Andrea produced six of the drawings displayed in the Lower Level North Gallery to prepare his altarpiece known as The Madonna of the Steps, a painting too fragile to travel from its home institution, the Museo del Prado, Madrid. Commissioned probably in the early 1520s by Lorenzo di Bernardo Jacopi (1476–at least 1549), it depicts the Virgin and Child on a set of steps with an angel at right and a male saint at left. He may be St. Matthew, the saint of bankers, suitable to the profession of the patron as a money changer.
The painting’s balanced composition and carefully studied figures give no hint of the substantial changes Andrea made to the composition as he developed it on paper and panel; he certainly continued to work out details in drawings even after he had laid down the initial composition on the panel surface. Though the angel kneeling at right holds a book, he was initially designed to hold a lamb (a symbol of Christ). Two drawings (Study of a Kneeling Figure in Profile to the Left and Studies of Arms, Legs, Hands, and Drapery) show Andrea’s studio model holding a sack, probably a workshop prop that easily stood in for a small creature.
The range in handling of red and black chalk in these sheets and the focused and often repeated study of specific details attest to the intensity of Andrea’s preparation for his painting and suggest the rigor with which he approached, analyzed, and developed his compositions. The drawings could also be reused to prepare other paintings, and they often were.