Cristoforo Roncalli's comprehensive understanding of the human form is evident in this sensuous drawing of an angel, whose idealized grace and beauty convey his divine status even more powerfully than his wings do. Striding across a cloud and holding an open book, the figure looks upward as if receiving a sacred message. Swirling strokes defining his tousled hair contrast with the parallel lines used to shade the wings. The figure's expressive movement and gesture, captured in a characteristic Mannerist contrapposto pose, effectively convey an unearthly power.
Though the drawing is not associated with any known painting, scholars believe it was made as a preparatory study for a larger project. Three studies of a male nude falling on his back, drawn on the verso of the sheet, provide a clue about this possible undertaking. The verso studies show how Roncalli worked out his composition for The Conversion of St. Paul, a fresco he executed at a chapel in Rome in 1586. It is possible that the angel was drawn for the same chapel; however, large sections of the painting are now missing due to damage and deterioration. Both the angel and the studies of the falling figure show Roncalli's extraordinary ability to capture the unrestrained rhythm and energy of the body.