You know you’re among the masters when one of your practice sketches draws a higher price at auction than most artists could hope to get for their entire collection of completed works. Being known throughout the world by only your first name is another good sign.
Raffaello Sanzio da Urbino (a.k.a. Raphael) was one of the greatest painters of the Italian Renaissance in the early 16th century, so perhaps it should come as no surprise that his black chalk drawing titled simply Head of an Apostle recently sold for $47.8 million at a Sotheby’s auction in London. The gavel price far surpassed even the high end of the already-lucrative sales estimates, which put the value between about $16 million and $24 million.
The 1519–1520 sketch is one of 17 known preparatory drawings that Raphael used for his final masterpiece, The Transfiguration. That work, which now resides in the Vatican Museum, depicts the famous episode from Matthew 17:1–13.
Small lines of black dots in the drawing offer a glimpse of how Raphael worked. After doing a preliminary sketch of the painting’s entire composition, Raphael pricked small holes along the contours of the figures. He then transferred these rough outlines by dusting black chalk dust through the holes onto clean sheets of paper beneath, where he could complete more detailed studies of each figure’s facial features and expression. These drawings were then used to create the final painting.
The figure shown in this drawing appears on the far left side in the middle of The Transfiguration (right). The painting was unfinished when Raphael died in 1520 at age 37, so one of his pupils completed the work soon afterward.
Basser, Herbert W. “The Jewish Roots of the Transfiguration.” Bible Review, Jun 1998, 30-35.
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