Concise, critical reviews of books, exhibitions, and projects in all areas and periods of art history and visual studies
February 21, 2001
Martin Clayton Raphael and His Circle: Drawings from Windsor Castle Merrell Holberton Publishers, 1999. 224 pp.; 94 color ills.; 91 b/w ills. Cloth $60.00 (1858940761)
The Queen's Gallery, London, May 21-October 10, 1999; National Gallery of Art, Washington, DC, May 14-July 23, 2000; Art Gallery of Ontario,

This catalogue accompanied an exhibition made up of sixty-six sheets constituting the Royal collection’s entire holdings in this area. All of the drawings are illustrated in color, including any significant versos. As he has done in the past with Leonardo and Poussin, Martin Clayton, the organizer of the exhibition and sole author of the catalogue, does a masterful job bringing together a great deal of information in a form that makes an often complex field accessible to the general reader. The introductory essay breaks little new ground. In it Clayton provides an outline of the basic shapes of the careers of the artists in the exhibition. He deals with historical issues both large and small, ranging from Raphael’s relationships with his teachers and students to the date of Giulio Romano’s birth. Since no citations to older scholarship are given, one is forced to conclude that this is aimed at the museum-going public rather than the scholarly community.

The scholarly meat of the book is contained in the entries on individual drawings. The collection has eighteen sheets, many double-sided, which are unquestionably by Raphael himself. These represent all phases of the artist’s career—although the collection is weighted toward his final years—and a wide range of techniques and drawing types. Clayton also includes several sheets by, or from the orbit of, Perugino, and one drawing by Raphael’s father, Giovanni Santi. These give the reader a clear idea of Raphael’s starting point in the Marches and Umbria and allow insight into the nature of the artistic revolution in which he was major force. The earliest drawing by Raphael in the exhibition, a full-size study for the heads of two apostles in the Coronation of the Virgin from San Francesco al Prato in Perugia, now in the Vatican (cat. no. 9), is a remarkable achievement when compared with Perugino’s studies from only a decade earlier (cat. nos. 4 and 5). The other end of Raphael’s career is much more fully represented with sheets from many of the major projects undertaken in the last five years of his life: the Sistine tapestries, the Psyche loggia in the Villa Farnesina, and the Logge di Raffaello in the Vatican. There are also several drawings for the Stanza della Segnatura, as well as three drawings that were engraved, a phenomenon Clayton explores at length in his entries for cat. nos. 20, 24, and 29.

The Windsor collection also allows a very thorough examination of the post-1520 careers of the master’s principal students. Giulio Romano’s activity, from the death of his master through the complex decorative programs begun after his move to Mantua in 1524, are represented by twelve sheets, including a metalwork design (cat. no. 43). The thirteen drawings associated here with the name of Perino del Vaga give a good sense of this artist’s development as a draughtsman. Unfortunately, the Royal collection does not possess any drawings from Perino’s Genoese period. The seven drawings by and attributed to Polidoro da Caravaggio constitute the happiest surprise of the exhibition. Polidoro is a very interesting artist capable of a wide variety of effects, who, sadly, is too little known outside a small community of specialists. The Windsor drawings include the full range of types, from highly finished presentation drawings (cat. nos. 62 and 66) to red chalk studies for figures and an individual head (cat. nos. 63-64) and a rapid pen study of a figure that, if not by Polidoro himself, certainly deserves to be considered in light of his late style, as Clayton does here for the first time.

The relationship between Raphael and his students/assistants after the advent of the Medici Pope Leo X in 1513 is unquestionably the thorniest problem in Raphael studies. The Royal collection has several sheets central to the question of the role of the younger members of the shop in the ideation and execution of Raphael’s late works. The problems begin with the drawings for the Sistine tapestry cartoons. Clayton attributes a pen and wash study for Miraculous Draft of Fishes (cat. no. 25) to Raphael himself, rather than to Gianfrancesco Penni, Raphael’s principal assistant in the years before Giulio entered the shop and the apparent author of a great number of very finished modelli of a type very like this sheet. Clayton’s arguments, based on the freedom of the black chalk underdrawing and a negative comparison with a study in Vienna for this composition that is certainly not by the master, are convincing. His elevation of this drawing to the master is even more probable when we remember that Raphael retained a great deal of control over this project. This is clear from the fact that his hand is detectable in the painting of some of the cartoons themselves and from drawings such as the offset in the Windsor collection after a red chalk study for Christ’s Charge to Peter (cat. no. 26). Fragments of the original sheet, certainly by Raphael himself, are now divided between the Louvre and the National Gallery in Washington (visitors to the Washington venue of the exhibition were able to see the two drawings side-by-side). Clayton also upgrades a hitherto neglected pen study of a standing woman to Raphael (cat. no. 28). He associates this sheet with the frieze below the Sistine tapestry depicting the Stoning of St. Stephen. It has many stylistic affinities with autograph pen studies from the same period and certainly seems to be preparatory for the scene on the tapestry. If the attribution is maintained, this will be the only autograph study for any of the tapestry borders.

Other drawings from the last phases of Raphael’s career present much more complex problems of attribution. Clayton does an excellent job disentangling the web of attributions and cross-references to other works. A red chalk drawing related to the Small Holy Family in the Louvre is a particularly troublesome sheet (cat. no. 34). Clayton classifies it as “attributed to Raphael,” reviving an attribution that goes all the way back to Carl Ruland in 1876. From then on the sheet was most often called a copy (most notably by A. E. Popham in the 1949 catalogue of the Royal collection) or an autograph work by Giulio (Oskar Fischel in his Corpus of Raphael drawings and John Gere in the Morgan Library exhibition of 1987). While it is important to look carefully again at any sheet with such a checkered past, the re-attribution to Raphael, made on stylistic grounds, cannot be maintained. The differences between the drawing and the painting and the slight pentimenti in the drawing argue against this being a copy. The morphology, especially of the heads, is close to Giulio. Indeed, an excellent comparison is number 30 of the present catalogue, a red chalk study for one of the scenes in Cardinal Bibbiena’s bathroom in the Vatican. This drawing is almost universally agreed to be by Giulio. A similar case, but one where Clayton reaches a very different conclusion, is the lively pen study for The Division of the Promised Land by Lot in the tenth bay of the Vatican loggia (cat. no. 33). Clayton, resisting the usual tendency to assign all modelli for the loggia to Penni, correctly revives an old attribution to Giulio Romano made by Crowe and Cavalcaselle in 1885. The comparison to the large compositional sketch for Pope Sylvester Carried on the Sedia Gestatori now divided between Stockholm and the Louvre, first made by Fischel (he did not name Giulio as the author of the drawings), makes the case very convincing. Although Clayton gives the sheet the double status of “workshop of Raphael (attributed to Giulio Romano),” it is clear that he believes strongly in the Giulio hypothesis.

The attribution to Perino of two pen drawings, one related to the sculpture of Jonah in the Chigi Chapel of Santa Maria del Popolo and the other to the left half of Marco Dente’s engraving The Rape of Lucretia (cat. nos. 48-49) is troubling. Both are usually given to Penni, although they have complicated attribution histories. Clayton associated them with Perino based largely on an affinity with his own cat. no. 47. This last drawing, a pen study of Two Soldiers Carrying Off a Young Man, may well be by Perino. It possesses a vivacity of execution on both the recto and verso, which contains several quick pen sketches of figures, that is lacking in the other two sheets. Numbers 48 and 49 have the stiffness and lack of creativity normally associated with copies. Their association with the printmaking process, which Clayton points out, may indeed be justified. This does not rule out the conclusion that these may be copies of inventions from the Raphael shop just after the master’s death made for the express purpose of being engraved.

Clayton also calls attention to a few sheets that have escaped intense scrutiny over the years. In addition to the sketch associated with the tapestry frieze (cat. no. 28), there is the beautiful but ruined metalpoint Virgin and Child with St. John (cat. no. 11), which is usefully reproduced as it appears in ultraviolet light revealing the much faded contour lines. Equally important is the publication under Giulio’s name of a pen drawing of a classical bust (cat. no. 39) for the first time since Nicolas Turner discovered the sheet among the Carracci drawings at Windsor.

As is the case with every effort in this field, one cannot agree with all of the author’s attributions. Even so, one must acknowledge the keen eye and thorough scholarship Martin Clayton has brought to his close and careful study of the collection in his charge. This catalogue will serve both as a valuable reference tool for the Royal collection and as an important statement in the vast literature of Raphael studies.

Joseph Giuffre
Rutgers University