Another great drawing by Raphael is coming up for sale. Like the Female Head, which broke all records when it sold for Â£29 million in 2009, it’s a so-called auxiliary cartoon for his last great, large-scale work, the Transfiguration (begun 1516, finished after the master’s death in 1520) now in the Vatican. Coming from one of the greatest private collections — accessible to the public — of drawings in the world, that of the Duke of Devonshire, it’s a well-known and justifiably famous drawing. It’s kind of sad that the Duke occasionally sells off his drawings in this way, potentially occluding great work such as this from public view.
It shows the head of one of the apostles, and was probably used as a visual supplement to the drawn cartoon used in the studio to transfer the composition to the panel. Like the Female Head, it shows pounce marks (the little dots along the contours), which one would expect to be evidence that it was transferred off the present sheet, probably to the final panel (coal dust is pounced through little holes, transferring the composition in outline), but the marks do not seem at all to follow the contours of the drawing, which seems to me indication that an outline design was transferred onto the present sheet and then reworked into the drawing we see.
Not having seen the drawing in the flesh, I’m far from certain about this, and I haven’t consulted the literature either, so I may just be talking nonsense here. I just find the drawing exciting, with its smoky chiaroscuro suggesting strong light falling from the right, picking out the cranial features and accentuating the melancholy aspect of the young man. Lips parsed, tussled hair, young beard, intelligent but passive.
The drawing’s estimated price of between Â£10-15 million reflects the kind of drawing we’re dealing with here: a large, highly finished piece by one of the defining artists of the Western tradition — the kind of work that only comes up for sale extremely rarely, despite what the 2009 sale would seem to indicate. One question is whether it’ll reach the same, frankly unbelievable price that sheet fetched. Judging by quality I think it should: it appears to me a more finely rendered and subtly beautiful drawing than the Female Head, which is beautiful but slightly rote by Raphael’s standards. This is the same type of drawing, but shows more invention and, I think, carries a greater emotional charge.
Anyway, let’s see what happens at the sale. I hope the Getty or some other wealthy public institution steps in.