This handsome frontal study of the face of a young boy, occupying the entirety of the sheet, is a great example of this refined process of observation from life. The sitter’s presence is here conveyed with sophistication and ability, focusing on the careful modeling of volumes achieved with a variety of strokes, delicately drawn in red chalk. These perfectly evoke the likeness, the intensity of gaze and the active participation of this youth, showing an easy rapport between artist and sitter, the latter of whom must surely have found it difficult to stay still for the time required to make such a drawing. The strong frontal light, falling to the right, casts some of his face into shadow, and also the area to the left of his head, conveying very effectively a sense of the space in which he sits. The collar and jacket are only roughly and broadly sketched, creating an interesting contrast with the meticulous level of finish in the sitter's face. This variation emphasizes the subtle nuances in how the artist has captured the light, the highly worked up areas contrasting with others where it is the natural color of the paper that catches the light, infusing the otherwise static pose of the youth with great vitality and energy. Carefully drawn and effortless in its execution, the drawing shows considerable assurance in the handling of the medium.
Although apparently sold from the Lawrence collection as the work of Annibale, and exhibited as such several times since then, the engraver-like execution and the precise and refined handling of the red chalk, with its methodical and controlled shading, seem much more typical of his brother Agostino, and is especially reminiscent of some of his skillfully handled pen and ink studies. Thomas Lawrence owned 160 drawings by the three Carracci, and 100 of those were presented in March 1836 as the sixth of the ten exhibitions of drawings from the Lawrence collection that Samuel Woodburn mounted, in order to disperse the collection after Lawrence's death. Almost all of the exhibited Carracci drawings were sold en bloc to Lord Francis Egerton, later the first Earl of Ellesmere (1880-1857), but the present drawing - which bears Lawrence's stamp - could well be identifiable with no. 57 in Woodburn's catalogue, a sheet of similar size, listed as Annibale Carracci, and described as: ‘Portrait of a youth-probably Antonio Carracci; red chalk, delicately handled.’ In the Sotheby's Ellesmere collection sale catalogue of 1972, there is another portrait in red chalk (lot 30), which bears the old inscription Ritratto di Antonio Carassi da Agostino, but that drawing must have been no. 45 in the Woodburn/Lawrence catalogue (‘Portrait of his son, Antonio Carracci - an artist of great promise, who died young; red chalk. Very fine’), a drawing that is now in the collection of the Art Institute of Chicago.1 No other drawing in the 1972 Ellesmere sale can be identified with Woodburn's catalogue number 57, so it can reasonably be assumed that the work offered here is in fact that sheet.
The features of the boys represented in the present drawing and the one in Chicago are fairly similar, but it is hard to judge for certain whether both drawings portray the same sitter, as the boy in the Chicago drawing is rather older - perhaps around 15 years of age. Antonio Carracci, the natural son of Agostino, was born in Venice around 1583. After his father's death in 1602, he went to work for his uncle Annibale in Rome, subsequently inheriting his studio. Antonio has been identified as the subject of a number of drawn and painted works, such as the portrait of a young boy, holding a pair of cherries and resting his hands on a table with a lute beside him, in the Gemäldegalerie, Dresden.2 The image engraved in Malvasia's Felsina Pittrice (1678), which Catherine Loisel has recently rightly associated with a drawing by Annibale in the Uffizi, shows Antonio at a similar age, but in profile.3
Although the identity of the sitter in this skillful drawing may never be known for sure, the engraver-like handling of the red chalk is not unlike the impressive Portrait of a Woman, formerly in the collection of Curtis O. Baer, and now in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York.4 The attribution of the Metropolitan sheet to Agostino, already made by John Skippe in around 1800, was accepted by A.E. Popham, and later by Felice Stampfle and Jacob Bean in the catalogue of their 1967 exhibition, Drawings from New York Collections, The 17th Century in Italy, where they wrote: ‘The painstaking manner in which the planes of the face are modeled by generous areas of regular hatching conforms to the accepted norm of Agostino’s style’.5
These two drawings share the same strict frontality of pose and striking directness, but in the delicacy of execution and the particular shade of red chalk that the artist has used, the present drawing is perhaps closer to Agostino's so-called portrait of Antonio, in Chicago, if rather more spontaneous in handling that that drawing.
1. Chicago, The Art Institute of Chicago, inv. no. 1973.152 (bears another old inscription on the verso lower left, visible through the mount): Ritratto da Antonio Carracci del. Par Agostino
2. Dresden, Gemäldegalerie Alte Meister, inv. no. 316
3. Florence, Uffizi, Gabinetto Disegni e Stampe, inv. no. 1668 E; A. Petrioli Tofani, Inventario, 2. Disegni esposti, Verona 1987, p. 689, reproduced
4. New York, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, inv. no. 1994.143
5. F. Stampfle and J. Bean, Drawings from New York Collections, The 17th Century in Italy, exhib. cat., New York, Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1967, pp. 20-21, no. 5, reproduced pl. 5
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