This magnificent drawing represents Michelangelo's design for an altarpiece commissioned around 1547 for the Cesi family chapel in Santa Maria della Pace, Rome. Roused from her reading by the sudden appearance of a large angel who announces that she is to conceive and bear a son, the Virgin turns to look over her shoulder, raising a protective hand. The figures are evoked by a dense layering of delicate black chalk strokes, whereas the marks of the domestic setting—a cabinet supporting a statue of Moses and containing a basket, book, and pitcher—are only lightly outlined. Characterized by Vasari as a "cosa nuova" (new thing), the image constitutes a benchmark for religious art in Rome around 1550.


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