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John Constable RA, Sketch of Michelangelo's Taddei Tondo

Sketch of Michelangelo's Taddei Tondo, 1st July 1830

John Constable RA (1776 - 1837)

RA Collection: Art

This pen and ink sketch depicts Michelangelo's 'Taddei Tondo', in the Royal Academy collection. The relief sculpture, depicting the Virgin and Child with the infant St. John, was drawn by John Constable on 1st July 1830, indicating that the eminent landscape painter hurried to draw this famous sculpture within a week of its arrival at the Academy.

The relief was bequeathed to the RA by Sir George Beaumont and delivered to Somerset House at the end of June 1830. Beaumont had acquired Michelangelo's tondo in Italy in 1822 and subsequently brought it to London to hang in the picture gallery of his house at Grosvenor Square. Although many artists and other visitors were able to see the sculpture at Beaumont's house, there seems to have been some excitement surrounding its transfer to the Royal Academy.

Constable's enthusiasm for the sculpture is certainly clear from a letter he wrote to the Athenaeum outlining its recent history. This was published on July 3rd 1830 but was probably written several days beforehand, around the time that Constable made this sketch. In the letter, Constable describes the tondo on display in the Council Room of Somerset House, remarking: 'In this favourable situation the light falls from the left, showing the more finished parts to advantage, and causing those less perfect to become masses of shadow, having at a distance all the effect of a rich picture in chiaroscuro'. Ironically, his sketch gives little impression of the tondo's three-dimensional form. Instead, the sculpture is drawn in rapid, curving strokes with little detail and no shading and was probably made as an aide-memoire or possibly a sketch for a more finished depiction of the piece.

Further reading:

Graham Reynolds, The Later Paintings and Drawings of John Constable, Yale, New Haven and London, 1984, cat. no. 30. 9, p. 219 and pl. 777

John Constable's Discourses, compiled and annotated by R.B. Beckett, London, 1970, pp. 78-80

John Constable's Correspondence: The Fishers , edited by R.B. Beckett, London, 1968, p. 261

The Morning Herald , 2 June 1830

The Athenaeum, 3 July1830

Sidney C. Hutchison, The History of the Royal Academy 1768–1968, London 1968, p. 97

Supported by Brian Smith

Object details

Sketch of Michelangelo's Taddei Tondo
John Constable RA (1776 - 1837)
1st July 1830
Object type
Pen and brown ink on light grey laid paper

115 mm x 127 mm

Royal Academy of Arts
Object number
Given by Colnaghi and Company 1966

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