Royal Collection Trust/© Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II 2014
An allegorical figure of Poetry
A study for the figure of Poetry on the ceiling of the Stanza della Segnatura. The figure is seated to front, naked to waist, winged, holding a tablet and lyre; squared.
Raphael was born in Urbino, worked in Umbria and Florence, and moved to Rome in 1508 to work for Pope Julius II (reg.1503-13). His first major undertaking in Rome was a fresco cycle on the themes of Theology, Philosophy, Jurisprudence and Poetry, in what was probably Julius’s library in the Vatican Palace, a room now known as the Stanza della Segnatura. This is a study for the allegorical figure of Poetry painted in the vault of the chamber. Raphael’s supreme talents and capacity for great productivity were soon recognised, and by the time of his early death he dominated the artistic scene in Rome.
The drapery of the study - so far as it goes - and the pose correspond with the figure as painted, but in the fresco the upper half of her body too is clothed. Raphael first sketched his model entirely nude to fix the proportions and pose of the underlying body, working with a stylus to leave only indentations in the surface of the paper. The black chalk used to elaborate the study skipped over these indentations, allowing the legs still to be seen beneath the soft drapery. Raphael drew a squared grid on the sheet to facilitate the reproduction of the motif, probably to another study sheet for further refinement; an engraving by Marcantonio Raimondi (c.1475-1534) seems to record a lost study by Raphael that is even closer to the final design. That study would have been scaled up to a full-size cartoon (from the Italian cartone, a large sheet of paper) for transfer to the painting surface.
By c.1810 nearly all the drawings by Raphael in the Royal Collection were bound into a single album entitled Raffaello d’Urbino e Scuola. The title may suggest that the album and its principal contents were acquired in Italy, but several drawings in the album had evidently been inherited by George III rather than purchased. Inventory A states of the study of Poetry, ‘This is from Kensington’, a comment expanded in an entry on another sheet, The Miraculous Draft of Fishes: ‘This Drawing was found in an Old Bureau at Kensington which contained part of the Collection of King Charles ye first, where also was preserved the Volume of Leonardo da Vinci.’ The drawings were thus presumably in one of the albums described in the 1727 Kensington list, though it is much more likely that those albums had been assembled by Charles II than by his father.
Text adapted from Holbein to Hockney: Drawings from the Royal Collection