the Morgan (inv. II, 41r).
Fig. 1. Michelangelo Buonarroti, Eleazar (from the Sistine ceiling), Vatican Palace, Sistine Chapel