Michelangelo, Madonna del Silenzio, c.1538

The Portland Collection shows some works of exceptional importance, such as this drawing by Michelangelo.

Michelangelo Buonarroti (1475 – 1564) is often considered to be one of the most important artists of all time, and he is particularly well known for his paintings and sculpture.

This chalk drawing, made in about 1538, was bought by the 6th Duke of Portland (1857 – 1943). It is a presentation drawing, made as a finished work (rather than a preparatory piece). It is likely that Michelangelo made the drawing as a gift.

Madonna del Silenzio is an influential work by the Renaissance master. Many artists have made paintings based on this drawing, including the 16th-century Italian painter Venusti who is believed to have been a friend of Michelangelo’s. Venusti’s studio made over 20 paintings after Madonna del Silenzio, and one can be seen in the National Gallery.

This drawing depicts the Madonna with the infant Christ laying asleep on her knee. Joseph can be seen behind them, with John the Baptist. John holds his finger to his lips to ask us not to wake the child – and the drawing is also known as ‘The Silence’.  The Holy Family was an important theme in the Renaissance, and Michelangelo returned to it often. This composition bears a striking resemblance to his famous sculpture the ‘Pietà’ which is in St Peters Basilica, Vatican City. The Pietà  (The Pity) instead shows the Madonna cradling the body of her son after the Crucifixion, an event perhaps foreshadowed by the hourglass that visitors can see at the bottom of this drawing.

Prior to The Portland Collection Museum opening in 2016, Michelangelo’s Madonna del Silenzio hadn’t been shown publicly for over 50 years.

Top image: Detail, Michelangelo, Madonna del Silenzio, c.1538. Available on Bridgeman Images.