Remarkable in its fluidity and freedom, this drawing served as a preparatory study for an altarpiece (shown below) commissioned by the brotherhood of Saint Peter Martyr in the northern Italian town of Modena. Correggio began by laying out the basic composition in chalk or charcoal, which he then extensively reworked using brown wash and white heightening. Such bold, painterly use of the drawing media allowed the artist to effectively describe the plasticity and movement of his figures, and to explore the effects of light. The study was acquired by the Kupferstich-Kabinett in 1860 as a complement to the finished painting, which entered the Dresden collection in 1746.

Antonio Allegri, known as Correggio
Italian, ca. 1484–1534
Madonna di San Giorgio, before 1530
Brush (and pen?) and brown ink and brown wash, heightened with white, over traces of black chalk or charcoal
Kupferstich-Kabinett, Staatliche Kunstsammlungen Dresden, INV. NO. C 367
© Kupferstich-Kabinett, Staatliche Kunstsammlungen Dresden
Photo: Herbert Boswank


John Marciari, Charles W. Engelhard Curator and Department Head

Correggio’s Madonna of Saint George altarpiece was painted around 1530 for a small confraternity church in Modena, Italy, but the work quickly became famous, celebrated for the intricacy of its composition and its sophisticated approach to light. By the seventeenth century, the Dukes of Modena had acquired the painting, and they sold it to Frederick Augustus II of Dresden in 1746. It was thereafter considered one of the masterpieces of the Dresden collection. Accordingly, when Correggio’s compositional drawing for the altarpiece came up for sale in London a century later, in 1860, the Kupferstich-Kabinett eagerly sought it, and celebrated it as a major acquisition.

In the drawing, we can see Correggio working out both the composition and the lighting scheme. He began work by sketching out the frame he envisioned for the painting, and then took up chalk or charcoal for an initial sketch of the figural composition. It shows the Madonna and child enthroned at center, with Saints John the Baptist, Gimignano (the patron saint of Modena), Peter Martyr, and George. Only traces of this initial chalk drawing can be seen, however, for Correggio worked and reworked the drawing, adding layers of wash and especially of white opaque watercolor, emphasizing the highlights and giving a painterly plasticity to the figures. The composition already seems worked out in the drawing, but in the final painting, Correggio enlivened it further, adding a group of playful putti and giving the saints and Christ child more dramatically expressive poses.