The Apollo Belvedere, December 1841
Sir John Everett Millais Bt. PRA (1829 - 1896)
RA Collection: Art
Millais was only twelve when he drew this plaster cast of a classical sculpture in the Royal Academy Schools, a year after he had first enrolled. The cast is from a marble statue known as the Apollo Belvedere in the Vatican Museum in Rome. The statue was rediscovered towards the end of the fifeteenth century and is recorded as part of the Vatican collection in 1509. By 1511 it was one of the important statues on display in the Belvedere Courtyard. It remains one of the best-known examples of classical sculpture. A cast of the Apollo Belvedere can be seen in several depictions of the Antique School of the Royal Academy, where the casts were housed. It can be seen in the centre of the painting attributed to Johann Zoffany, The Antique Room of the RA at New Somerset House (03/846).
Millais has focused on the outlines of the figure in black chalk with subtle white chalk highlights. In a letter to a Miss Leigh dated 3 December 1841, Millais wrote “I am now doing at the Royal Academy a beautiful statue called the Apollo” (Princeton University).
As a child, Millais was a prolific and talented sketcher, drawing from life, from imagination and from engravings. His unusually supportive parents were so enthusiastic about his abilities that they moved from Jersey to London so that he could train as an artist. In 1838 Millais began his formal art education at Henry Sass's Academy in Bloomsbury, where he first learned to draw 'from the flat' (in outline) before studying Greek and Roman sculptures and casts in the British Museum.
In December 1840, at the age of 11, he became the youngest ever student to attend the Royal Academy Schools. Like his peers, he first enrolled in the 'Antique' School to perfect his technique of drawing from sculptures and casts. During the 1840s and 50s students at the RA Schools usually carried out drawings from the antique in pencil or chalk on light coloured paper, as several of these examples indicate. Shading was effected using the stump (a tightly rolled piece of paper or leather) to spread the pencil or chalk. William Holman Hunt recalled meeting the young Millais in the British Museum in 1843. Millais told him: 'I like white paper just now. You see I sketch the lines in with charcoal, and when I go over with chalk I rub in the whole with wash leather, take out the lights with bread and work up the shadows till its finished'.
76 cm x 54 cm
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