LONDON, ENGLAND – One of the most important drawings to appear at auction in the modern era became the most expensive Old Master drawing ever when it sold for $12,305,206 at Christie’s on July 4. “Study for the Risen Christ” by Michelangelo Buonarroti (1475-1564), a pen, red and black chalk preparatory study for a marble statue commissioned for the Church of Santa Maria sopra Minerva in Rome, formed part of the collection of the well-known British connoisseur Sir Brinsley Ford for over 50 years. The drawing was sold to the German dealer Kattin Bellinger.
“This working drawing for the marble sculpture of the Risen Christ sheds light on Michelangelo’s thought process and the gestation of that process,” said Noel Annesley, deputy chairman of the auction house.
Drawn from life and originally sketched in black chalk, the contours of the male figure are delicately retraced in pen. The play of light and shade is a central feature of the drawing which explores the area of the male abdomen and the rounded form of the left leg. The modeling is achieved through a varied system of cross-hatching, and the areas of highlight are conveyed by leaving the paper untouched and blank.
The sculpture of the “Risen Christ” was originally commissioned in 1514. It remains the only sculpture that the artist completed in the thirty years following the painting of the Sistine ceiling. The sheet finds Michelangelo bringing a sculptural approach to drawing, using several sweeping strokes as he searched for the form of the body, almost as if the artist was working on a three-dimensional surface rather than on paper.
The late Sir Brinsley Ford, a much-loved and respected figure in the art world, was a collector, connoisseur and patron, and a noted authority on many aspects of English Eighteenth Century art and in particular the Grand Tour. He worked tirelessly for the preservation and extension of the nation’s artistic heritage, acting as chairman of the National Arts Collection Fund for many years and as a trustee of the National Gallery.
He purchased this prized sheet at Christie’s in July 1936 at the Henry Oppenheimer sale of Old Master drawings. He was following a grand tradition of British connoisseurship that has meant that some two-fifths of Michelangelo’s surviving drawings remain in British collections.
The previous record price for a work of art by Michelangelo at auction was $7,482,500, established when “Christ and the Woman of Samaria” sold in New York in January 1998.