Fra Bartolommeo (1472-1517)

The Madonna and Child with Saints (recto); Two Figures (verso)

Florence, about 1509

Black and yellow chalk heightened on white tinted paper

260 x 196 mm

A study for the altarpiece in the church of S. Marco, Florence, painted by Fra Bartolommeo in 1509 (now in the Uffizi). Other drawings are in the Uffizi, the Museum Boymans-van Beuningen, Rotterdam, the Courtauld Institute, and elsewhere.

There are many differences between the composition of the present drawing and that of the picture, which has six saints instead of five, as in the drawing; the Holy Child is transferred in the picture to the Virgin’s left arm, and the angel at the top of the drawing becomes in the picture a pair of flying putti, whose feet are higher than their heads.

This elegant sketch is a preparatory drawing for Fra Bartolommeo’s altarpiece in the church of San Marco in Florence. Using black and yellow chalk, Bartolommeo traced a delicate, whimsical outline of the Virgin and Christ Child appearing on an elevated dais (stage). On a much smaller scale to the Florentine altarpiece, Bartolommeo has encapsulated the majesty and monumentality of the sacred figures. Outlines of curved soft lines and smudging on either side of the Virgin traces a mystical optical veil parted by flying cherubs who reveal the scene. The soft application of chalk has captured a sense of ephemerality and movement.

The drawing on reverse has not been connected with a surviving picture.

Purchased 1936 (No.36.1)