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Michelangelo (1475) (1475 - 1564)

Lot 18: Michelagniolo di Ludovico Buonarroti, called Michelangelo (Caprese 1475-1564 Rome)


January 24, 2006
New York, NY, US

More About this Item


The head and torso of a man looking down to the left, with a subsidiary study of his left shoulder and two further studies of his right shoulder (recto)
The musculature of the hip and thigh of the right leg, and an architectural profile (verso)
black chalk, the outlines indented with a stylus, fragmentary watermark six-pointed star
9 3/4 x 6 7/8 in. (248 x 176 mm.)

Artist or Maker

Michelagniolo di Ludovico Buonarroti, called Michelangelo (Caprese 1475-1564 Rome)


London, British Museum, Drawings by Michelangelo, 1953, no. 109.
Manchester, Between Renaissance and Baroque, 1965, no. 339.
Edinburgh, Merchants' Hall, Italian 16th Century Drawings from British Private Collections, 1969, no. 44, pl. 20.
London, P. & D. Colnaghi and Oxford, Ashmolean Museum, Loan Exhibition of drawings by Old Masters from the collection of Mr. Geoffrey Gathorne-Hardy, 1971, no. 6, pl. IV.
London, British Museum, Drawings by Michelangelo, 1975, no. 32.


Descriptive catalogue of drawings... in the possession of the Hon. A.E. Gathorne-Hardy, London, 1902, no. 9.
B. Berenson, The Drawings of the Florentine Painters, Chicago, 1903, no. 1541; 2nd edn., Chicago, 1938, no. 1544c.
H. Thode, Michelangelo, Kritische Untersuchungen, Berlin, 1908, p. 492, reprinted 1912, p. 163, no. 369.
J. Wilde, Italian Drawings in the Department of Prints and Drawings in the British Museum. Michelangelo and his Studio, London, 1953, under no. 80.
L. Düssler, Die Zeichnungen des Michelangelo, Berlin, 1959, no.
337, pls. 122 and 220.
F. Hartt, The Drawings of Michelangelo, London, 1971, no. 477.
C. de Tolnay, Corpus dei Disegni di Michelangelo, Novara, 1975, I, no. 382.
C. de Tolnay, I disegni di Michelangelo nelle collezioni italiane, exhib. cat., Florence, Uffizi, 1975, under no. 70.
P. Joannides, review of de Tolnay's Corpus..., The Art Bulletin, December 1981, p. 684.
M. Hirst, Michelangelo and his Drawings, New Haven and London, 1988, pp. 28, 40, 69, fig. 144.
A. Nagel, 'Observations on Michelangelo's late Pietà drawings and sculptures', Zeitschrift für Künstgeschichte, LIX (1996), p. 568.
P. Joannides, Catalogue of drawings by Michelangelo in the Ashmolean Museum, Oxford, Oxford, [forthcoming], under no. 49.


Possibly by descent in the family of the artist at the Casa Buonarroti, Florence.
John Malcolm of Poltalloch (1805-1893), to his son-in-law
The Hon. A.E. Gathorne-Hardy, to his son
Geoffrey Gathorne-Hardy, to his cousin
The Hon. Robert Gathorne-Hardy; Sotheby's, London, 24 November 1976, lot 23.




This powerful study of male anatomy is a characteristic example of Michelangelo's late draughtsmanship, variously dated by scholars between the completion of the Sistine Chapel Last Judgement in 1541 and the very last years of the artist's life. It presents a summation of a long lifetime of contemplating the human form by a master for whom drawing was the foundation of all the arts. As with many of Michelangelo's figure drawings, although it seems most likely tp be for the figure of Christ in a Pietà it does not relate directly to a larger project: unlike his contemporaries, and indeed many artists before and since, Michelangelo seems not to have kept a collection of studies to draw on for inspiration in later works. Instead, each new commission or compositional device was addressed on a blank sheet of paper.

The main study on the recto of the present drawing shows a well-muscled male torso, mapped out first in hard lines made with a sharp piece of chalk and then overlaid with softly shaded and stumped areas describing the play of light across the musculature of the breast, ribcage and abdomen. This combination of a web of hard contours and a covering of shimmering chalk is particularly characteristic of the artist's later drawings, and is a technique to which black chalk is particularly well suited. It has been observed that, as with Leonardo at the same stage in his career, Michelangelo used black chalk almost exclusively in the last three decades of his life (H. Chapman, Michelangelo Drawings: Closer to the Master, 2005, p. 22). The softness of black chalk allows a greater variety of subtle tones than more brittle red chalk, a characteristic which may have appealed to Michelangelo as he strived for an ever more intensely reflective and mystical spirit in his late works. Although the present drawing may have been made in front of a studio model, the massive, almost superhuman proportions of the figure make it equally possible that the artist was attempting to describe an ideal form, a desire that can be seen, for example, in the representation of the figure of Christ in the Last Judgement.

In addition to a study of a right hip and thigh, the verso of the present drawing shows an architectural profile, as yet not directly related to a known project. Architecture provided the main focus of Michelangelo's later career in Rome, arising from his role as chief architect for Saint Peter's (from 1546 until his death), for the rearrangement of the Piazza del Campidoglio and for the completion of the Palazzo Farnese. The profile in the present drawing is perhaps associated with the design for the lantern of the dome of Saint Peter's, as seen in the Study for the drum and cupola of Saint Peter's now in the Musée de Beaux-Arts, Lille (1546; C. de Tolnay, Corpus... 595), or perhaps with the sequence of radiating chapels in the unrealized Groundplan for San Giovanni de'Fiorentini in the Casa Buonarroti (1559; Corpus 612).


Two other drawings, a Study of the shoulders and upper arms of a male nude in the Ashmolean Museum, Oxford (fig. 1; Corpus 381), and the fragmentary Study of the upper torso of a male nude in the Casa Buonarroti, Florence (fig. 2; Corpus 378), seem to date to the same moment as the present drawing, and indeed it has been suggested that these three may originally have formed part of a single larger sheet of studies (Wilde, loc. cit., followed by later scholars). The watermark on the present drawing, a six-pointed star in the lower left margin, appears as part of a number of more complicated devices found on Michelangelo's drawing papers, and is not 'completed' by fragments of marks on either of the other two sheets.

The Ashmolean drawing concentrates on the shoulders and upper arms of the figure, and although less fully worked than the present drawing does complete the raised left arm and hand which in the present drawing is only lightly indicated in structural lines of black chalk. The Casa Buonarroti drawing is even closer, showing the shoulders and arms and adding the slumped head. This is drawn in a virtuoso shorthand found even on much earlier drawings such as the Risen Christ formerly in the collection of Sir Brinsley Ford, sold Christie's, London, 4 July 2000, lot 83, and now in a private collection (1514-16; Corpus 94). The concentration on the structure of the shoulders is continued in the present drawing in three subsidiary studies below the main figure. These studies, together with the study of the inner thigh on the verso, appear almost as écorché drawings, showing the structure of muscle and bone clearly visible below the skin. This hyper-real depiction must strengthen the possibility that the drawing was not made from a studio model, although it may have been inspired by Michelangelo's study of the 'perfect' proportions of classical antiquity represented in sculptures such as the Laocoon and the Belvedere Torso, both of which were in the Papal Collection.

The Ashmolean drawing was connected by Tolnay to Michelangelo's Crucifixion of Saint Peter in the Pauline Chapel at the Vatican, indicating a date before 1550, a dating which some scholars have suggested for the present drawing. However, both Professor Michael Hirst and Professor Paul Joannides advocate the 1550s, perhaps even towards the end of that decade, placing it among the very last of the artist's figure drawings.


Throughout this period Michelangelo's drawings, as well as his sonnets, show him meditating on the Pietà, a subject which he treated throughout his career but which especially preoccupied him from about 1536, under the influence of the strand of Counter-Reformation thinking adopted by the intellectual circle around the Marchese Vittoria Colonna in Rome of which he was a leading member. Great emphasis was placed on the importance of the Eucharist, and of personal engagement with Christ's sacrifice. Michelangelo seems to have focussed particularly on the body of Christ at the moment between the suffering and death of His human aspect and His ascension into heaven, at the moment when His physical sacrifice for the redemption of mankind was at its most real. This theme is similar in many ways to the images of Christ as Man of Sorrows popular among Northern artists, but perhaps with an even more human aspect.

In several representations the Virgin is shown holding the body of her dead son out of the picture plane towards the viewer, as in the Pietà drawn for Vittoria Colonna herself, now in the Isabella Stewart Gardiner Museum, Boston (1539-40; Corpus 426). The extension of the abdomen in the present drawing, together with the study of an inner thigh on the verso and the studies of knees on the related drawing at the Ashmolean, indicate that the figure was intended to be held full-length as in the Colonna Pietà, rather than horizontally as in more traditional depictions. The raised left arm may suggest that rather than being supported by the Virgin alone there were other attendants, as seen in another drawing in the Ashmolean in which both arrangements are explored (Corpus 433). The concept obsessed Michelangelo for the remainder of his life: Daniele da Volterrra reports that he was working on a sculpture of the Pietè five days before his death.


The greater part of Michelangelo's career was spent in the service of successive Popes, who often actively discouraged him from working for other patrons. Clement VII is reported to have declared 'Digli che io lo voglio tutto per me, e non voglio che e' pensi alle cose del publico, né d'altri ma le mia' ('Tell him that I want him all for myself, and I don't want him thinking of public commissions nor of any others except mine'; quoted in Chapman, op. cit., p. 14). Consequently patrons and collectors who were unable to commission sculptures or paintings from the greatest living artist provided a voracious market for his drawings. Michelangelo however was not interested, and aside from a small number of sheets given to intimates such as Vittoria Colonna and compositional studies made to assist close friends such as Sebastiano del Piombo, he jealously guarded his drawings. Vasari, in his Life of the artist, suggests that he was concerned that others would discover the secret of his genius, but he may simply have been paranoid that his endlessly inventive and very personal works would be plagiarized by unscrupulous competitors. Famously, Michelangelo ensured that this would not happen by burning quantities of drawings in the course of his seven decades as an active artist, and towards the end of his life his nephew Leonardo reported that his uncle had destroyed everything in two bonfires ('lui stesso in due volte abruscio ogni cosa', quoted in Hirst, op. cit., p. 19). Certainly it is remarkable that for an artist who worked actively until his 88th year, and for whom drawing was fundamental, only a little more than 600 drawings survive. From the years after he settled permanently in Rome in 1534, in which he completed among other commissions the Last Judgement and the majority of his architectural work, only about 100 figure drawings and about 40 architectural drawings survive, with an imbalance between projects that suggests many more were indeed made (Hirst, op. cit., p. 17).


On Michelangelo's death in 1564 his body was returned to Florence and interred in Santa Croce in a state ceremony of a grandeur normally accorded only to the higher aristocracy. Predictably there was a great demand for the drawings that were left in his studio, but Daniele da Volterra, the artist's loyal assistant who was at his deathbed, reported that there were only two finished drawings, an Annunciation and a Christ in the Garden of Gethsemane. The report was, however, made at the request of Giorgio Vasari, acting as the agent of the acquisitive Duke Cosimo de' Medici, and as the two drawings were 'presented' to Cosimo soon afterwards it seems very possible that the Buonarroti family had quietly cleared the remains of the studio and put it away for safe keeping. It is not impossible that Leonardo Buonarroti's report of bonfires stemmed from the same motive. The Casa Buonarroti in Florence still retains numerically the largest collection of drawings, but it is noticeable that the majority of these date either from before Michelangelo's final departure from Florence in 1534 or from the very end of his life. With wealth based in part on the shrewd property investments made by Michelangelo himself, the Buonarroti family succeeded in keeping the collection substantially together over the following centuries. Small groups were chipped away from the main holding by enterprising collectors from at least the middle of the 18th Century, a process which accelerated until 1857 when in principle the collection was donated to the City of Florence. Despite the lack of documentary evidence the strong condition of the present drawing and the absence of any dealers' or collectors' inscriptions or marks suggest that it remained in the Buonarroti collection until at least the early 19th Century. Its good state of preservation no doubt reflects the fact that it seems to have been exhibited only very rarely in the past 450 years.

The first documented owner of the drawing is John Malcolm of Poltalloch, a rich Scottish landowner with business interests in the West Indies and Australia. In the words of the introduction to the catalogue of his collection of drawings published in 1866, Malcolm intended to collect only 'exceptionally fine and well preserved' drawings. In this endeavour he was advised by Sir Charles (J.C.) Robinson, superintendent of collections at the South Kensington Museum (later the Victoria and Albert Museum). There is no firm record of where Malcolm purchased the Male Torso, one of 23 drawings securely attributed to Michelangelo in his collection, although it may have been one of two unidentified drawings by Michelangelo bought from Robinson for £10 each, recorded in an entry in his accounts for 31 January 1873 (J. Malcolm, Memorandum of the prices paid at different times for Drawings in my collection, typescript copy held at the British Museum, London). The larger part of Malcolm's collection, including 21 drawings by Michelangelo, was negotiated to the British Museum after his death. However, for a number of years before his death Malcolm had developed a habit of giving single drawings, including masterpieces by Carpaccio and Mantegna as well as Michelangelo, to his son-in-law The Hon. Alfred Gathorne-Hardy. That collection remained in the family until it was dispersed in a series of sales in 1976. A drawing by Michelangelo of a Male nude was sold for £46,200, while the present drawing was sold for £178,200, at the time a world record price for an Old Master Drawing.

We are very grateful to Professor Michael Hirst and Professor Paul Joannides for their help in the research into this drawing.

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January 24, 2006, 12:00 AM EST

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