Fra Bartolommeo (Italian, 1472-1517)
Angel Playing the Lute, n.d.
Chalk on paper 14 1/4 in. x 10 1/4 in. (36.2 cm x 26.04 cm)
Crocker Art Museum, E. B. Crocker Collection1871.221
Baccio della Porta, who was later known as Fra Bartolommeo after he took religious orders, was apprenticed to the painter Cosimo Rosselli at the age of thirteen. This placed him at the center of a community of Florentine artists during his training. His ability to incorporate what he learned allowed him to develop an appealing style that later brought him major commissions, including the Vision of Saint Bernard for the cathedral of Lucca. A frequent collaborator of Mariotto Albertinelli, who had also trained with Rosselli, Fra Bartolommeo received his most important commission in 1510, an altarpiece for the Sala Grande (now the Salone dei Cinquecento) in the Palazzo della Signoria in Florence. The unfinished altarpiece is now in the Museo di San Marco.
Fra Bartolommeo popularized the use of black chalk, bringing a new facility and texture to the medium. In this drawing, the contrast between smooth skin, filmy drapery, and feathery wings is brought out by touches of white chalk. The figure, a music-making angel meant for the steps below an enthroned Madonna, shows the artist’s experimentation with different angles of the head.