Study for "The Ascension"

Artist: John Singleton Copley (American, Boston, Massachusetts 1738–1815 London)

Date: 1774

Medium: Ink ("Bistre") washes, pen and ink, black chalk, and graphite on off-white laid paper, watercolor

Dimensions: 15 1/4 x 20 3/8 in. (38.7 x 51.8 cm)

Classification: Drawings

Credit Line: Harris Brisbane Dick Fund, 1960

Accession Number: 60.44.16


As an ambitious young painter in the colonies, Copley had little opportunity for artistic training or access to works of art by established artists. He sought advice from Benjamin West and Joshua Reynolds in England, who both counseled him to study in Europe. In 1774, on the eve of the American Revolution, he sailed for London before heading to Italy for almost a year. He spent six months in Rome, where he was inspired by the works of the great Renaissance painter Raphael (1483–1520) to paint the Ascension of Christ. Before creating his interpretation of the scene, Copley carefully studied Raphael’s Transfiguration (ca. 1516–20) in the Vatican and called him "the greatest of the modern painters." This preparatory drawing is squared for transfer to the canvas for the final composition.