Study for the Battle of the Milvian Bridge

Study for the Battle of the Milvian Bridge, a drawing catalogued as by Raphael, estimated €400,000-600,000 at Dorotheum.

Image copyright: Dorotheum

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Previously attributed to Polidoro da Caravaggio, one of Raphael's pupils, the red chalk and pen sketch has now been ascribed to the master by Paul Joannides, an emeritus professor at Cambridge University and a specialist on the Italian Renaissance.

It is thought to be a study for one of Raphael’s most ambitious projects, the epic fresco Battle of the Milvian Bridge which adorns the Hall of Constantine in the papal apartments in the Vatican. The composition was designed by Raphael but eventually painted after his death by his workshop between 1520 and 1524.

The drawing is estimated at €400,000-600,000 and will be offered at Vienna auction house Dorotheum on October 25.

Battle of the Milvian Bridge

A detail of Battle of the Milvian Bridge at the Vatican in Rome with the area to which the drawing relates highlighted.

Image copyright: Peter Horree/Alamy Stock Photo

According to the catalogue, the picture was acquired by the vendor at a Christie’s Paris sale in March 2015 where it was catalogued as ‘Italian school, 16th century’. It sold below estimate for €1875 (£1380) including premium.

Prior to that it is believed to have been in a private French collection until the 1920s-30s before it was then acquired by Iohan Quirijn van Regteren Altena, from whose collection it was sold at Christie’s. The Amsterdam art historian and collector featured the sketch in an article he wrote in 1940 for The Burlington Magazine where he attributed it to Rubens.

Later in 1970, the drawing appeared in an exhibition at the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam where it was attributed to Polidoro da Caravaggio, an assessment endorsed by Italian scholar Pierluigi Leone de Castris in 2001.

Hall of Constantine at Vatican Museums

A view of the Hall of Constantine, now part of the Vatican Museums in Rome, where Battle of the Milvian Bridge is located.

Image copyright:  Mark Green/Alamy Stock Photo

The Dorotheum catalogue however suggests that previous assessments were based on photographs rather than on studying the original drawing. The auction house stated that “through comparative analysis of technique and composition, this study of the horse and rider has now been recognised to be Raphael’s own work”.

Dorotheum’s Old Master specialist Mark MacDonnell said: “Compositional and stylistic details confirm that this is a preparatory study by Raphael for the celebrated fresco. It has an energy, a verve, a movement, and a quality which make this sheet an outstanding rarity.”

He now believes it to be one of only three surviving drawings for this fresco by the master’s hand, the other two being in the Louvre and the Ashmolean Museum in Oxford. It would also be one of only a few known late drawings by Raphael to have survived.

Around the central composition are two further sketches showing a head of a horse and an eye, while on the back of the sheet are drawings by Polidoro da Caravaggio, apparently executed later.

The auction house said this “provides a fascinating insight into the day-to-day practice of the 16th century artist’s workshop” where worksheets were often used several times to record ideas. “The drawing, executed in red chalk, provides fresh insight into Raphael’s working practice.”

The sketch will be on view at Dorotheum’s London office on October 10-11 and the catalogue entry for the drawing has now been published online.