Raphael: The Drawings
The exhibition and related activity have worked to transform our understanding of Raphael as a purely project-oriented artist, based on the concept that drawings are journeys of discovery and eloquent artefacts.
About the project
Renaissance art is based on drawing, which in art history is generally viewed as a project-oriented activity in which drawings are seen as links in a linear progression towards the final, polished work of art. Raphael has long been characterised as somewhat pragmatic and utilitarian in his drawing practice and modern audiences have tended to perceive his art as rather bland, idealised or sentimental. This research project aimed to transform both art-historical and public understanding of Raphael, using the concept of eloquence in drawing as a starting point.
The research informed a major exhibition at the Ashmolean Museum and associated engagement activities including interdisciplinary workshops with artists and researchers, and public-facing learning activities focused on drawing.
A leading British contemporary artist described how her new understanding of Raphael’s drawings has affected her creativity: ‘The Raphael exhibition … and discussions I have had with Catherine Whistler in front of Raphael’s drawings have had a profound and long lasting impact on my work. Through this possibility for intensive study of Raphael’s drawings I found new directions in my work, as well as being able to discover artistic similarities in our endeavour as artists depicting the human form’. Reviews of the exhibition in the media were overwhelmingly positive:
‘Today, Raphael seems to many eyes … boringly strait-laced. But that image is blown away by this exhibition. … This mind-opening show will transform how Raphael is seen’, Jonathan Jones, The Guardian
‘incredible … a revelation’, Richard Cork, BBC Radio 4 Front Row
‘a game-changing presentation’, Jackie Wullschlager, Financial Times
‘first-rate … should not be missed’, Alastair Sooke, The Telegraph
- Raphael: The Drawings exhibition. 1st June–3rd September 2017. Ashmolean Museum, Oxford
- Various interdisciplinary workshops and seminars (2016-17)
- Film presenting the research shown in the Raphael exhibition from 01/06/2017, continuing on the Ashmolean website
- Ben Thomas and Catherine Whistler, ‘Eloquence in Raphael Drawings’, Artibus et Historiae 74 (2016), pp. 25-36.
- Catherine Whistler and Ben Thomas, Raphael: The Drawings, with contributions by Achim Gnann and Angelamaria Aceto (Oxford, Ashmolean Museum, 2017)
- Ben Thomas, Drawing Together, London, Courtauld Institute, 2017
- Catherine Whistler, ‘Raphael’s Hands’, in Raphael, ed. Achim Gnann, Vienna, Albertina, 2017, pp. 41-57
- Ben Thomas, ‘Raphael and the Idea of Drawing’, in Raphael, ed. Achim Gnann, Vienna, Albertina, 2017, pp. 27-39
- Angelamaria Aceto, ‘Raphael in three early drawings around 1499 (and a new source for the Massacre of the Innocents)’, Mitteilungen des Kunsthistorischen Institutes in Florenz, 60 (2018), 2, pp. 310-21
- Angelamaria Aceto, ‘ “The Last Supper” (Vienna 195r): a new geometrical study and a hypothesis on its architecture’, in Raffael als Zeichner/ Raffaello disegnatore, Atti del Colloquio internazionale, Albertina, Vienna, 21-22 Novembre 2017, ed. Marzia Faietti and Achim Gnann, Florence, Giunti 2019, pp. 155-71
- Ben Thomas, ‘Raphael‘s drawings - invention, disposition and demonstration’, in Raffael als Zeichner/ Raffaello disegnatore, Atti del Colloquio internazionale, Albertina, Vienna, 21-22 Novembre 2017, ed. Marzia Faietti and Achim Gnann, Florence, Giunti 2019, pp. 345-57
- Catherine Whistler, ‘Raphael, Oratory and the Art of Drawing’, in Raffael als Zeichner/ Raffaello disegnatore, Atti del Colloquio internazionale, Albertina, Vienna, 21-22 Novembre 2017, ed. Marzia Faietti and Achim Gnann, Florence, Giunti 2019, pp. 319-43
- Ben Thomas and Catherine Whistler, eds, Raphael. Drawing and Eloquence, Urbino, Accademia Raffaello, 2020
- Angelamaria Aceto, ‘On Raphael’s use of blind stylus and some new sketches for the Disputa on the Holy Sacrament’, in Raphael: Drawing and Eloquence, edited by Ben Thomas and Catherine Whistler, Urbino, Accademia Raffaello 2020, pp. 85-99
- Ben Thomas, ‘Raphael invenit: drawing, eloquence and print’, in Raphael: Drawing and Eloquence, edited by Ben Thomas and Catherine Whistler, Urbino, Accademia Raffaello 2020, pp. 19-40
- Catherine Whistler, ‘The Eloquent Child in Raphael’s Drawings’ in Raphael: Drawing and Eloquence, edited by Ben Thomas and Catherine Whistler, Urbino, Accademia Raffaello 2020, pp. 101-119
- Angelamaria Aceto and Francesco P. Di Teodoro, ‘L’architettura disegnata: nuove indagini e prospettive per “Raffaello architetto”’, in Raffaello (1520-1483), exhibition catalogue edited by Marzia Faietti and Matteo Lafranconi (Rome, Scuderie del Quirinale), Milan, Skira 2020, pp.317-29
- The exhibition achieved record-breaking visitor numbers (67,628) and an overwhelmingly positive press and media response;
- Accolades included the Apollo Award 2017: Exhibition of the Year, and Global Fine Art Award 2017: Best Exhibition 1200-1830, solo artist;
- 82% of exhibition visitors felt their understanding of drawing had changed, and 99.87% felt their views on Raphael had changed after visiting the exhibition;
- 58% of exhibition visitors were inspired to have a go at drawing;
- The exhibition impacted on the Ashmolean Museum’s Learning strategy through an increased use of drawing in education and well-being activities as a direct result of the exhibition’s success in changing perceptions of the nature and value of drawing, e.g. new Royal Drawing School/ Ashmolean courses for 15-18 year olds;
- The exhibition provided benefits for artistic, museum, and curatorial practice nationally and internationally - for example, a partner exhibition at the Albertina in Vienna - and changing practice in interpretation in relation to a major exhibition at the Art Institute of Chicago.
The project was submitted as an impact case study to REF 2021; the full impact case study can be downloaded from the REF 2021 impact case study database.