Half-length portrait of a woman in profile
Raffaello Sanzio [Raphael] (Urbino, 1483 – Rome 1520)
On the verso, top center, in pen, in period handwriting ‘Di Raffaello suo dela prima maniera’; on the verso, bottom, in black pencil, in period handwriting ‘8’; on the verso, bottom right, in pencil, in modern handwriting ‘1477 E’
This drawing is traditionally associated with the face of Mary Magdalen who appears in the preparatory study, also housed in the Department of Prints and Drawings (inv. 538 E), carried out by Raphael in around 1507 for the great painting of The Deposition, currently exhibited at Galleria Borghese in Rome (inv. no. 396). Although no exact comparison can be drawn between the two figures, it is nonetheless likely that they relate to one another either directly or indirectly, perhaps both representing different phases of the development of the final painting. Indeed, as well as a certain similarity in appearance and hair style, the sense of dejection and profound grief expressed by the woman in this drawing appears to be further elaborated in the dramatic passion with which Mary Magdalen lays down the lifeless body of Christ in the painting of The Deposition.
The particular composition of the female figure, her head slightly tilted, her lips sealed and her gaze cast mournfully downwards, draws inspiration from the expressive forms of classical tradition where the study of an afflicted and tormented inner reality is accompanied by a sense of composure and measured solemnity. The extraordinary artistic significance of this work is due not only to the conceptual process but also the sophisticated artistic techniques. Using a broad range of strokes of different thicknesses and inks of different intensities, as well as a very parsimonious use of lines, the drawing achieves a very three-dimensional effect which is particularly pronounced around the face, where the strokes are more generous and elaborated with pictorial and chiaroscuro techniques.