Raphael’s Studies after Michelangelo’s David (1507-8)

Raphael arrived in Florence in 1504 at the age of 21 and eagerly studied the works of two living giants, Leonardo and Michelangelo. The latter's masterpiece, David, had just been placed outside the Palazzo Vecchio and it is thought that Raphael may have had the chance to view it from the rear side prior to its final placement. Regardless, some wonder why Raphael in the closest extant drawing after the sculpture (below) copied it from the rear.1

Raphael, as is often noted, adapted David for his own purposes. He reduced the monumental size of the hands and feet, allowed us (illogically) to look down on David's shoulder and eliminated the sling-strap over his back. Why? Taking, as always, a great master's understanding of art's unity for granted, we can only assume that Raphael understood David as Michelangelo intended and similar to the analysis published here in 2011.2

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Captions for image(s) above:

Raphael, Back view of Michelangelo's David (1507-8) Pen and brown ink over traces of black chalk. British Museum, London

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I explained how David represents both sculptor and sculpture, eliminating the distinction between artist and model. This means that the young David with his stone sling-shot (right) pauses before attacking a giant (Goliath) just as Michelangelo with his hammer turned a giant stone into the small David. This makes David both the "artist" and "masterpiece" while being both victor and victim within the story. Raphael would have seen all that instantly.

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Captions for image(s) above:

L: Raphael, Back view of Michelangelo's David (1507-8)
R: Michelangelo, David (1501-04)

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He depicted the masterpiece from the rear as though David the "artist" is confronting the sheet of paper itself. This "David" is both "Michelangelo" and "Raphael", the archetypal artist, contemplating what he is about to draw with his right arm. He is relaxed as artists should be before action.3 

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Captions for image(s) above:

Raphael, Back view of Michelangelo's David (1507-8)

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In two other sketches by Raphael based on David he looks out over his shoulder with his active arm bent.4 He turns to look at his "model" or "reflection in the mirror", as artists do, while facing the image he "draws". At left, the unseen image is perpendicular to the right edge; at right, it is again the one we see.5   

The unity of art is such that any great artist in any period would see that these simple sketches are pregnant with meaning. Historians, on the other hand, unaware of art's unity, see nothing but appearances colored by the prejudices of their own period and the one they study. Don't be fooled.

Captions for image(s) above:

L: Raphael, Study of a Nude Model  (1507-08)
R: Raphael, Study of a Nude Model (1507-08)

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Notes:

1. Michael W. Kwakkelstein, “The Model's Pose: Raphael's Early Use of Antique and Italian Art”, Artibus et Historiae 23, 2002, p. 37

2. Simon Abrahams, "Michelangelo's David (1501-04)", published on EPPH, 17th Nov. 2011.

3. Many sages in the past have advised that any action by anyone proceeds from rest and that to act well requires relaxation, balance and a brief pause, however short, before starting.

4. K. T. Parker, Catalogue of the Collection of Drawings in the Ashmolean Museum, vol. ii, The Italian Schools (Oxford University Press) 1956, no. 522 recto. Philip Pouncey and J. A. Gere, Italian Drawings in the Department of Prints and Drawings in the British Museum: Raphael and his Circle, 2 vols. (London) 1962, p. 12, no. 15 summarize previous opinions. Both cited in Kwakkelstein, op. cit, pp. 37 & 56, n.3.

5. For an explanation for a head turned over a shoulder, see Simon Abrahams, "Over the Shoulder Poses", published on EPPH, 25th Feb. 2011. To understand why a hand near the edge suggests an artist at work, see Michael Fried, The Moment of Carvaggio, A.W. Mellon Lectures in the Fine Arts (Princeton University Press) 2010, pp. 1-16 and Abrahams, "Pointing at the Edge", published on EPPH, 1st Dec. 2012.

Original Publication Date on EPPH: 28 Nov 2014. © Simon Abrahams. Articles on this site are the copyright of Simon Abrahams. To use copyrighted material in print or other media for purposes beyond 'fair use', you must obtain permission from the copyright owner. Websites may link to this page without permission (please do) but may not reproduce the material on their own site without crediting Simon Abrahams and EPPH.