This powerful study of a mourning woman encapsulates Michelangelo’s extraordinary talent for monumental figural conceptions. It is characterized by dense crosshatching in pen and brown ink (a technique he learned from his time in the studio of Domenico Ghirlandaio), creating a solid form that is sculptural in effect; indeed the hatched penwork recalls Michelangelo’s use of the claw chisel to model the surfaces of his marble sculptures. Combining elements of both his early copies and his more dynamic original preparatory studies datable to the early 1500s, the Mourning Woman documents Michelangelo’s shift from his youthful studies to his iconic independent works, notably the Florentine Battle of Cascina mural project of c. 1504.
The figure appears to be dressed in a peplum, a full-length robe worn by women of antiquity as depicted in Renaissance painting. The pose and attitude of the woman is one that would typically have been found in a composition of the Deposition from the Cross or a Lamentation. No such project is known to have been undertaken by Michelangelo at this stage of his career yet early copies of this drawing indicate such a possibility.
Michelangelo’s Mourning Woman was discovered in 1995 by Sotheby’s specialist Julien Stock within an album of otherwise nondescript drawings in the library of Castle Howard, Yorkshire, England. Its sale at auction in July 2001 was widely reported and as a result this drawing achieved international fame.