This study is taken from Michelangelo’s Battle of Cascina – a never-completed artwork commissioned for the Palazzo Vecchio in Florence. However, Michelangelo did create a cartoon of the composition that has been copied by several artists. The scene depicts a group of Florentine soldiers bathing naked in the river Arno, responding to the trumpet warning of the imminent Pisan attack.
This drawing depicts a single male figure from this grouping who originally stood at the centre of Michelangelo’s composition. Partially clothed and clutching a spear, the man stares directly out from the chaos of the scene, beyond the paper. The artist has masterfully utilised the chalk to carve out the defined muscles of the man’s chest and arms whilst bringing a lightness of touch to the face.
This study was part of the collection of the English painter Richard Cosway. As well as an artist Cosway was also renowned as a connoisseur, virtuoso and collector. His collection contained the works of the great masters of the Florentine, Roman, Venetian, Lombard, Flemish and Dutch schools. Following his death in 1821, this much-admired collection was sold at auction, where Sir John Soane bought over 30 objects for his own collection.
Richard Cosway was a leading English painter of the Regency era and was particularly noted for his miniatures. His success lay in his ability to enhance the beauty and elegance of all of his sitters. Cosway was born in Devon, the son of a school master. He exhibited his first works at the age of 20 in 1762 and was soon in demand. He was one of the first people to join the group of associate members of the Royal Academy, elected in August 1770, and was elected a full member the following March. He painted the future King George IV in 1780 and was appointed ‘Painter to the Prince of Wales’ in 1785 – the only time the title was ever awarded. Until the beginning of the Regency in 1811, Cosway enjoyed continuous patronage from the Prince, painting over fifty portraits of him and other members of the royal family. Cosway’s subjects also included the Prince’s first wife, Maria Anne Fitzherbert, and various English and French aristocrats, including Madame du Barry, mistress of King Louis XV of France.