Raphael, Fra Angelico and Michelangelo on a Cloud over Rome


Pencil on white prepared vellum
Inv. No. 6

31.1 × 20.8 cm

zur  Biographie

As in a devotional picture of saints, Franz Pforr grouped a trinity of Italian Renaissance artists on a cumulus cloud. He modelled their three-dimensionality with great care, using extremely delicate hatching and thus preserving the well-balanced clarity of his drawing. Composed in highly formulaic manner, the figures have the appearance of immovable statues. On the left is Raphael, with all the self-confidence of youth, in the centre Fra Angelico, deep in pious contemplation and, seated, the aged Michelangelo, immersed in melancholy thought. As the representatives of an artistic programme they soar high above a vista of the city of Rome with the imposing edifices of the Vatican, St Peter’s and the Castel Sant’Angelo.


In 1809, rejecting the academic teaching of art, the young artist was one of the co-founders of the Viennese »Lukasbund« (Brotherhood of St Luke). In the spring of 1810 the »brothers« set off for Italy and, following in Dürer’s footsteps, travelled first to Venice and then to Rome, where they lived as a community in the cells of the abandoned monastery of San Isidoro. In the Vatican they admired frescoes by the three artists shown in this drawing. Pforr no doubt also visited Rome’s one Gothic church, Santa Maria sopra Minerva, where he will have seen Michelangelo’s marble statue of the risen Christ with the Cross (1521) as well as the tombstone of Fra Angelico bearing the image of the painter, on which Pforr’s drawing was largely based. He took the face of Raphael, on the other hand, from an engraving in Herzensergießungen eines kunstliebenden Klosterbruders (»Outpourings from the Heart of an Art-Loving Monk«; 1797). This programmatic work by W. H. Wackenroder had a considerable influence on the ideas that characterized the Nazarene movement in art. Addressing German artists of the author’s time, it called for an emotional response to art that would be a new religious experience, expressed a veneration for Dürer that Pforr strongly shared, voiced a longing for Italy and assembled accounts of the lives of that country’s famous artists.


This pencil drawing, which stands out from Pforr’s other work in terms of both style and content, is to be seen as the visual expression of the intention – and the hope – of achieving a new kind of art by uniting German and Italian traditions. Following the artist’s premature death it passed into the possession of Johann David Passavant, a childhood friend of Pforr’s. After completing his training as a painter, Passavant lived in Rome from 1817 to 1824, associating with the Nazarenes; in 1840, as a historian and art scholar, he was appointed inspector of the Städelsches Kunstinstitut. As part of his bequest, the collection acquired an unrivaled bundle of drawings by Franz Pforr.

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