Phyrgian Sibyl Study
Better Known As
Approx. 8.5″ x 11.5″
The Chigi Chapel is one of six chapels in the Church of Santa Maria del Popolo, Piazza del Popolo, Rome. The Chigi chapel, the second on the left-hand side of the nave, was designed by Raphael as a private chapel for his friend and patron Sienese banker Agostino Chigi, then completed by Gian Lorenzo Bernini more than a century after Raphael’s death in 1520. Bernini’s patron was Fabio Chigi, who became pope Alexander VII in 1655.
In the extended complement of sibyls of the Gothic and Renaissance imagination, the Phrygian Sibyl was the priestess presiding over an Apollonian oracle at Phrygia, a historical kingdom in the west central part of the Anatolian highlands. The Phrygian sibyl appears to be one of a triplicated sibyl, with the Hellespontine Sibyl and the Erythraean Sibyl. There was indeed an oracular site in Phrygia, but a single one, at Gergitis.
Raphael was one of the finest draftsmen in the history of Western art, and used drawings extensively to plan his compositions. According to a near-contemporary, when beginning to plan a composition, he would lay out a large number of stock drawings of his on the floor, and begin to draw “rapidly”, borrowing figures from here and there. Over forty sketches survive for the Disputa in the Stanze, and there may well have been many more originally; over four hundred sheets survive altogether.He used different drawings to refine his poses and compositions, apparently to a greater extent than most other painters, to judge by the number of variants that survive: “… This is how Raphael himself, who was so rich in inventiveness, used to work, always coming up with four or six ways to show a narrative, each one different from the rest, and all of them full of grace and well done.” wrote another writer after his death. For John Shearman, Raphael’s art marks “a shift of resources away from production to research and development”.
When a final composition was achieved, scaled-up full-size cartoons were often made, which were then pricked with a pin and “pounced” with a bag of soot to leave dotted lines on the surface as a guide. He also made unusually extensive use, on both paper and plaster, of a “blind stylus”, scratching lines which leave only an indentation, but no mark. These can be seen on the wall in The School of Athens, and in the originals of many drawings. The “Raphael Cartoons”, as tapestry designs, were fully coloured in a glue distemper medium, as they were sent to Brussels to be followed by the weavers.
In later works painted by the workshop, the drawings are often painfully more attractive than the paintings. Most Raphael drawings are rather precise—even initial sketches with naked outline figures are carefully drawn, and later working drawings often have a high degree of finish, with shading and sometimes highlights in white. They lack the freedom and energy of some of Leonardo’s and Michelangelo’s sketches, but are nearly always aesthetically very satisfying. He was one of the last artists to use metalpoint (literally a sharp pointed piece of sliver or another metal) extensively, although he also made superb use of the freer medium of red or black chalk. In his final years he was one of the first artists to use female models for preparatory drawings—male pupils (“garzoni”) were normally used for studies of both sexes