Looking at Masaccio: a rediscovered drawing by the young Michelangelo by Furio Rinaldi

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Looking at Masaccio: a rediscovered drawing by the young Michelangelo A drawing that has come to light in a French private collection is here identified as a copy by Michelangelo of a figure from Masaccio’s frescos in the Brancacci Chapel, Florence. Part of a group of studies of earlier masters made probably c.1492–96, it exemplifies Michelangelo’s life-long admiration for the work of an artist who was regarded as one of the founders of modern painting. by FURIO RINALDI


ICHELANGELO’S EARLY STUDY of Masaccio’s frescos in the Brancacci Chapel in S. Maria del Carmine, Florence, was a pivotal moment in the formation of his style. As recorded by Giorgio Vasari in both editions of the Lives, the young artist, still in his teens, spent months drawing figures from the frescos of Giotto and Masaccio in S. Croce and S. Maria del Carmine respectively, in sessions lasting ‘three to four hours’, as further recorded by Giovanni Battista Gelli.1 According to Benvenuto Cellini, it was at the Brancacci Chapel that the sculptor Pietro Torrigiani broke Michelangelo’s nose, an infamous altercation that scarred him physically – and perhaps psychologically – for life.2 These narratives are substantiated by a group of three large double-sided sheets of copies in pen and ink after frescos of Giotto and Masaccio, which the young Michelangelo specially admired for their simplicity, dignity, eloquence, sculptural unity and three-dimensionality. The group includes a partial copy after the Ascension of St John the Evangelist from the frescos by Giotto in the Peruzzi Chapel in S. Croce (Fig.3);3 and more interpretative elaborations after two of Masaccio’s frescos in S. Maria del Carmine, painted in 1424–26, the Tribute money in the Brancacci Chapel (Fig.4) and the lost Sagra (or Ceremony of the consecration of the church; Figs.5 and 6),4 which was painted inside the cloister over a door leading to the convent.5 The discovery and the attribution of this drawing by the present author dates back to 2019. With thanks to Guillaume Cerutti, Noël Annesley (who read and commented on an earlier draft of this article), Guillaume Kientz and Emma Kronman for their support. This article is dedicated to the memory of James David Draper. 1 ‘Disegnò molti mesi nel Carmine alle pitture di Masaccio; dove con tanto giudizio quelle opere ritraeva, che ne stupivano gli artifici e gli altri uomini, di maniera che gli cresceva l’invidia insieme col nome’, G. Vasari: Le vite [. . .] [Florence 1550 and 1568], ed. R. Bettarini and P. Barocchi, Florence 1966–87, III, VI, p.12; and ‘tre o quattro ore per volta’, G. Mancini: ‘Vite d’artisti di Giovanni Battista Gelli’, Archivio


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1. Detail of Baptism of the neophytes, by Masaccio. c.1424–25. Fresco. (Brancacci Chapel, S. Maria del Carmine, Florence). Opposite 2. Three standing figures, one after Masaccio’s ‘Baptism of the neophytes’, here attributed to Michelangelo. c.1492–96. Pen and two types of brown ink, brown wash on paper, 33 by 20 cm. (Private collection).

Storico Italiano, series 5, 18 (1896), pp.32–62, at p.41. Gelli’s account was written probably in the 1540s. 2 B. Cellini: Vita di Benvenuto Cellini orefice scultore fiorentino, restituita alla lezione originale su Manoscritto Poirot ora Laurenziano, ed. F. Tassi, Florence 1829, I, pp.47–48; for the altercation and its impact on Michelangelo, see P. Barolski: Michelangelo’s Nose: The Myth and its Maker, University Park 1990. 3 Département des Arts Graphiques, Musée du Louvre, Paris (hereafter DAG), inv. no.706. C. Tolnay: Corpus dei disegni Michelangelo, Novara 1975–80, I, no.3. 4 Staatliche Graphische Sammlung, Munich, inv. no.2191. Tolnay, op. cit. (note 3), I, no.4.


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Exceptional survivors, not least because Michelangelo frequently destroyed his drawings, the sheets in this coherent group of almost identical size (each is approximately 31 by 20 centimetres) are believed to be Michelangelo’s earliest known drawings. With some variations, they are generally dated between c.1490–92 and the artist’s departure for Rome in June 1496. This was a time when the young artist was employed in Domenico Ghirlandaio’s shop, which he joined in 1488, while benefiting from the special advantage of Lorenzo il Magnifico’s patronage, living in his household with direct access to the Classical sculptures displayed in the garden of S. Marco – Lorenzo’s sophisticated and informal academy in Florence. To this group can now be added a fourth sheet (Fig.2), which came to light in 2019 in a private collection in France. Published here for the first time with an attribution to Michelangelo, it provides invaluable evidence about the artist’s beginnings and early visual sources.6 Executed on a large sheet of paper roughly the same size as the rest of the group (33 by 20 centimetres), the drawing depicts three standing figures. As in 3. Studies after two figures in the ‘Ascension of St John the Evangelist’ by Giotto, by Michelangelo. c.1492. Pen and two types of brown ink on paper, 31.7 by 20.4 cm. (Musée du Louvre, Paris; Scala Archives). 4. St Peter after Masaccio’s ‘Tribute money’ and study of an arm, by Michelangelo. c.1492. Pen, brown ink and red chalk on paper, 31.7 by 19.7 cm. (Staatliche Graphische Sammlung, Munich; bpk).


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other early drawings by Michelangelo, the central figure has been drawn using two batches of iron-gall ink, the first lighter in colour, now yellowishbrown, which was reworked using a darker ink, now grey-brown.7 The arrangement of the figures on the sheet and their varying level of finish are closely comparable with not only Michelangelo’s copies after Giotto and, especially, the Sagra but also a smaller (and probably fragmentary) sheet in the Teylers Museum, Haarlem, that is sometimes associated with Masaccio’s lost fresco (Figs.8 and 9).8 In all these drawings, Michelangelo fully developed the central figure in the foreground with two layers of ink and dense crosshatching whereas the lateral ones are executed more spontaneously and in less detail, using only a single layer of the darker ink. In creating a tight grouping of background and foreground figures with different levels of finish, the young draughtsman was developing an innovative manner of drawing that resembles sculpting in low-relief, almost a straightforward translation of the technique of very shallow relief carving known as stiacciato, as demonstrated, for example, in Donatello’s Ascension with Christ giving the keys to St Peter (1428–30; Victoria and Albert Museum, London). In the rediscovered drawing Michelangelo has made full use of the large vertical sheet, centring the composition on the shivering naked man, who was probably drawn first. This memorable figure stands out at the far right in Masaccio’s Baptism of the neophytes, at the upper right corner of

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the chapel’s end wall (Fig.1). Remarkably, Vasari highlighted this poignant naturalistic detail both in the Proemio to the second part of the Vite and, more extensively, in his description of the fresco in his life of Masaccio: In the scene, which represents St Peter administering the rite of Baptism, there is a figure which has always been most highly celebrated: it is that of a naked youth, among those who are baptised, and who is shivering with the cold. This is in all respects so admirable and in so fine a manner, that it has ever since been held in reverence and admiration by all artists, old and new. For it, this chapel has been visited to this day by infinite draughtsmen and masters.9 5 Albertina, Vienna, inv. no.116. Tolnay, op. cit. (note 3), I, no.5. 6 The drawing is inscribed on the mount in pen and brown ink ‘Pietro Faccini’ (lower left), and in red chalk ‘Pietro Facini’ (lower right). The back of the mount is inscribed in graphite ‘Pietro Facini / Collection Borghèse’, in blue crayon ‘86’. Provenance: Modesto Ignazio Bonaventura Luigi Genevosio (1719– 1801), Turin (L. 545); possibly sold in 1794 to Giovanni Antonio Turinetti, Marquis of Priero, Turin (1762–1801); possibly sold by his family in 1803; (?) Borghese collection (according to the inscription on the back of the Genevosio mount); anonymous sale, Hôtel Drouot, Paris,

24th April 1907, lot 34, where probably acquired by Alfred Denis Cortot (his stamp ‘CA’ on the verso of the frame, not in Lugt). On the back of the frame is a printed label from the 1907 Drouot sale: ‘Michel-Ange (Ècole de) / 34 – Figures nues et drapées. / plume. Cachet de collection. / Haut., 33 cent.; larg., 20 cent’. Sale, Christie’s, Paris, 18th May 2022, ‘Michelangelo’s First Nude: A Drawing Rediscovered’, lot 1. 7 As first noted in J. Wilde: Italian Drawings in the Department of Prints and Drawings in the British Museum: Michelangelo and his Studio, London 1953, p.2; see also J. Ambers, C. Higgitt and D. Saunders: Italian Renaissance

5. Three standing men in cloaks, after Masaccio’s lost fresco of the Sagra, by Michelangelo. c.1492–96. Pen and brown ink on paper, 29.2 by 20 cm. (Albertina, Vienna). 6. Kneeling man seen from behind after Masaccio’s lost fresco of the Sagra (verso of Fig.5), by Michelangelo. c.1492–96. Pen and brown ink on paper, 29.2 by 20 cm. (Albertina, Vienna).

In Michelangelo’s powerful rendering in pen and ink, Masaccio’s nude emerges from the sheet with astounding sculptural presence. The body is conveyed by a network of short, often curved hatched marks, following a technique he also adopted in the male torso drawn on the verso of his copy of the Tribute money, usually associated with Michelangelo’s anatomical studies pursued at S. Spirito, Florence, c.1492–93. Drawings: Technical Examination and Analysis, London 2010, pp.63 and 142. 8 Teylers Museum, Haarlem, inv. no.A 22. Tolnay, op. cit. (note 3), I, no.10. On the dating of this sheet, see C. Van Tuyll van Serooskeren: The Italian Drawings of the Fifteenth and Sixteenth Centuries in the Teylers Museum, Haarlem 2000, no.45 (to c.1496–1503); A. Gnann: exh. cat. Michelangelo: The Drawings of a Genius, Vienna (Albertina) 2010, no.6 (to c.1493–96); and C.C. Bambach, ed.: exh. cat. Michelangelo: Divine Draftsman and Designer, New York (Metropolitan Museum of Art) 2017, p.49, note 106 (with a dating to c.1494–96). 9 ‘Nell’istoria dove San Piero battezza

si stima grandemente un ignudo che triema tra gl’altri battezzati assiderando di freddo, condotto con bellissimo rilievo e dolce maniera, il quale dagli artefici e vecchi e moderni è stato sempre tenuto in riverenza et ammirazione; per il che da infiniti disegnatori e maestri continuamente fino al dì d’oggi è stata frequentata questa cappella’, Vasari, op. cit. (note 1), III, p.131 (Life of Masaccio). In the Proemio, Masaccio’s shivering nude is singled out together with Brunelleschi’s dome of S. Maria del Fiore, Florence, as a pinnacle of the artistic achievement of the so-called Second Age, ibid. p.17 (Proemio).

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Drawn in the ink that has aged to a yellowish-brown, this figure – Michelangelo’s earliest surviving drawing of a nude – was then reworked with the darker ink and shifted to the right, as revealed most clearly by the outline of a third foot at the bottom of the sheet. Similar horizontal shifts of figures are evident on the Albertina drawing after the Sagra. In order to disguise this repositioning, Michelangelo added a strip of darker brown wash along the figure’s back and buttocks, thus making the man’s upper body bulkier and more muscled than it is in Masaccio’s fresco. Whereas other noticeable differences (such as the odd proportions of the legs and the shorter abdomen) are a result of Michelangelo’s relatively low viewpoint, given that the fresco is about 4 metres from the ground, some are more deliberate alterations. For instance, when he reworked the drawing with the darker ink, the artist shrank the large, helmet-like hairstyle of the figure in the fresco. Now in a compromised state, the head’s original shape is recorded in a red-chalk drawing (Fig.10), which the present author attributes to Michelangelo’s Spanish associate Alonso Berruguete.10 The hairline, hollow eyes and overall blurred appearance of the figure in Michelangelo’s ink rendering anticipates in particular the powerful results he achieved with the non finito technique much later in his career, as in the marble Brutus (Fig.7), which is characterised by similar facial features. Most importantly, in his drawing Michelangelo infused Masaccio’s slender neophyte with a degree of naturalism and muscular tension, both by raising his left hand so that it clasps his right arm in a more natural way and by bending the knees to better articulate the legs and convey the man’s weight. An analogous process of vivification of Masaccio’s simplified figures characterises Michelangelo’s red-chalk copy of the figures of Adam


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7. Detail of Brutus, by Michelangelo, with later reworking by Tiberio Calcagni. c.1545–48. Marble, height 74 cm. (Museo Nazionale del Bargello, Florence; Bridgeman Images). 8. Three figures, possibly after Masaccio’s lost fresco of the Sagra, by Michelangelo. c.1492–96. Pen and ink on paper, sheet 26.9 by 19.4 cm. (Teylers Museum, Haarlem). 9. Two figures in profile, possibly after Masaccio’s lost fresco of the Sagra (verso of Fig.8), by Michelangelo. c.1492–96. Pen and ink on paper, sheet 26.9 by 19.4 cm. (Teylers Museum, Haarlem).


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and Eve in the Brancacci Chapel (Musée du Louvre, Paris), which can be dated c.1503–04 as it includes on the verso sketches for the Battle of Cascina, the fresco intended for Palazzo Vecchio, Florence.11 Similarly, as noted by Achim Gnann, Carmen C. Bambach and others, in his drawing after Giotto’s frescos in S. Croce Michelangelo emphasised the figures’ sculptural presence, rendering them more monumental and true to life than the original.12 The penwork describing the neophyte records a crucial technical shift from the somewhat overly disciplined, engraver-like crosshatching technique that Michelangelo learned in Ghirlandaio’s workshop towards a looser, more expressive handling of the pen that encouraged a greater naturalism in the rendering of form. Instead of applying the orderly, straight strokes of his earlier drawings, Michelangelo here employed more flexible curved lines of different length and direction, leading the way to the remarkably elastic texture of crosshatching seen in his pen studies for the Cascina nudes, c.1503–04. The recto of a large sheet of studies jointly inspired by the Antique and possibly Masaccio in the Musée Condé, Chantilly (Fig.11), similarly provides a glimpse of the technical development towards the rich and plastic finish evident in the newly identified drawing. It also indicates a chronological reference point, as the inclusion of a copy of a Classical sculpture suggests that it was probably executed during or soon after Michelangelo’s stay in Rome from 1496 to 1501.13 In the drawing the neophyte is flanked by two figures unrelated either to the fresco or to one another, a feature that has no parallel in the other three drawings in this group, which are generally faithful depictions of their models (or presumably so, in the case of the lost Sagra). These figures are drawn more freely, with broad ink lines and a looser network of hatching, sprawling organically from the central male nude in a similar fashion as the squirming tangle of nudes in Michelangelo’s contemporary sculpture Battle of the Lapiths and Centaurs (c.1492; Casa Buonarroti, Florence). The heavily draped figure at left, feminine in appearance and looking downwards, is the first appearance of an androgynous type that recurs throughout Michelangelo’s corpus of drawings (Fig.13). The drawing of the figure, who was possibly inspired by one of the standing cloaked men in Masaccio’s Sagra, strongly recalls the way Michelangelo depicts the accentuated facial features of the three men in the Albertina drawing after the Sagra and, even more strongly, the Roman soldiers in a sheet of c.1500 in the Ashmolean Museum, Oxford (Fig.12), which are similarly realised with an elongated series of vertical ink lines.14 10 Museo e Real Bosco di Capodimonte, Naples, inv. no.783. For the drawing, see R. Muzii: I grandi disegni italiani nella Collezione del Museo di Capodimonte a Napoli, Milan 1987, fig.17 (‘anonymous XVII artist’); R. Ward: Baccio Bandinelli, 1493–1560: Drawings from British Collections, Cambridge 1988, under no.5, fig.1 (as Bandinelli); and A. Forlani Tempesti: ‘Disegni di scultore o di pittore? Baccio Bandinelli e Rosso Fiorentino’, in C. Hattori, ed.: Dessin de Sculptures, Paris 2009, II, pp.44 and 54, no.7 (as Bandinelli). Here reproduced in colour for the first time, this rarely seen drawing can be attributed to the young Alonso Berruguete, who is known for producing similar red-chalk copies after works by the quattrocento masters, for example, Gabinetto Disegni e Stampe degli Uffizi, Florence (hereafter GDSU), inv. no.9124 S r–v (after Donatello), and DAG inv. no.2706, for which see M. McDonald: ‘Becoming a draftsman and the primacy of drawing’, in C.D. Dickerson III and idem, eds: exh. cat. Alonso Berruguete: First Sculptor of Renaissance Spain,

Michelangelo used the lower body of the neophyte as a starting point for the clothed figure on the right, who has sprung from the artist’s imagination. Built up by an energetic series of long, parallel and crosshatched lines, the construction of the figure exhibits many features in common with the draped man at the right on the Teylers sheet that is possibly after the Sagra and the so-called Onlookers on its verso, in which the ground is similarly suggested by some parallel lines (Fig.9). A good comparison for the figure’s sketchy level of finish and sculptural appearance 10. Study of a nude figure, after Masaccio, here attributed to Alonso Berruguete. c.1510. Red chalk on paper, sheet 26.7 by 12.9 cm. (Museo e Real Bosco di Capodimonte, Naples).

Washington (National Gallery of Art)and Dallas (Meadows Museum) 2019–20, pp.66–69, figs.46–48. 11 DAG, inv. no.3897. Tolnay, op. cit. (note 3), no.68. This chronology is in agreement with Bambach 2017, op. cit. (note 8), p.48. 12 Gnann 2010 (note 8), p. 30; Bambach 2017, op. cit. (note 8), pp.48–49. 13 Musée Condé, Chantilly, inv. no.35 (29). Tolnay, op. cit. (note 3), no.24; C. Lanfranc de Panthou: Dessins italiens du Musée Condé à Chantilly. I. Autour de Pérugin, Filippino Lippi et MichelAnge, Chantilly and Paris 1995, no.38; C. Sisi, with E. Colle and M. Scalini, eds: exh. cat. Michelangelo e i maestri del Quattrocento, Florence (Casa Buonarroti) 1985, no.10, and more recently C.C. Bambach, entry in M.C. Cole et al.: exh. cat. Donatello, Michelangelo, Cellini: Sculptor’s Drawings from Renaissance Italy, Boston (Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum) 2014–15, pp.156–57, with a proposed date of 1500–05. 14 Ashmolean Museum, Oxford, WA 1846.72. Tolnay, op. cit. (note 3), I, no.9.

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11. Studies of figures, by Michelangelo. c.1496–1501. Pen and two shades of brown ink, 26.1 by 38.6 cm. (Musée Condé, Chantilly). 12. Detail of Three men in conversation?, by Michelangelo. c.1500. Pen and brown ink on paper, sheet 37.7 by 25 cm. (Ashmolean Museum, Oxford; Bridgeman Images). 13. Detail of Fig.2, showing the figure on the left of the sheet.

is provided by an imposing pair of draped figures in a slightly later drawing in the Ashmolean Museum, possibly inspired by the reliefs of Jacopo della Quercia seen by Michelangelo on his trip to Bologna in 1494.15 Features of the figure in the newly identified drawing incorporate a virtual catalogue of Michelangelo’s uniquely characteristic abbreviations that are found in many of his drawings throughout his career: the sharp, triangular nose, typically reinforced with some ink at the bottom, protruding upper lip,16 and sketchy rendering of the feet.17 Visually, the figure’s pose, tunic and 15 Ashmolean Museum, Oxford, inv. no.1846.73. Tolnay, op. cit. (note 3), I, no.28. On Michelangelo and Jacopo della Quercia, see Sisi et al., op. cit. (note 13), no.5. 16 Limiting the comparison to Michelangelo’s pen drawings, see Tolnay, op. cit. (note 3), I, nos.4, 10, 23v and 33. 17 Ibid., nos.10, 47v and 48r–v. 18 F. Zeri: Masaccio: Trinità, Milan 1999, p.29. 19 DAG, inv. no.837; Tolnay, op. cit. (note 3), II, no.194). This was argued first in P. Joannides: The Medici, Michelangelo and Late Renaissance Florence, Florence, Chicago and Detroit 2002, no.183. On this drawing, see also Bambach 2017, op. cit. (note 8), pp.124–25, pl.99, as ‘Workshop of Michelangelo (Stefano di Tommaso Lunetti?)’. 20 It is worth noting that this powerful


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figure was engraved on its own by Jacob Bos in one of the few prints after the frescos in the Pauline chapel, see A. Alberti: D’après Michelangelo, Milan 2016, II, no.222, ill. 21 See the Crucifixion drawings, Tolnay, op. cit. (note 3), III, nos.413 and 416–18. On Michelangelo’s ‘primitivism’, see P. Joannides: ‘Primitivism in the late drawings of Michelangelo: the master’s construction of an old-age style’, Studies in the History of Art 33 (1992), pp.245–61. 22 On Genevosio and his collection, see A. Cifani and F. Monetti: ‘Il Commendatore Genevosio, collezionista di disegni, dipinti antichi e antichità greco-romane a Torino nel Settecento. Nuovi documenti’, Saggi e Memorie di storia dell’arte 26 (2002), pp.155–209; see also marquesdescollections.fr at no.546 (updated December 2011).


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bulging shoulder seem to anticipate the marble St Matthew in the Galleria dell’Accademia, Florence, commissioned in 1503 and left unfinished in 1506 when Michelangelo moved to Rome, underlining once again Michelangelo’s remarkable loyalty to the figural types he developed as a youthful artist. The newly discovered drawing is, therefore, a crucially important record of the young Michelangelo’s rapid evolution as a draughtsman. Whereas the use of short and curved hatch marks on the neophyte anticipates the smooth ink textures of the nude studies executed c.1503–04 in preparation for the Battle of Cascina, the fluid pen style of the lateral figures asserts the artist’s technical confidence. The originality of these figures is a testament to his creative awareness and growing imagination. The newly discovered drawing also provides further evidence of Masaccio’s enduring persistence in Michelangelo’s figural and technical vocabulary. Significantly, he adopted Masaccio’s approach to modelling draperies, as in his use of contrasting and complementary colours in the cangiantismi employed on the Sistine ceiling.18 Furthermore, about twenty years later than this drawing, the pose of the shivering neophyte with his arms crossed appears in a figurine placed top right on a design for the tomb of the Magnifici in the Medici Chapel, Florence (c.1525–25; Louvre).19 It resurfaced much later in his work as a tragic archetype, in the hooded and bearded man standing in the lower right foreground of the Crucifixion of St Peter, frescoed in the Pauline Chapel in the Vatican between 1545 and 1550

(Fig.16),20 and, as astutely recognised by Paul Joannides, in the St John and the Virgin standing with their arms clasping their chests in the Crucifixion drawings of the 1560s (Fig.15). At a time when the ageing artist was looking back to early Christian imagery and embracing a return to a ‘primitive’ aesthetic, the frequent echo of Masaccio’s figure in these late Crucifixions is not surprising.21 On the basis of this recurrence of the figure in his work one could argue that Michelangelo kept the drawing with him until the end, although it is not recorded in his possession. Its provenance goes back only to the Turin collector Modesto Ignazio Bonaventura Genevosio (1719– 95), who strangely attributed it to the Bolognese painter Pietro Faccini (1562–1602), a name repeated twice on the light green mount, which is of the type used by Genevosio for his drawings (Fig.17). His remarkable collection included drawings of the highest quality, among them sheets by Leonardo, Raphael and Parmigianino.22 In 1794 part of the collection was sold to his friend Giovanni Antonio Turinetti, Marquis of Priero (1762–1801). When Turinetti died, 330 drawings were inventoried in his will, which unfortunately does not provide descriptions of the individual 15. Crucifixion with the Virgin, St John and Mary Magdalen, by Michelangelo. c.1560–64. Black chalk on paper, 40.5 by 21.8 cm. (Royal Collection; © HM Queen Elizabeth II, 2022). 16. Detail of the Crucifixion of St Peter, by Michelangelo. 1545–50. Fresco. (Pauline Chapel, Rome; Bridgeman Images).

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works.23 According to the will, Genevosio owned two drawings by Pietro Faccini and at least six by Michelangelo although only two sheets by the latter known today bear his collector’s stamp (Lugt 545): a red-chalk study of two seated nudes, known as Adam and Eve, in the Musée BonnatHelleu, Bayonne; and the present drawing.24 From Italy the drawing ultimately found its way to France. It appeared at a Drouot auction in 1907, as attested by a lot description pasted on the back of the frame in which it is simply described as ‘figure nues et drapées’ with an attribution to ‘Michel-Ange (École de)’. The drawing was acquired, possibly at the sale, by the renowned French pianist and conductor Alfred Cortot (1877–1962). It remained in a French private collection, where it was recognised by the present author, until it was sold at Christie’s, Paris, in May 2022.

Far from being simply a juvenile exercise by a young artist, the rediscovered drawing prompts consideration of Masaccio’s enduring appeal to Florentine artists of successive generations and the degree to which that was diffused beyond the city through the European-wide admiration for Michelangelo. Domenico Ghirlandaio, Michelangelo’s first master, would have played an important role both in the artist’s exploration of linear systems of rendering in pen and ink and in sparking his pupil’s interest in Florentine masters from the previous generation. A drawing of c.1489 after two figures in Fra Filippo Lippi’s Banquet of Herod, frescoed in Prato c.1467 (Fig.18), attests to Ghirlandaio’s practice of copying examples by earlier masters using a tight ink manner, in order to absorb their method of composition, sculptural modelling and direct storytelling, elements that were channelled into his own frescos.25 Later, however, between 1492 and 1494, during his time studying the sculptures in the garden of S. Marco, Michelangelo approached the great fathers of Tuscan art in a more critical way. In his mentoring of the young artists using the giardino, Bertoldo di Giovanni, the ‘guardian’ of S. Marco, provided them with examples from the past, including, in the words of Vasari, ‘many drawings, cartoons and models by the hand of Donato [Donatello], Pippo [Filippo Brunelleschi], Masaccio, Paolo Uccello, Fra Giovanni [Angelico], Fra Filippo [Lippi] and other masters, both native and foreign’.26 Also at S. Marco, Michelangelo became acquainted with the work of Lorenzo’s tutor, the humanist Cristoforo Landino, whose commentary on Dante’s Divine Comedy, published in 1481, included a memorable eulogy of Masaccio, praising him as an ‘excellent imitator of nature, with great and comprehensive relief, good at composition, pure and without decoration’.27 These words must have been echoing in Michelangelo’s mind in 1494, when in Bologna he recited verses from Dante for his protector Gianfrancesco Aldrovandi, as later described by Condivi.28 Within the milieu of the S. Marco garden, Lorenzo was himself a champion of the past glories of Tuscan art, having famously commissioned in 1490 the funerary monuments of both Fra Filippo Lippi in Spoleto and Giotto in Florence. Nevertheless, Michelangelo’s appreciation of these masters was neither solely an erudite revival nor a patriotic celebration of the Florentine past. From his earliest artistic creations, he was seemingly less interested in the current trends in Florentine art than in looking look back to masters who exemplified his own artistic values. The work of Giotto, Donatello, Masaccio and, to some extent, Jacopo della Quercia embodied the simplicity, eloquence and rigour he sought in both sculpture and painting. These elements seem to be at odds with the prevalent direction of Florentine art during the late quattrocento, if not radically opposed to it, especially when compared to the precious sophistication expressed in the art of some of the protagonists of Laurentian Florence, such as the Pollaiuolo brothers, Sandro Botticelli and Verrocchio. As has been argued by some scholars,

23 Archivio di Stato, Sezioni Riunite, Archivio dell’Insinuazione, Turin, 1801, Libro 9, vol.8, fols.3448r–3459r; for the full transcription, see Cifani and Monetti 2002, op. cit. (note 22), pp.203–06. 24 Musée Bonnat-Helleu, Bayonne, inv. no.125. Four drawings by Michelangelo and two from his school are listed in the folder Cartella prima no.30, and two by Michelangelo in the folder Cartella 3a. N. 37. The drawing may have been listed under Faccini, by whom Genevosio owned two drawings, in Cartella 5a. N. 62 and Cartella 6a. N. 48, see Cifani and Monetti 2002, op. cit. (note 22), pp.205 and 206. 25 Hessisches Landesmuseum, Darmstadt, inv. no.A.E. 1284. See J. Cadigan: Ghirlandaio: Artist and

di Dante Alighieri poeta fiorentino, Florence 1481; for the Proemio, see J.H. Beck: Masaccio: The Documents, Florence and New York 1978, p.29. 28 A. Condivi: Vita di Michelagnolo raccolta per Ascanio Condivi, Rome 1553, p.9v. 29 Sisi et al., op. cit. (note 13), pp.13–14; and R. Bartalini: ‘Review of Michelangelo e i maestri del Quattrocento’, Prospettiva 42 (July 1985), pp.74–75. 30 The topic is tangentially addressed in A. Natali: ‘L’esercizio sulle fonti: modelli antichi e moderni’, in A. Petrioli Tofani, ed.: exh. cat. Il disegno fiorentino del tempo di Lorenzo il Magnifico, Florence (GDSU) 1992, pp.22–40.

17. Fig.1 showing the Genevosio mount.


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Artisan, New Haven and London 2000, pp.292–93, no.80. 26 ‘Era allora custode e capo di detti giovani Bertoldo scultore fiorentino, vecchio e pratico maestro, e stato già discepolo di Donato; onde insegnava loro, e parimente aveva cura alle cose del giardino et a’ molti disegni, cartoni e modelli di mano di Donato, Pippo, Masaccio, Paulo Uc[c]ello, fra’ Giovanni, fra’ Filippo e d’altri maestri paesani e forestieri’, Vasari, op. cit. (note 1), IV, p.125 (Life of Pietro Torrigiano). 27 ‘Fu Masaccio optimo imitatore di natura, di gran rilievo universale, buono compositore et puro senza ornato’, C. Landino: Commento di Cristoforo Landino fiorentino sopra la commedia

31 ‘Il pittore debbe prima suefare la mano col ritrarre disegni di mano di boni maestri, e fatto detta suefazione col giudizio del suo precettore, debbe di poi suefarsi col ritrarre cose di rilevo bone’, J. Venerella, ed.: The Manuscripts of Leonardo da Vinci in the Institut de France: Manuscript A, Milan 1999, p.246, transl. C.C. Bambach in idem, ed.: exh. cat. Leonardo da Vinci: Master Draftsman, New York (Metropolitan Museum of Art) 2003, p.155. 32 An attempt has recently been made to attribute a drawing to Michelangelo’s early apprenticeship with Ghirlandaio, c.1488–90, see T. Clifford: ‘Michelangelo’s earliest drawing’, in Z. Kárpati and E. Nagy, eds: exh. cat. Triumph of


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A rediscovered drawing by the young Michelangelo

by copying Masaccio’s work, Michelangelo set out both his personal artistic trajectories and his critical attitude towards the art of his own time.29 Furthermore, with his copies after the old masters, Michelangelo possibly helped to introduce a practice hitherto undocumented in the Italian workshops of the quattrocento, which were traditionally inclined to adopt exemplars derived either from Classical Antiquity or real-life models.30 In the near-contemporary Manuscript A of 1490–92, which contains the first formulations of his artistic precepts, Leonardo da Vinci encouraged a pupil learning his craft ‘to accustom his hand by portraying drawings from the hands of able masters, and having developed this habit with the judgment of his master, he ought then to portray things in good relief ’ – meaning to render three-dimensional objects from life.31 As attested by the many copies of Leonardo’s drawings produced by his pupils and followers in Milan, by ‘able masters’ (‘boni maestri’) he was probably recommending that his pupils copy the work of their own teachers, rather than that of a master from the past. Despite the lack of surviving drawings by Michelangelo from his time with Ghirlandaio, it can be supposed that he undertook this practice.32 His 18. Study of two women conversing, by Domenico Ghirlandaio after Filippo Lippi. c.1489. Pen and brown ink, heightened with white gouache, on blue paper, 24.6 by 15.5 cm. (Hessisches Landesmuseum, Darmstadt).

astounding talent allowed him, however, to move beyond this purely didactic phase very quickly, to the point that he was able to correct the drawings of his own master, Ghirlandaio, as recalled by Vasari in a touching passage in his biography of Michelangelo.33 Conveying a technical virtuosity and brilliance far superior to the exercises of a young pupil, the drawings he made after Masaccio and Giotto are mature works in their own right and they eloquently express the young Michelangelo’s ideas. Although Vasari placed Michelangelo at the pinnacle of a long list of artists inspired by and trained up on Masaccio’s frescos at S. Maria del Carmine, from Fra Angelico to Perino del Vaga, his copies are nevertheless the earliest surviving examples of their kind.34 This group demonstrates an artistic awareness and sense of the past that is unprecedented for an artist of the late quattrocento. By looking backwards and selecting his own artistic predecessors in the form of Giotto and Masaccio, Michelangelo was the first to break with a linear workshop tradition.35 Overlooked by modern scholars, this crucial aspect of Michelangelo’s intellectual output was fully acknowledged by Vasari. In the second edition of his biography of the artist, Vasari notably downplayed Ghirlandaio’s influence on Michelangelo’s artistic formation, while greatly emphasising the inspirational role played by the old masters – Giotto and Masaccio primarily – to the point of opening his biography with an invocation to what had been achieved ‘in the light of the most famous Giotto’ (‘col lume del famosissimo Giotto’). It could be said that for Vasari, Michelangelo was comparable to Minerva, who sprang fully armed from the head of Jupiter. It is widely acknowledged that Michelangelo’s assessment of the art of the past directly influenced and even informed some of Vasari’s writing, organisation and periodisation of the Lives.36 This is particularly evident in the biographies of Giotto, Masaccio and Fra Filippo Lippi, where Michelangelo’s opinion of their work is quoted, and in the prominence given to the biographies of some of the artist’s favourite artists, such as Jacopo della Quercia and Luca Signorelli. In the light of the newly discovered drawing, Vasari’s emphasis on the shivering man in the Brancacci chapel both in the Proemio and the Life of Masaccio, quoted above, strengthens the evidence for Michelangelo’s influence on the Lives. For Vasari, Michelangelo represented both the pinnacle of artistic progress and the touchstone against which all earlier art must be compared. Since Michelangelo had identified Giotto and Masaccio as his ancestors, Vasari elevated all three to cardinal points in the structure of the Lives, placing their biographies as markers of essential shifts in the evolution of art: the end of the ‘Greek manner’ with Giotto; the rise of the ‘second age’ with Masaccio; and the peak of the ‘modern manner’ with Michelangelo. It is remarkable how this understanding of the historical development of Italian art – which remains valid today – was first illustrated in Michelangelo’s early drawings. the Body: Michelangelo and Sixteenth-Century Italian Draughtsmanship, Boston (Museum of Fine Arts) 2019, pp.49–65. 33 Vasari, op. cit. (note 1), VI, p.7. 34 Ibid., III, p.132. To the present author’s knowledge, the only example that can be dated within the quattrocento is a highly damaged drawing in the Uffizi that shows Masaccio’s St Peter baptising the catechumens on the recto and studies of legs, a man in profile and feet after the Antique on the verso: GDSU, inv. no.6 S. See entry by A. Natali in Petrioli Tofani, op. cit. (note 30), no.1.8 (as Filippo Lippi); G.R. Goldner: ‘A drawing by Masaccio: a study for the Brancacci

Chapel’, Apollo (November 1994), pp.22–23 (as Masaccio); online catalogue of the Gallerie degli Uffizi (as anonymous Florentine), available at euploos.uffizi.it, accessed 19th April 2022. 35 Bartalini, op. cit. (note 29), pp.74–75; and P. Barocchi with G. Agosti and F. Caglioti: exh. cat. Il giardino di San Marco: Maestri e compagni del giovane Michelangelo, Florence (Casa Buonarroti) 1992, p.65. 36 See G. Previtali: La fortuna dei primitivi: Dal Vasari ai neoclassici, Turin, 1964, p.13; Bartalini, op. cit. (note 29), pp.74–75; and more recently D. Parker: ‘The function of Michelangelo in Vasari’s “Lives”’, I Tatti 21, no.1 (2018), pp.137–57.

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