The drawing portrays St Blaise, the Christian martyr and bishop of Sebaste (Asia Minor), traditionally the patron saint of wool-carders, who use iron combs similar in appearance to the rake used to tear off the saint’s skin before he was put to death. The flat, square, short-toothed comb is the symbol of the martyrdom of St Blaise.
The autography of the drawing, attributed with reservation to Raphael in the inventory, is generally accepted by experts. Fischel (1913–41) has suggested a connection between this drawing, a magnificent example of Raphael’s draughtsmanship, and Palazzo San Biagio, built by Bramante for Pope Julius II. Solidly built up with a few basic lines and close parallel hatching which tends to cross in the definition of light and shade, the figure of the saint has been drawn with great mastery of the pen, the graphic medium best suited to the rapid expression of an initial idea, made all in one go.
Raphael, a tireless draughtsman of extraordinary talent, was able to develop his penmanship during his stay in Florence, a period of feverish study during which the young artist carried out endless drawing exercises.
The back of the sheet contains what appears to be a rapid sketch of an architectural detail in pen and ink.