Published: October 24, 2000
LONDON, ENGLAND – An important, unknown drawing by Michelangelo has been discovered at Castle Howard in Yorkshire. The drawing is a three-quarter length study of a “Mourning Woman,” seen from the side, her face obscured by the large folds of her heavy cloak. It is valued at $9/12 million and will be sold by Sotheby’s on behalf of the trustees of the will of the late Lord Howard of Henderskelfe.
The early drawing by Michelangelo was discovered in an album of otherwise undistinguished Old Master drawings in the Library at Castle Howard. Stock recognized it as belonging to a small group of large-scale figure studies by Michelangelo, which the artist is thought to have made early in his career, between about 1495 and 1505.
The Hon Simon Howard, who lives at Castle Howard, said the discovery had taken him entirely by surprise. He said the work was being sold because he felt it should be in a public collection where it could be seen by a greater number of people. It was not possible to display it at Castle Howard, where the cost of insurance against the risk of theft would be prohibitive.
The drawing bears the collector’s mark of the Eighteenth Century artist and connoisseur, Jonathan Richardson Sr. Although there is no record of exactly when the drawing entered the collection at Castle Howard, it was most probably purchased at the 1747 London auction of Richardson’s celebrated drawings collection, where Henry Howard, 4th Earl of Carlisle, is known to have been an active buyer. By that time, however, the attribution to Michelangelo had already been lost, and it was to be more than 250 years before the drawing’s authorship was once again recognized.
The drawing is similar in character to four other early figure drawings by Michelangelo, all in museum collections, in Paris, Munich, Vienna and London. Each of these drawings shows one or two figures, drawn with very strong, dense pen work, on a large scale, so as to fill the sheet almost entirely. Two have been identified as being based on frescoes by the earlier masters, Giotto and Masaccio, and all are clearly inspired by the spirit of Thirteenth and early Fourteenth Century Florentine painting, which Michelangelo studied closely at the beginning of his career. The Castle Howard drawing has, however, been dated to around 1505, slightly later than these earliest figure studies, and is an important, transitional link between them and Michelangelo’s subsequent, more independent and personal works.
Excluding the Michelangelo drawings in the Royal Collection, only three other important drawings by the artist are known that are still in private hands. The Castle Howard drawing is also only the second major Michelangelo drawing to be discovered in the past quarter century (the other was the large, late drawing of “Christ and the Woman of Samaria,” sold at Sotheby’s New York in January 1998, for just under $7.5 million.
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