This rare, bold, and large drawing was a preparatory cartoon (full-scale drawing), for a fresco painting of 1548-49 in the cappella del Pallio, a small private chapel of the Cardinal Alessandro Farnese (1520-1589) in the Palazzo della Cancelleria in Rome. It is a design for St. John the Evangelist, painted on the underside of the main arch over the altar of the chapel, and is the only surviving cartoon by Salviati. The artist posed the deeply expressive male figure in a relief-like plane, with an elegant contrapposto (the turning of the body and its limbs in counterpoints of form), to create suggestive profile and frontal views that enhance the visual power of the image. The drawing is executed with very dynamic contrasts of finish and unfinish, in which the charcoal is at times seamlessly blended for polished, highly luminous effects, while at other times the bold strokes of the charcoal applied in parallel and cross-hatching are left evident for expressive effects. As a final step, Salviati traced the outlines of the figure with a fine metal point, a quicker way to transfer the design onto the plaster fresco surface, than the technique of pricking and pouncing the outlines with a sharp point. A sixteenth-century collector annotated the sheet at lower right with Salviati’s nickname: "Cichin[o] Salviati."
(Carmen C. Bambach)