Raphael - Procession of Pope Sylvester I, about 1516-1517

Raphael (Urbino, 1483 - 1520, Rome)

Procession of Pope Sylvester I, about 1516-1517

Colored chalks on paper, 39.8 x 40.3 cm (15 11/16 x 15 7/8 in.)


Object details

Accession number



Collection of William C. Russell (1800–1884), Accountant General of the Court of Chancery, London.
Sold at the auction of William C. Russell's collection at Christie, Manson and Woods, London on 10 December 1884, lot 457.
Collection of Sir John Charles Robinson (1824–1913), museum curator, collector, and connoisseur, London.
Purchased by the art dealers Thomas Agnew & Sons, London, 1901-2.
Purchased by Isabella Stewart Gardner at auction from the sale of Sir John Charles Robinson's collection at Christie, Manson and Woods, London on 12 May 1902 for £50 through Thomas Agnew & Sons, lot 295.


Inscribed in brown ink (lower right): JCR [collector's mark of Sir John Charles Robinson, Lugt 1433]Dry stamped (lower right): WR [collector's mark of William Russell, Lugt 2648]Inscribed in ink (verso): inscription illegible except for the letter 'M'Stamped (verso): ISG [collector's mark of Isabella Stewart Gardner]Inscribed in pencil (mount): RaffaelleInscribed (back of mount): Guildhall Exhib 1895; 295Watermark: Circle with a crossbow

Dimension Notes

Frame: 53 x 62.9 cm (20 7/8 x 24 3/4 in.)


Christie, Manson and Woods. Catalogue of a Valuable Collection of Drawings by Old Masters formed by a Well-known Amateur during the last Forty Years (London, 12-14 May 1902), p. 33, lot 295. (as Raphael, "Pope Leo X Carried in Procession: Study for portions of two of the frescoes of the Stanze of the Vatican")
Catalogue. Fenway Court. (Boston, 1903), p. 10. (as Raphael, "Sketch")
Rollin van N. Hadley (ed.). Drawings: Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum (Boston, 1968), pp. 16-19, no. 8. (as atrributed to Raphael, "A Papal Procession," about 1519)
Philip Hendy. European and American Paintings in the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum (Boston, 1974), pp. 192-93.
Rollin van N. Hadley. Museums Discovered: The Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum (Boston, 1981), pp. 60-61. (as atrributed to Raphael, "A Papal Procession," about 1519)
Paul Joannides. The Drawings of Raphael (Oxford, 1983), pp. 122-23, 245, cat. 447, pl. 45. (as "Pope Sylvester I in a Sedia Gestatoria")
"Editor's note." Fenway Court (1985), p. 7, ill. cover. (as "A Papal Procession")
J. A. Gere. Drawings by Raphael and His Circle from British and North American Collections. Exh. cat. (New York: Pierpont Morgan Library, 1987), pp. 154-60, no. 41, color pl. 41. (as "A Pope Carried in the Sedia Gestatoria, with His Retinue")
Hilliard Goldfarb. Italian Renaissance Drawings, Medals, and Books. Exploring Treasures in the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum I. Exh. cat. (Boston: Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum, 1991), p. 10. (as Raphael, "A Pope Carried in the Sedia Gestatoria, with His Retinue")
Hilliard Goldfarb et al. Italian Paintings and Drawings Before 1800 in the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum. Unpublished manuscript. (Boston, 1996-2000). (as "Pope Sylvestor I Carried in the Sedia Gestatoria, with His Retinue")
Thomas McGrath. "Colour in Italian Renaissance Drawings." Apollo 146 (November 1997), pp. 22-30.
Thomas McGrath. "Federico Barocci and the history of patelli in central Italy." Apollo 148 (November 1998), pp. 3-9.
Konrad Oberhuber. Roma e lo stile classico di Raffaello: 1515-1527. Exh. cat. (Mantova: Palazzo Te; Vienna: Graphische Sammlung Albertina, 1999), pp. 230-31, no. 159. (as "A Pope on a Sedia Gestatoria")
Alan Chong et al. (eds.) Eye of the Beholder: Masterpieces from the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum (Boston, 2003), pp. 79-80. (as "Procession of Pope Sylvester I," about 1516-17)
Joachim Jacoby and Martin Sonnabend. (eds.) Raphael Drawings. Exh. cat. (Frankfurt: Städel Museum, 2012), pp. 199-201, no. 35. (as "Papal Procession," about 1520)

Rights and reproductions

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The drawing depicts Pope Sylvester I (reigned 314–335) in the sedia gestatoria, the portable papal throne. He is being carried out to meet the Emperor Constantine on the occasion of the Donation of Constantine, in which the pope was given territorial possessions and broad powers. The subject, which illustrated an important source of papal authority, was chosen for a fresco in the Vatican.

Raphael used this drawing to develop the fresco’s composition. Each figure has been given clarity and weight, from the pope’s gesture of benediction to the several figures that turn to look out at the viewer. The paper has been squared for transfer: reproducing a design in a different scale is much easier when copying elements in the individual squares, rather than trying to copy the whole drawing at once. There are two sets of grid lines which go both under and over the design, suggesting that the drawing is just one step in an extended creative process. Raphael did not live to paint the fresco. His assistants, principally Giulio Romano, changed the motif considerably for the final painting in the Sala di Constantino.

Raphael’s use of colored chalk is unusual (he used it on only one other drawing), but highly effective. The artist reworked the position and pose of the figures in black chalk; several areas have been rubbed out and redrawn. The disposition of red, orange, and yellow throughout the composition allowed Raphael to work out the massing of figures and the overall color balance. This drawing is both documentary and beautiful: we witness Raphael’s creative thinking and working method.

Source: Richard Lingner, "Procession of Pope Sylvester I," in Eye of the Beholder, edited by Alan Chong et al. (Boston: ISGM and Beacon Press, 2003): 79.