The Dream (Il Sogno)
engraving, circa 1546, on laid paper, watermark Anchor in a Circle surmounted by a Star (similar to Woodward 158), a very good impression of the second state (of three), with Salamanca's address rubbed out
Plate 435 x 298 mm.
Sheet 435 x 304 mm.
Giovanni Locarno (active 1826-1840), Milan (Lugt 1691)
Enrico Lodolo (19th century), Rome (Lugt 1725).
Paul Davidsohn (1839-1924), London, Vienna & Berlin (Lugt 654); his sale, C. G. Boerner, Leipzig, 3-8 May 1920, lot 318 ('Vorzüglicher erster Abdruck vor aller Adresse' [sic]).
Christie's, London, 29 June 1978, lot 59.
Eric G. Stanley (1923-2018), Oxford; acquired from the above sale (through P. & D. Colnaghi, London).
Passavant 112
See B. Barnes, Michelangelo in Print: Reproductions as Response in the Sixteenth Century, 2010, p. 66-69.
See M. Bury, Michelangelo's Dream and Prints, in S. Buck, Michelangelo's Dream, 2010, London, p.167-70, cat. 14.
Special notice
Please note this lot is the property of a consumer. See H1 of the Conditions of Sale.
Brought to you by

Lot Essay

This enigmatic and diaphanous composition, on which the present engraving is based, was drawn in black chalk by Michelangelo around 1533. It is probably one of the presentation drawings given by the artist to the object of his passionate and enduring love, the young Roman nobleman Tommaso de' Cavalieri. The rather vague common title Il Sogno(‘The Dream’) was given to the drawing by Vasari in 1568, but it’s meaning has been the subject of discussion for centuries. Today, Erwin Panofsky’s interpretation of this composition as a moral allegory of the human soul, awakened from vice to virtue, appears to be generally accepted.

At the centre of the composition is a half-reclining male nude, in his pose not unlike that of Adam in the vault of the Sistine Chapel and also of Lazarus being raised from the grave. The figure is awakened by an winged genius or angel with a trumpet hovering in the air above him. He sits on a box, open at the front and revealing a collection of theatrical masks. In a position that is highly unstable, he rests with his arms and side against a sphere.

In the background is a multitude of interlaced figures, surrounding the central figure in a semi-circular ‘halo’: amorous couples, a drinker, a figure roasting a goose, and a couple of disembodied phalluses at left; several fighting figures, a crouching man, and two hands holding a money bag (a detail not without sexual innuendo either) at right. These figments of the dreamer’s imagination presumably represent the deadly sins, while the masks in the box are symbols of worldly illusion and deception. The sphere can undoubtedly be read as a metaphor for the uncertainty and fragility of human life.

According to Michael Bury (2010) 'a variety of different engravers, working for different publishers and probably (...) motivated by different objectives, were responsible' for engraving Michelangelo’s compositions after his drawings. He argues that they were 'well known and accessible, either directly or indirectly through reasonably accurate copies'. Bury believes that the first engraved version of Il Sogno, published by Michele Greco (or Lucchese) before 1545, was made by an anonymous printmaker. He also considers the present version, until recently attributed to Nicolas Beatrizet, as the work of an anonymous engraver, active in the circle of the publisher Antonio Salamanca whose address was added to the plate in the second state. Both engraved versions show some additional elements in the foreground not present in Michelangelo’s drawing, indicating that either one was derived from the other or that both are based on a slightly altered, now lost copy of the original composition.

See M. Bury, Michelangelo's Dream and Prints, in S. Buck, Michelangelo's Dream, 2010, London, p. 66-73 and 167-70, cat. 14.

In the catalogue of the Davidsohn sale, the present impression was erroneously catalogued as a first state, before all addresses.
More from
Old Master Prints
Place your bid Condition report

A Christie's specialist may contact you to discuss this lot or to notify you if the condition changes prior to the sale.

I confirm that I have read this Important Notice regarding Condition Reports and agree to its terms. View Condition Report