Sketch for the lower left section of the Disputa
Pen and brown ink, sections of the outlines pricked, paper partly enlarged
Inv. No. 379 (Purchased by Johann David Passavant at the auction of the collection of King William II in The Hague, 1850)
28.1 × 41.6 cm
In 1508, when he was twenty-five years old and still relatively unknown, Raphael succeeded in gaining a major commission from Pope Julius II: he was to paint the frescoes on the walls of the »Stanza della Segnatura«, a reception room in the Vatican that was undergoing renovation. Raphael carried out this task to such good effect that the Pope also entrusted him with the decoration of the adjoining rooms. His work on the three »Stanze« elevated Raphael to the position of one of the leading artists of the Italian High Renaissance.
The »Stanza della Segnatura« was intended as a library, and its wall-paintings represent the various fields of knowledge: Theology, Philosophy, Jurisprudence and Poetry. The fresco of the Disputa, for which a particularly large number of preliminary drawings have survived, is an allegorical representation of Theology as an assembly of saints, clerics, scholars and poets in heaven and on earth. In the presence of the Holy Trinity, they debate over the sacrament of the Eucharist, the transubstantiation of bread into the body of Christ during the celebration of Mass.
The drawing in the possession of the Städel Museum shows the lower left-hand section of the composition. In successive earlier studies, Raphael had developed a lively group of figures gathered in intense discussion behind two seated Fathers of the Church to the left of the altar. In order to make these figures as lifelike and realistic as possible, the artist began by visualizing each of them individually as a nude study after a live model. In the Städel Museum drawing he reassembled these individual studies in a group in order to determine the figures’ spatial relationship to – and animated interaction with – one another. Although the composition had already reached quite an advanced stage, it nevertheless underwent several further changes before its final execution. It was Johann David Passavant who recognized the outstanding importance of this work – which is not only a consummate drawing but also reveals much of the artist’s thinking and way of working – and purchased it for the Städel in 1850.