Raphael at the Vatican (composition sketch)
(Émile Jean Horace Vernet)


Nostalgia for the great artistic epochs of the past was a notable aspect of nineteenth-century historicism. One such moment was the papacy of Julius II in Rome in the early years of the sixteenth century when Michelangelo, Raphael and the architect Bramante were all working at the Vatican. In early 1509 Raphael had begun painting the Stanza della Segnatura in the Vatican, and Michelangelo had begun the Sistine ceiling. The Pope had also commissioned a major new plan for St. Peter’s from Bramante. These concurrent projects epitomizing the High Renaissance are all alluded to in Vernet’s composition.

The 1833 Salon livret, describing the finished painting for which this is a sketch, offers the psychological background for the scene: “Michelangelo meeting Raphael in the Vatican says to him, ‘You walk surrounded by an entourage like a general.’ ‘And you,’ responds Raphael, ‘you walk alone like an executioner.'” All the elements of the highly finished Salon picture are present in this sketch, including the clearly recognizable faces of the two painters. The younger Raphael is sketching a peasant woman and her baby, to be transformed into a Madonna and child for which he was famous. The bearded Michelangelo, in the lower left, holds a sketchbook, brushes, a figural sculpture, sword and keys, presumably to the Sistine Chapel where he was working in secret on the ceiling. In the upper left Julius II, shaded by an umbrella, is observing the encounter while being shown Bramante’s plan for St. Peter’s. The courtyard is filled with the blocks of marble, mentioned in eyewitness accounts, that Michelangelo had excavated for his work on Julius’ tomb.

Vernet had painted a similar, though more formal, subject in 1827 – Julius II Ordering Work on the Vatican. This was commissioned by the Restoration government for a ceiling of the Musée Charles X in the Louvre, where it is still on view. Louis-Philippe, who became King in 1830, continued his predecessor’s ambitious patronage program celebrating French history and cultural heritage. It is not surprising, therefore, that he purchased the Salon version of Vernet’s Raphael at the Vatican, which like many other “lives of the artists” pictures celebrates not only artistic achievement, but also the crucial role of the patron. Vernet was highly favored by Louis-Philippe, and in the 1830s and ’40s his painting style was criticized for demonstrating “middle of the road” qualities deemed comparable to Louis-Phillipe’s politics — that is, his paintings seemed styleless, most notably in contrast to his contemporary, Delacroix. In an oil sketch, such as this, that quality of artistic distancing has not yet intruded between the painter and viewer, and there remains the more vibrant brushwork and color and compositional immediacy of an initial creative artistic expression.

15 1/2 by 11 3/4 ins. 39.2 by 30 cm.
Oil on canvas
Where is It?
Matthiesen Gallery
Historical Period
Romanticism - 1810-1870
Genre or Daily Life
Price band
$5,000 - $50,000