Rediscovered Raphael drawing of a horse and rider to be auctioned

Raphael's study for the Battle of the Milvian Bridge, depicts a rider on horseback and a horse’s head and eye. It was done in red chalk and pen. Source; Dorotheum
Raphael’s study for the Battle of the Milvian Bridge, depicts a rider on horseback and a horse’s head and eye. It was done in red chalk and pen. Source: Dorotheum

A recently rediscovered Raphael drawing of a horse and rider will be offered by auction in Vienna this month.

The work, in red chalk and pen on paper, was recently identified as a late drawing by Raffaello Sanzio, called Raphael, the central artist of the High Renaissance.

The sketch, depicting a horse and rider, with further details of a horse’s head and eye, is one of the few known drawings by Raphael from his late period.

The study is especially significant because of its role within one of the most ambitious artistic projects of the 16th century — the decoration of the grand papal apartments in the Vatican.

The drawing, being offered in the Old Masters auction by the Vienna-based auction house Dorotheum on October 25, is a preparatory study for a part of the fresco of the Battle of the Milvian Bridge in the Hall of Constantine.

The Stanze, known collectively as the ‘Raphael Rooms’, are regarded as amongst the most significant achievements of art history. They were originally intended as a suite of apartments for Pope Julius II. He commissioned Raphael, then a relatively young artist from Urbino, and his studio to redecorate the interiors of the rooms.

The drawing, on a piece of paper measuring 22cm by 24cm, provides fresh insight into Raphael’s working practices.

“Compositional and stylistic details confirm that this is a preparatory study by Raphael for the celebrated fresco,” Dorotheum’s Old Master specialist, Mark MacDonnell, says: “It has an energy, a verve, a movement, and a quality which make this sheet an outstanding rarity.”

The central fresco of the Hall of Constantine in the Stanze depicts the Battle of the Milvian Bridge between the first Christian emperor Constantine and his rival Maxentius. It was to be the climax of the iconographic program of the Stanze: The historic victory of Christianity over paganism.

This monumental fresco depicts the two armies in the midst of the heated struggle – a scene of intense emotion and movement, with intertwining bodies in action. Extensive planning and preparatory drawings were necessary for such an elaborate scheme.

The sketch is one of only three surviving drawings for this fresco by the master’s hand, the other two being in the Louvre and the Ashmolean Museum in Oxford.

The study has been held in private collections and was once previously attributed to Rubens. Now, through comparative analysis of technique and composition, the study has been recognised as Raphael’s own work.

The significance of the sketched falling horse and rider is evident in its prominent position within the finished fresco.

Raphael did not live to see the completion of the fresco as he died in 1520, and his pupil Giulio Romano took over the final painting. But the drawing of this group in the composition illustrates how closely Raphael himself was involved in the design of the commission which crowns his achievements in the Vatican Palace.

In addition, the sheet of paper used by Raphael for the study provides a fascinating insight into the day-to-day practice of the 16th-century artist’s workshop.

Worksheets were often used several times to record ideas. On the other side of the sheet are drawings by Raphael’s assistant, Polidoro da Caravaggio, executed later.

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