Lot 104
  • 104

JUSEPE DE RIBERA, CALLED LO SPAGNOLETTO | Head of a woman wearing a veil with two small naked figures on it

40,000 - 60,000 EUR
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  • Jusepe de Ribera, detto Lo Spagnoletto
  • Head of a woman wearing a veil with two small naked figures on it
  • Red chalk
  • 121 by 92 mm; 4 3/4 by 3 5/8 in.


Sale, Paris, Boisgirard-Antonini, 18 December 2013, lot 222 (as Ecole d'Italie du Nord vers 1600);
With Artur Ramon Art, Barcelona, from whom purchased by the present owner


V. Farina, 'Ribera's Satirical Portrait of a Nun', Master Drawings, LII, no. 4 (2014), pp. 471-480, reproduced p. 472, fig. 1;
G. Finaldi, Jusepe de Ribera. The Drawings, exhib. cat., Madrid, Museo Nacional del Prado, Seville, Fundación Focus, and Dallas, Meadows Museum, SMU, 2016, pp. 324-325, cat. no. 135, reproduced p. 325 (entry by E. Cenalmor, G. Finaldi, E. Payne)


Laid down on an old piece of paper and window mounted. Cut in an irregular shape and made up at the four corners and along the left margin. There are losses from silverfish in a number of places in the lower part of the drawing and a few in the upper part which have been sensitively restored, now hardly visible. Scattered insect droppings, dark colour. Brown added framing lines around the edges. The media is still strong.
"In response to your inquiry, we are pleased to provide you with a general report of the condition of the property described above. Since we are not professional conservators or restorers, we urge you to consult with a restorer or conservator of your choice who will be better able to provide a detailed, professional report. Prospective buyers should inspect each lot to satisfy themselves as to condition and must understand that any statement made by Sotheby's is merely a subjective, qualified opinion. Prospective buyers should also refer to any Important Notices regarding this sale, which are printed in the Sale Catalogue.

Catalogue Note

The present drawing is a wonderful example of Ribera’s skill as a draughtsman, combined with the unique expressive realism typical of the artist’s unconventional and spirited mind. It is one of the artist's most intriguing sheets.  As Viviana Farina, who first attributed the drawing to Ribera, has suggested (loc. cit.), it could be a portrait drawn from life. The refined and subtle description of the head of an old woman wearing a tight-fitting veil, with a rosary-like bead necklace hanging down her chest, could indicate the sitter was an elderly nun identified by Farina as Suor Eufrosina (born Donna Vittoria de Silva), the founder and Mother Superior of the Franciscan convent of Santissima Trinità delle Monache in Naples. Beautifully executed, solely in the red chalk that Ribera exploited so effectively throughout his career as a draughtsman, this sheet is delicately and precisely drawn, leaving the natural colour of the paper to enhance the strong chiaroscuro effects that animate the features of the face.  This witty and intense image could indeed very well be executed from life.  This aspect distinguishes the present work from other representations of grotesque and satirical heads, where the accentuated peculiarities of the figures' features play a much more significant role than in the present image.  Here, the old lady's head is turned slightly to one side, but the viewer can still clearly see her fixed and determined stare.  Her glance seems to be directed downwards, though, as Farina points out, only her right eye appears to be functional, while ‘the left eye socket reveals an empty void below a scarred eyebrow, presumably the result of a serious injury’.  In Farina’s view, ’such precise and unusual details suggest that the sitter was someone actually known to Ribera’. 

Contrary to the delicately refined finish seen in the figure's face, in areas such as the veil and the shoulders Ribera turned to a much broader execution, shadowed by controlled parallel lines. The beads of the rosary also perform an important function, filling an otherwise empty space and creating strong and luminous contrasts.  The impact of this image is cleverly calibrated, though still spontaneous, and it is only at a second glance that one becomes aware of the two tiny figures, perhaps acrobats, sprawled over the top of the old woman’s veil, almost holding it in place, which transform the drawing from a simple portrait into a satirical and enigmatic, even somewhat disturbing, image of a type that is also found elsewhere amount the artist’s drawings.  In the entry on this drawing in the recent exhibition catalogue and catalogue raisonné of Ribera’s drawings (see Literature), Cenalmor, Finaldi and Payne relate these strange figures on the woman’s head to the ‘Lilliputian’ figures in other ‘capriccio drawings’, dating from the late 1620s to the late 1630s, in particular the sheets depicting A masked Man with small figures clambering up his bodyA Man wearing a large Cloak with a small naked Man holding a Banner seated on his Head, Man wearing a Phrygian Cap with small Figures climbing on it, and Grotesque Head with small Figures on his Hat, respectively in Madrid, New York, Philadelphia, and a Private Collection.1  Moreover Farina has suggested that these acrobatic figures could be inspired by sculptural sources, or by drawings for applied art such as Salviati’s Study of a Casket, in the Uffizi or Grotesque Studies in the Louvre.2

Another drawing with which the present work has been compared, both by Farina and by Cenalmor, Finaldi and Payne, is the Study of a Grotesque Head with Goitres and Pointed Ear, a red chalk drawing in the Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge (fig. 1).3 Brown considered that drawing to be made from life, from the same model as Ribera's etching, the Large Grotesque Head (fig. 2).4  In discussing the Fitzwilliam drawing in relation to the artist’s two etchings, the Small Grotesque Head and the Large Grotesque Head, Farina identifies the date of 1622 on the first etching as ‘a chronological point of reference for this type of work’, and argues, on stylistic grounds, for a dating of the present sheet to the mid-1620s.  Cenalmor, Finaldi and Payne, however, believe our drawing should be dated to the late 1630s ‘on account of its expressive freedom and analogous subject matter to such drawings as the Grotesque Head with small Figures on his Hat and the Grotesque Head of a bearded Man wearing a Phrygian Cap’’.5

Ribera was clearly fascinated by grotesque physiognomies, in a way that links him to the Leonardesque tradition of grotesque heads, as well as to the eternal human fascination with anomalies and oddities.  The present sheet, somehow a more realistic image than most of the artist’s other drawings and etchings of similar subjects, seems to add a more intimate and emotional dimension to Ribera’s powerful sense of satire and the grotesque.

1. Madrid, Museo Nacional del Prado, inv. no. D8743; New York, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, inv. no. 1981.395; Philadelphia, Museum of Fine Art, inv. no. 1984-56-8; Private collection; Jusepe de Ribera, The Drawings, op. cit., 2016, cat. nos. 62, 110, 111, 132, respectively
2. Florence, Uffizi, Gabinetto di Disegni e Stampe, inv. no. 1612 E; Paris, Louvre, inv. no. RF536; Farina, op. cit., 2014, p. 477, fig. 9, p. 478, fig. 10
3. Cambridge, The Fitzwilliam Museum, inv. no. PD.26-1958; Jusepe de Ribera, The Drawings, op. cit., 2016, cat. no. 16, reproduced
4. See Literature, 2016, p. 88, p. 68, fig. 7.1 
5. Respectively: Private collection, and Oxford, Ashmolean Museum, inv. no. WA 1863.1480; Jusepe de Ribera, The Drawings, op. cit., 2016, cat. nos. 132, 133