This drawing was created as a preliminary study for the figure of St Catherine at the left in the foreground of the painting of the Sacra Conversazione [or Mystic Marriage] in the Musée du Louvre (Paris). Here, the artist experimented with effects of light and shadow for the individual draped figures before incorporating them into the overall composition.
The drawing was then squared in black in order to facilitate its enlargement and transfer to the panel. The subtle white highlights and dark passages testify to a careful study of effects of light and volume. Vasari directly praises this quality in Fra Bartolomeo’s work: he ‘understood how to create depth and to bring the figures into relief by using dark shadows’. Working with the greyish brown paper, the artist was permitted to model both in light and dark.