by Michelangelo Buonarroti, ca.1504, black chalk drawing heightened with lead white, 16 x 9. Collection Teylers Museum, Haarlem, the Netherlands.
Looking at Drawings: "Male Nude," by Michelangelo
This drawing of a male nude by Michelangelo was done from a live model and was a study for a fresco commission, The Battle of Cascina, which was to be painted in Florence’s Palazzo Vecchio alongside Leonardo da Vinci’s The Battle of Anghiari. Neither work was completed. The sketch was done as an in-depth study to support his initial concept of the figural grouping for the fresco. This explains why portions of the figure drawing are unfinished in areas—figures in the foreground were to overlap this figure.
It appears to have been done in two different values of black chalk; the initial quick gesture drawing is done in the lighter of the two chalks, while the contours and the modeling and shading is done with the darker one.
The drawing has much to offer the student. Michelangelo created a strong sense of rhythm through his use of contour and form. Notice how the modeling of the forms pushes out on the borders of the figure to create the contours. He emphasized these form edges by varying the line quality, rendering it dark and thick in areas where he wanted to heighten the turn and adjusting this line weight as he arced from one form to an overlapped one. This drawing stresses the concept of the body as primarily convex (pushed out) forms as opposed to concave features. Michelangelo is brilliant at describing form within the body—what lies underneath the skin. His experience as a sculptor helped him conceive and replicate convincing internal forms, sometimes exaggerated for the sake of infusing the drawing with energy and rhythm.
This piece is also good to study for its varying level of finish, and for the gesture that is captured.