Past Exhibition

The Madonna of the Steps

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.

  • Drawing of a kneeling figure in profile to the left with a separate study of his arm

    Study of a Kneeling Figure in Profile to the Left, ca. 1522
    Red chalk
    10 7/16 x 7 7/8 in. (26.5 x 20 cm)
    Galleria degli Uffizi, Gabinetto Disegni e Stampe, Florence
    Recto
    Courtesy the Ministero dei beni e delle attività culturali e del turismo

    Drawn from a live model (probably one of his garzoni), this sheet prepares the angel at right in The Madonna of the Steps. The mostly nude figure is clothed in the painting with his sleeve rolled into a large bunch at his elbow, and this is anticipated by the study of an arm with a cuffed sleeve. Effects of light and shadow on his muscular back are achieved through rubbing and wetting the chalk, and in quick strokes Andrea renders the figure's right hand resting atop a sack, a stand-in for the lamb that Andrea initially planned for the angel's attribute.

  • Drawing of arms, hands, and legs

    Studies of Arms, Legs, Hands, and Drapery, ca. 1522
    Red and black chalk
    10 3/16 x 7 15/16 in. (25.8 x 20.2 cm)
    Galleria degli Uffizi, Gabinetto Disegni e Stampe, Florence
    Recto
    Courtesy the Ministero dei beni e delle attività culturali e del turismo

    Andrea focuses here on specific details of the same figure that is in his Study of a Kneeling Figure in Profile to the Left. He begins in red chalk with the left arm and rolled sleeve, experiments with foreshortening in the legs, and then uses black chalk (perhaps to signal a next stage in his design process) to compose further studies of arms and hands. Curiously, he produced these black chalk studies facing in both directions.

  • Drawing of drapery on a kneeling figure

    Drapery Study, ca. 1522
    Black chalk
    6 1/2 x 6 3/8 in. (16.5 x 16.2 cm)
    Galleria degli Uffizi, Gabinetto Disegni e Stampe, Florence
    Recto
    Courtesy the Ministero dei beni e delle attività culturali e del turismo

    In preparing the figure of the kneeling Virgin in The Madonna of the Steps, Andrea uses a combination of short and long hatching lines to render the folds and fall of garments as they bunch around the lower body and tumble forward and down the steps. The blank vertical field just left of the knee is a placeholder for the leg of the Christ child, which occupies this spot in the painting.

  • Drawing of a young man's face looking to the left

    Head of a Youth in Profile, ca. 1522
    Red chalk
    8 1/4 x 5 1/8 in. (21 x 13 cm)
    The Ashmolean Museum, Oxford; bequeathed by Dr. Gerhard Weiler, 1995
    © Ashmolean Museum, University of Oxford

    This sheet relates to the head of the angel in The Madonna of the Steps. Several strokes of chalk explore the curve of the figure's chin and bump of his Adam's apple as he extends his neck to look upward and slightly to his right, with parted lips. The drawing represents the particular challenge of creating an expressive profile in a figure turned away from the viewer.

  • Drawing of a child's face

    Studies of the Head of an Infant, ca. 1522
    Red chalk
    9 3/4 x 7 1/4 in. (24.8 x 18.4 cm)
    Galleria degli Uffizi, Gabinetto Disegni e Stampe, Florence
    Recto
    Courtesy the Ministero dei beni e delle attività culturali e del turismo

    This head study prepares the face of the Christ child at the center of The Madonna of the Steps and features a subsidiary drawing focused on his slightly more puckered lips. The child's smooth flesh and rosy, plump cheeks are achieved by stumping (rubbing with an instrument) and applying a wetted brush over chalk hatching.

  • Drawing of a child standing with arms extended to the right

    Study of a Child with Arms Extended, ca. 1522
    Red chalk
    9 13/16 x 6 5/16 in. (25 x 16.1 cm)
    Galleria degli Uffizi, Gabinetto Disegni e Stampe, Florence
    Courtesy the Ministero dei beni e delle attività culturali e del turismo

    Firm contours establish the pose of the infant Christ in The Madonna of the Steps. A second sketch concentrates on rendering a fuller, softer belly. The handwriting in ink bleeding through from the paper's other side — impossible to read because the sheet is laid down — underscores the function of these sheets as workshop material.