This drawing of St. Nicholas of Bari, the model for Santa Claus,[1] was done by the artist Jean-Robert Ango (b. unknown, d. 1773) after the statue of the saint on the colonnade of St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome. Ango, originally from France, lived and worked in Rome from 1759 to 1772. During this time he executed hundreds of drawings after the work of other artists, such as Michelangelo’s Last Judgment and his Sistine Chapel ceiling frescoes. Ango copied paintings, ornamental details, and statues, including eighteen of the 140 saints who appear on the colonnade of St. Peter’s. It seems that Ango sold his drawings to support himself. This was unusual for his time, when artists tended to draw in preparation for specific paintings or to create a general record of others’ works for themselves.[2]

Ango’s drawings of St. Nicholas and the other saints demonstrate his skill beyond basic draftsmanship: Ango depicted the statues as if he were directly in front of them, but in reality these statues are perched well over 20 m (65 ft) above ground.[3] To compensate further for the statues’ actual distance from the viewer, Ango elaborated upon the details of the crudely carved statues, in this instance paying particular attention to St. Nicholas’ robes, to the effect that these drawings seem based on detailed paintings. Ango carefully reproduced St. Nicholas’ right hand in the upper right corner of the drawing after having connected a less-than-ideal version to the saint’s body, a reminder that Ango was “no great master of extremities,” in the words of one scholar.[4]

Ango’s artistic output goes against the typical progression of design. Instead of beginning with a drawing and ending with a two- or three-dimensional work in another medium, Ango literally brought paintings and sculptures back to the drawing board in close examination of their existing design. In doing so, he provided his own interpretations, altering poses and faces and even compositions, such as the way he grouped figures from disparate areas of Michelangelo’s frescoes.

A figure from above the Salmon spandrel and a figure from elsewhere on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel. Drawing by Jean-Robert Ango. Collection of Cooper Hewitt.

A figure from above the Salmon spandrel and a figure from elsewhere on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel. Drawing, Figures from Sistine Chapel ceiling, ca. 1759–70. red chalk on paper. Gift of Noah Butkin. 1977-110-1-26.

[1] “Saint Nicholas,” Encyclopædia Britannica Online.

[2] Phyllis Dearborn Massar, “Drawings by Jean-Robert Ango after Paintings and Sculpture in Rome,” Master Drawings XXXVII no. 1 (1999): 35-36, 39.

[3] Ibid.

[4] James David Draper, “Ango After Michelangelo,” Burlington Magazine CXXXIX no. 1131 (1997): 398.

Vianna Newman was a Peter A. Krueger Intern in the Department of Drawings, Prints, and Graphic Design during the summer of 2015. She has a B.A. in Rome and the Renaissance and Italian from Indiana University.

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