Study for Saint Peter

This drawing is a preparatory study for the figure of Saint Peter in The Madonna and Child in Glory, with Saints Peter, Bernard, Zeno and Paul in the Church of Santa Maria in Organo, Verona, dated 1533 and probably commissioned by the Della Torre Family, whose coat-of-arms appears at the lower right corner of the canvas. Sensitively drawn in back chalk, the study focuses primarily on Saint Peter's gestures and the resulting disposition of his robe and yellow cloak, examining the strong fall of light from the left, which lends them a sculptural quality. Saint Peter looks up towards the Virgin with his left arm holding a book and his right hand extended; in the painting he holds keys. Savoldo left the physiognomy of the face undescribed as he most likely drew a detailed head study for this figure (the Getty has such a head study for the figure of Saint Paul in the same altarpiece). The study is rooted in close observation, with carefully applied black and white chalk used to model the rich folds of the drapery, and robust black chalk hatching around the figures highlighting them on the sheet and producing dramatic effects of chiaroscuro.

The deeply naturalistic drawing was likely made from a studio assistant posed as Saint Peter, and on each edge of the sheet are chalk indications used for maintaining proportions as the design was transferred to the painting. Such studies were usually entirely covered in a grid of squaring, and it is rare for an artist to spare a drawing in this manner. The decision perhaps came from an intent to reuse the sheet for a figure in another painting, a common practice, or simply a desire to preserve such an extraordinarily beautiful and satisfying drawing.

Black and white chalk on previously blue paper (about 1533)

by Giovanni Girolamo Savoldo (Italian (Lombard), about 1480-after 1548)

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