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Caravaggio, Studies of arms and hands, one holding a book, c.1520-25 © The Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge

Formerly in the collection of Jerome Lanier, and then that of his nephew Nicolas Lanier (1588-1666) who attributed it to Perino del Vaga (1501-1547), this drawing later belonged to Sir Joshua Reynolds. An anonymous nineteenth century collector attributed four of the individual studies to Elisabetta Sirani (1638-1665) and one to Annibale Carracci (1560-1609), both Bolognese artists. This separation of the attribution of the studies to two artists' hands presumably took into account that they were drawn on two pieces of paper and that the colour of the red chalk differs. The attribution to Perino del Vaga is of long standing and is comprehensible in the light of the study in the Louvre by him for a Dead Christ, with studies of an ear and of two left arms, which like this drawing has considerable elegance and is very close in style and execution to Raphael (in whose Roman studio Perino worked). However there are several red chalk drawings of arms and hands by Polidoro da Caravaggio (who had worked closely with Perino in Raphael's studio), which compare equally well, if not better with the Fitzwilliam drawing. The claw-like fingers are closer to Polidoro; so too is the smoothness of the chalk and the softness of the outline. No matter which artist the drawing is attributed to it is clearly of great beauty, brilliant in its execution and very close in style to Raphael himself.

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