Paul and Eula Ganz, New York, by September 1962,
Thence by descent to Kate Ganz;
With Kate Ganz Ltd., London, until at least 1993;
Private collection, London;
With Jean-Luc Baroni, London, by 2003;
Where acquired by the present owner.
London, Kate Ganz Ltd., Italian Drawings 1500–1800, 30 June – 10 July 1987, no. 13;
New York, Jason McCoy Inc., Heads and Portraits: Drawings from Piero di Cosimo to Jasper Johns, 6 May – 12 June 1993, no. 6;
New York, Adam Williams Fine Art Ltd., 1–30 May 2003; and London, Jean-Luc Baroni, 3–26 July 2003, Master Drawings, no. 13;
Bologna, Museo Civico Archeologico, 22 September 2006 – 7 January 2007; and Rome, Chiostro del Bramante, 25 January – 6 May 2007, Annibale Carracci, no. II.3;
London, Ordovas, Painting from Life: Carracci Freud, 5 October – 15 December 2012, no. 1.
Catalogue of the Ellesmere Collection of Drawings by the Carracci and other Bolognese Masters, Sale, London, Sotheby's, 11 July 1972, p. 123, under lot 55;
D.S. Pepper, 'Annibale Carracci ritrattista', in Arte Illustrata, no. 6, 1973, pp. 131, 134 and 137, note 15, reproduced fig. 9;
P.J. Cooney and G. Malafarina, L'opera completa di Annibale Carracci, Milan 1976, pp. 99–100, no. 53, reproduced;
A.O. Cavina, 'Studies from Life: Annibale Carracci's Paintings of the Blind', in Emilian Painting of the 16th and 17th Centuries: A Symposium, Washington 1987, pp. 98–99, reproduced fig. 147;
C. Robertson, 'Annibale Carracci and Invenzione: Medium and Function in the Early Drawings', in Master Drawings, vol. XXXV, no. 1, 1997, p. 40, note 92;
C. Loisel, 'Ludovico, Agostino, Annibale Carracci', in Musée du Louvre, Cabinet des Dessins, Inventaire Général des Dessins Italiens, no. 7, 2004, p. 221, under no. 445;
D. Benati, in Annibale Carracci, exh. cat., Milan 2006, p. 98, no. II.3, reproduced p. 99;
S.B. Wilson, 'The Portrait Drawings of Annibale Carracci: Representations of Masculinity and Homosociality in early modern Bologna', unpublished M.A. Thesis, Texas Christian University, 2009, p. 28, reproduced p. 67, fig. 9;
P. Ordovas, Painting from Life: Carracci Freud, London 2012, no. 1, reproduced in colour.
In the catalogue of the revealing exhibition at the Ordovas Gallery, London, which juxtaposed three notable Carracci portraits studies, including the present one, with six portraits by Lucian Freud, Xavier Bray observed that Annibale clearly believed ‘the painter should imitate Nature high and low, beautiful and ugly, perfect or deformed.’ Bray rightly stressed the importance of Annibale’s practice of drawing from live models and from the natural world before creating his artistic compositions, a process he compares to the skill of a film editor ‘who assembles different shots from a variety of perspectives to create a composite whole.’2
Along with his brother Agostino and their cousin Lodovico, Annibale set up an Academy in their Bologna studio in the early 1580s, where drawing from life models – ‘dal modello’ – was a pivotal element of the artistic education on offer. According to the biographer Malvasia, this focus on Nature in the Carracci Academy went much further than was usual at the time, with students drawing constantly, not only from live subjects, both male and female, but also making anatomical studies from corpses, and recording every aspect of everyday life.3 Annibale would surely also have regarded the making of studies in oil on paper such as this example as part of the same working practice, and he may have painted a good number of them, but very few have survived, and they are now considered amongst his most significant works.
Dynamically painted across almost the entire surface of the sheet, this portrait was first quickly sketched with thin layers of paint, and subsequently subtly finished with touches of colour in areas around the eyes, nose and mouth. The sitter seems to be absorbed in his thoughts, while looking towards the painter with an aura of gravitas. The colourful and rather dry touches of white, grey, red and brown imbue this portrait with the spark of life, demonstrating the artist’s power of discerning observation and directness of thought. The biographer Bellori's account of Annibale speaks of nature as his teacher, stressing the painter’s gift for direct and true observation: '...Ludovico riconoscendo in lui una fatal forza alla pittura, quasi havesse un maggior precettore, che gl'insegnasse occultamente, cioé la sapientissima Natura, cominciò ad amarlo, e se lo tirò in casa, dando luogo a quella stupenda inclinazione' ('Ludovico could recognize Annibale's extraordinary talent, almost as if he had a superior teacher who was teaching him in secret, this being the erudite Nature, which started to love him, and took him home, nourishing that wonderful inclination').4
Posner dated this imposing and moving work to 1589–90, shortly after Annibale’s return from Venice in 1588. He stressed the free handling and its concentration on the head and the gaze of the sitter, and suggested that the technique of sketching in oil on paper was learned by the Carracci from Venetian painters.5 Stephen Pepper proposed a similar dating to Posner, though possibly just into the 1590s, but in any case prior to Annibale’s departure for Rome, in 1595.6 More recently, Daniele Benati, in his entry for this work in the 2006–07 exhibition catalogue, has convincingly suggested a much earlier dating, around 1583. He noted that Posner’s dating should be reconsidered in the light of other oil sketches by the artist that have come to light since 1971, stressing that this work does not display first hand evidence of Venetian accents, but rather refers to the type of ‘second-hand knowledge of Titian’s art’ that Volpe detected in the more experimental sections of Annibale’s 1583 Crucifixion of San Nicolò.7 In fact, in that extraordinary painting, an early work executed for the church of Santa Maria della Carità in Bologna, Annibale demonstrates a striking and bold naturalism in the execution of the figures, and a coloristic palette definitively pervaded by a clear knowledge of Titian's works, which he could not have ignored even before his Venetian sojourn.
In the years following Posner’s initial publication of this work, a number of other head studies, all executed in oil on paper but varying considerably in quality, have come to light, including a group of six portraits of blind men and women, which have been attributed both to Annibale and to his workshop.8 Also to be mentioned in this respect is a Head of an Old Woman, datable to the 1590s, in the Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge9, which, as Xavier Bray rightly stressed, is closely related in style to the three oil on paper head studies by Annibale included in the Ordovas Gallery Carracci Freud exhibition. 10
In terms of dating, the present work seems to fall stylistically just after Annibale's extraordinary early painting, the Butcher’s Shop (1582–83), in the Christ Church Picture Gallery, Oxford, and just before the magnificent ‘Mangiafagioli’ ('Bean–Eater'), in the Galleria Colonna, Rome, datable to circa 1584–85.11 Its modern and straightforward approach, however, makes this a totally timeless image, and in its rapid and vibrant execution, it is an examplar of Annibale's mastery and 'bravura'. As is so very evident here, these portrait studies are arresting in their psychological gravity and ability to convey the emotional presence of the sitter. They are, quite simply, among the most striking and original artistic expressions of the late sixteenth century.
1. Posner 1971, p. 25, no. 53. Though describing it as the artist’s only work in this medium, Posner in fact also included in his catalogue the Portrait of a Young Man, in the Borghese Gallery, dated to 1583/84, p. 6, no. 10.
2. X. Bray, ‘Annibale Carracci's Portrait Head Studies,’ in Ordovas 2012, p. 9.
3. C.C. Malvasia, Felsina Pittrice, Vite de'Pittori Bolognesi, Forni (ed.), Bologna 1967, p. 277.
4. G.P. Bellori, Le Vite de' Pittori, Scutori ed Architetti Moderni..., Rome 1672, p. 39.
5. Posner 1971, p. 25, no. 53.
6. Pepper 1971, pp. 131–32.
7. Benati 2006, p. 98.
8. Cavina 1987, pp. 89–100, reproduced figs 141–46. Two of these works have been generally accepted as the work of Annibale (figs 141–42), the remaining four are considered ‘Annibale or his workshop.’
9. Cambridge, Fitzwilliam Museum; inv. no. PD. 17-1992; see Ordovas 2012, reproduced p. 14. Like others in the group of Carracci’s works of this type (including the other, exhibited, Head of an Old Woman, in a private collection), the image is painted over what appears to be a laundry list.
10. The other two exhibited works were: Head of an Old Man, London, Dulwich Picture Gallery; inv. no. DPG 286; see Ordovas 2012, reproduced p. 68. This work has been recently restored, which has revealed that it is on paper laid on canvas, rather than painted directly onto canvas, as was thought at the time of the exhibition; Head of an Old Woman, in a private collection.
11. Respectively: Oxford, Christ Church; inv. no. JBS 181; and Rome, Galleria Colonna; inv. no. 164.
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