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There has been a lot of well deserved buzz this week as the exhibition ‘Raphael: The Drawings’ opened at the Ashmolean Museum in Oxford. This truly extraordinary show includes 120 drawings by the Renaissance master and is on view until 3 September 2017.  Not since a British Museum exhibition in 1983 has such an extraordinary gathering of his drawings been on view, and this is definitely a show not to be missed.

Drawing has always been described as a more personal insight into an artist’s mind and Raphael was highly aware of the different expressive potential of mediums including charcoal, chalks, ink and metal point.   He often explored and refined ideas in the process of drawing and the sketches on show are in turn more subtle and more adventurous than the finished paintings.  For example the breathtakingly accomplished and expressive red chalk folds that cling to the Madonna in the Studies for the Madonna of Francis I (c.1518) did not translate into the final work, but they show Raphael reflecting on the subject, the details and their significance.

The challenges and opportunities presented by competition for important commissions in Florence, and above all in Rome, saw Raphael forging a compelling and persuasive mode of visual communication with his drawings, orchestrating ambitious narratives with inventive force.  The works span his early career in Umbria through his radically creative years in Florence to the peak of his career in Rome where he worked on major commissions such as the Vatican frescoes.  By looking at his drawings in themselves, rather than just preparatory works for the finished pieces, this exhibition gives us unparalleled insight into the mind of the artist and his working process. 

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