Sebastiano del Piombo, Study of a Female Nude

Artist | Sebastiano del Piombo (Sebastiano Luciani) (c.1485–1547) 
Title | Study of a Female Nude
Date | ca. 1520 
Medium | Blue paper, black chalk, heightened with white 
Dimensions | 355 x 188 mm
Institution | Les collections du département des arts graphiques, Musée du Louvre, Paris 
Credit Line | ©RMN-Grand Palais (musée du Louvre) / Michèle Bellot
Theme | The Human Form 
Museum number | INV 10816

Venetian artist Sebastiano del Piombo (1485–1457), who also worked in Rome with Michelangelo (1475–1564), employed blue paper for his study for the figure of St Agatha, seen here. He regularly used this material throughout his drawn oeuvre, particularly for the purpose of figure studies. Sebastiano prefigures the modelling of the female form in the painting through the use of black chalk and white heightening on the blue support. St Agatha emerges from a darker background, the illuminated central figure of the composition. In the drawing, the white heightening on the figure’s torso reinforces this effect, which then translates to the painting. Giorgio Vasari (1511–1574) mentions Sebastiano’s painting of St Agatha in his 1568 edition of Le vite, at the time in the guradaroba of Guidobaldo II della Rovere, Duke of Urbino (1514–1574). Vasari referred to the painting as ‘una bellissima St Agata ignuda’ (a very beautiful nude St Agatha), a sentiment prefigured in Sebastiano’s preparatory study.