Vision of the True Cross appearing to St. Helen

William Young Ottley British

Not on view

Saint Helen, mother of Emperor Constantine, is seated on a low cushioned stool and looking toward a cross enveloped in light. This compositional study illustrates the discovery of relics related to Christ’s Crucifixion. Ottley is remembered as a scholar and a connoisseur, but he was also an accomplished artist, living in Italy from 1791 to 1799 and carefully recording fresco cycles by Giotto and other masters. He certainly knew Renaissance renditions of the Legend of the True Cross; the present drawing is not a copy but an imaginative rethinking of the subject. In style and treatment of anatomy it recalls drawings at the British Museum, where Ottley served as keeper of prints and drawings, and the dynamic pose is indebted to representations of the ancestors of Christ on Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel ceiling.

Vision of the True Cross appearing to St. Helen, William Young Ottley (British, Thatcham, Berkshire 1771–1836 London), Graphite and black chalk

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