Studying Raphael: drawings and cartoons

Preparatory drawings and hidden undrawings can help uncover an artist's preliminary thoughts for a composition. Discover the development of Raphael's plans for Saint Catherine.

Before artists began working on a panel or canvas they usually explored ideas on paper. The preparatory sketches for Raphael’s painting of Saint Catherine provide a useful insight into this creative process.

Raphael, Saint Catherine of Alexandria, about 1507
Raphael, Saint Catherine of Alexandria, about 1507

Two sheets of drawings (currently at the Ashmolean Museum in Oxford) contain a number of preparatory studies for the painting. A rapid sketch reveals that Raphael initially considered the subject for a full-length composition.

Sketch of full-length composition for Raphael, Saint Catherine
The full-length composition
Raphael, 'Study for Saint Catherine', about 1507
The Ashmolean Museum, Oxford. Presented by a Body of Subscribers, 1846
© Copyright in this Photograph Reserved to the Ashmolean Museum, Oxford

Sketch of three-quarter length composition for Raphael, Saint Catherine
Exploring the three-quarter length compostion
Raphael, 'Four studies for Saint Catherine', about 1507
The Ashmolean Museum, Oxford. Presented by a Body of Subscribers, 1846
© Copyright in this Photograph Reserved to the Ashmolean Museum, Oxford

In another drawing he explores his final composition, a three-quarter length portrait.

On the other side of the sheet of paper the head of Saint Catherine is studied in more detail.

Sketch of head for Raphael, Saint Catherine
Raphael, 'Head of Saint Catherine and sketches of cupids', about 1507-8
The Ashmolean Museum, Oxford. Presented by Body of Subscribers, 1846
© Copyright in this Photograph Reserved to the Ashmolean Museum, Oxford 

Using cartoons

Often, Raphael relied not only on preparatory drawings but also on a cartoon. A cartoon is a full-size drawing made for transferring the composition to the painting support by pouncing or tracing.

Pouncing involves pricking the outlines of a cartoon and dusting powdered charcoal or pigment through the holes on to the support. The resulting dots would then be joined up to complete the design. Tracing involves blackening a sheet of paper with charcoal or black chalk. This paper is laid between the prepared panel and the drawing. The artist then follows the outline of the drawing with a stylus, creating a copy of the drawing on the panel below.

The Saint Catherine cartoon

A pricked cartoon for Raphael’s 'Saint Catherine' is kept at the Musée du Louvre in Paris.

Cartoon for Raphael, Saint Catherine
Raphael, 'Cartoon for 'Saint Catherine'', about 1507
Musée du Louvre, Paris. Département des Arts Graphiques
© RMN, Paris. Photo Michèle Bellot 

Raphael’s use of this cartoon to transfer his design has been confirmed by infrared examination of the painting, showing pounced dots under the paint along some of the outlines.

Raphael carefully followed most of the outlines of the cartoon in his painting. However, he changed the position of the head and the facial features. When he began to paint, he also omitted the knot of drapery on the saint’s right shoulder. The knot was faintly drawn in the cartoon and pricked for transfer. It is present in the underdrawing on the panel.

IRR detail of head from Raphael, Saint Catherine
Detail from infrared reflectogram showing the head of Saint Catherine 

IRR detail of shoulder from Raphael, Saint Catherine
The faintly drawn knot of drapery, ommited in the final painting, shows up in the infrared reflectogram

Raphael
1483 - 1520

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