This drawing is one of a series made by Raphael in his early years in Rome after his arrival in 1508. It is drawn in silverpoint on pink prepared paper. There exist a number of drawings by Raphael in silverpoint on pink prepared paper of the same size. This suggests that Raphael may have made these studies in a sketchbook.
Raphael had training in silverpoint early in his career. This exacting technique had been abandoned by most of his contemporaries, and Raphael was one of the last to use silverpoint before its revival in the nineteenth century. Here he uses it in a subject that requires a refined and precise treatment. The outlines of the heads were first carefully outlined and then he concentrated on the modelling through shading. The Virgin’s head has close parallel hatching in short, controlled strokes of the stylus. The Child’s head, however, is more broadly modelled, his features slightly blurred to suggest expression around his eyes and mouth. Set against the soft orange-pink of the paper, these beautiful silverpoint figures are some of the finest of Raphael’s early Roman period.
This drawing cannot be connected directly with any existing painting of the Virgin and Child by Raphael. The face of the laughing Child, however, is very similar to that of the Child in Raphael’s preparatory drawing for the Mackintosh Madonna.
See this magnificent work in the exhibition Drawing in silver and gold:
Leonardo to Jasper Johns (10 September – 6 December 2015).