Figures in One of Michelangelo's Niches on the Apse of St. Peters, Rome

Artist: Hubert Robert (French, Paris 1733–1808 Paris)

Date: ca. 1763

Medium: Red chalk. Framing lines in pen and brown ink.

Dimensions: 17 15/16 x 13 3/16 in. (45.6 x 33.5 cm)

Classification: Drawings

Credit Line: Bequest of Walter C. Baker, 1971

Accession Number: 1972.118.229

Description

This undated drawing relates to a group of views of the Vatican Robert executed in 1763. To emphasize the curvature of Michelangelo's niche, Robert chose a low, oblique vantage point. The perspective presented difficulties nonetheless, despite his use of a straight edge in places. On the left, the hatching sets the columns in shadow, but does not produce a convincing sense of volume. Nor is the rendering of the right side of the pediment, where it is supported by columns and brackets, convincing, largely due to the fact that the perspective of the cornice and that of the entablature do not align. Despite the clumsiness of occasional passages, the architecture plays host to groupings of quickly sketched peasants, some of whom have clambered up into the empty niche, occupying a space presumably intended for sculptures. In the background, a couple of tiny figures are seen in silhouette atop a high wall.

The same niche can be seen from a different and more distant vantage point in an unpublished red chalk drawing formerly in the Gurlitt collection (Berlin, Kunstfund Gurlitt, acc. no. 533090). Signed and dated "1763," the sheet was counter-proofed and reworked with watercolor by the artist who sold it to Pierre-Jean Mariette (Vienna, Albertina, acc. no. 12433).

Perhaps the errors in perspective deterred Robert from selling the Met’s drawing. In any case, it stayed in his studio until his death. Along with another drawing in the museum’s collection, Figures in a Roman Arcade (1972.118.228), this sheet would have been part of nos. 311 to 315, or 317 of the inventory drawn up on August 18, 1821, following the death of Robert’s wife.

(Sarah Catala, December 2016)

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