When this series of head studies was in the possession of Richard Owen (see Provenance) each one was photographed, and a set of images is preserved in the Library of the Harvard Art Museums. Knox dates the drawings to c.1760, much the same moment when the artist was working on his Holy Family series.1 Like the Holy Family drawings, these were conceived as independent works, rather than as preparatory studies for specific paintings. Bernard Aikema suggests that they may have been produced as a type of pattern book of motifs to be used in future paintings by the atelier, and specifically by Tiepolo’s sons, Domenico and Lorenzo.2
Giambattista Tiepolo’s series of head studies also served as the basis for two sets of etchings by his son Domenico. These Raccolte di Teste were executed by Domenico between 1770 and 1774 and were made as a tribute to his father, who died on 27 March 1770. An etching of a very similar turbaned head study features in volume II of Domenico’s series (fig. 1).3 Also very similar is another drawing in the Ashmolean Museum, Oxford, depicting a bearded man in a jewelled turban, but there the figure’s head is more bent forward than in the Barnet drawing, and the turban covers more of his face.4 Giovanni Domenico Tiepolo also executed a fine oil painting of the Head of an Old Man, sold in these Rooms in 2008, which is close to his father's drawing.5
Though we cannot see the old man’s eyes, a strong sense of personality emanates from this expressive study, and the viewer is totally captivated by the image. Just as in his drawing of the Holy Family (lot 23), Giovanni Battista’s skill in creating both form and emotional engagement with such economy of media is nothing short of genius.
1. Tiepolo, A Bicentenary Exhibition 1770-1970. Drawings, mainly from American collections by Giambattista Tiepolo and the members of his circle, exhib. cat., Havard University, Fogg Art Museum, 1970, under no. 93
2. B. Aikema et al., Tiepolo in Holland, exhib. cat., Rotterdam, Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen, 1996, p. 90
3. G. Knox, op. cit., Vol II. No. II 24
4. Ibid., vol I, Fig. I 10
5. Sale, New York, Sotheby's, 5 June 2008, lot 115
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