Master Works on Paper from Five Centuries

Master Works on Paper from Five Centuries

View full screen - View 1 of Lot 26. Portrait of Serafino Falzacappa, studying at a table.

Property of a Gentleman

Pier Leone Ghezzi

Portrait of Serafino Falzacappa, studying at a table

Auction Closed

January 26, 04:31 PM GMT


15,000 - 20,000 USD

Lot Details


Property of a Gentleman

Pier Leone Ghezzi

1674 - 1755

Portrait of Serafino Falzacappa, studying at a table

Pen and brown ink within double pen and brown ink framing lines;

partially inscribed and dated on the verso, upper right margin: 1714

200 by 300 mm; 7⅞ by 11⅞ in.

Presumably the Falzacappa family, Corneto (Tarquinia);
Private Collection, UK

This charming and engaging drawing, executed in pen and ink by Pier Leone Ghezzi, expertly combines portraiture with the everyday genre scene. The boy depicted is Serafino Nicola Falzacappa (b. 1706), the young son of one of Ghezzi’s longstanding patrons. The Falzacappa family came from the ancient Etruscan city of Corneto, northwest of Rome (today called Tarquinia). Ghezzi was commissioned in 1712 by Serafino’s father, Giovanni Vicenzo Falzacappa, to paint an altarpiece of the Madonna and Child with Saint Joseph and Saint Felice Cappuccino for the Church of Saint Joseph in Tarquinia.1 In the years that followed, Ghezzi also completed several portraits of other members of the Falzacappa family.

Pier Leoni Ghezzi is perhaps best known for his celebrated series of caricatures of various members of Roman society, which paint a vivid picture of Rome in the 18th Century. The present sheet stands, however, apart from the artist’s humorous sketches, both in subject and in style. The manner in which Ghezzi has executed this beguiling study, clearly drawn from life, is quite different from the print-like technique he generally employed in his caricatures. Here, he adopts a much looser and freer application of pen and ink, creating more believable and tangible textures, for example in the boy’s hair and jacket.

The composition, seemingly executed in 1714 (according to a partially legible inscription on the verso), illustrates an informal scene of homework being completed at a table. Serafino’s schoolbag is strewn across the left side of the table, his ink and feather quills are positioned to his right, while in front of him are his schoolbooks. This is clearly an activity that occurred with frequency, most probably daily, after school, at the young boy’s home. Ghezzi has captured his sitter as he looks up from his studies, one hand marking his place in the book, the other raised, either gesturing or counting. It is a marvelous glimpse into life at his patron’s house and clearly demonstrates the fondness and close bond Ghezzi had with the Falzacappa family. Another closely related drawing depicting Serafino with his brother Francesco, seated at a table and writing, is now in The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles.2 The Getty double portrait captures the two young boys in much the same situation that we see here, and portrays them with equal sensitivity. It is highly likely that both these drawings were executed around the same moment, when Ghezzi paid a visit to the Falzacappa family in Corneto. Both sheets are drawn within framing lines, suggesting they were intended as finished works of art, either commissioned by the family or as a gift from the artist.

Other drawn portraits by Ghezzi of the Falzacappa family include the Contessa Agnese Sguazzi Falzacappa with a Nun and an Abbot and The Portrait of the Mother of Contessa Falzacappa.3 An oil painting, also by Ghezzi, of a slightly older Serafino Falzacappa was recently on the art market in Italy.4

This delightful sheet is rare in Ghezzi’s oeuvre, as true portrait studies emerge far less frequently on the market than his caricatures. Other comparable drawings of children by the artist include two studies now in the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston: A Boy standing with one hand in his pocket and A beggar boy standing, pointing with his right hand.5

Ghezzi’s multivalent talent as an artist is demonstrated by his ability to reveal the tender and unassuming side of human nature, so keenly captured in the present drawing, to convey the inner psychology of his sitters, and to capture the slapstick elements so fundamental to his Roman caricatures.

1. A. Lo Bianco, Pier Leone Ghezzi Pittore, Palermo 1985, p. 172, no. 32

2. Portraits of Serafino and Francesco Falzacappa, The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles (inv. no. 2003.8); A. Lo. Bianco, Pier Leone Ghezzi Pittore, Palermo 1985, p. 172-173, no. 32a

3. A. Lo Bianco, op.cit., figs. 32b and 32c

4. Sale, Cambi casa d'Aste, 1 December 2015, lot 72

5. A Boy standing with one hand in his pocket (inv. no. 62.813) and A beggar boy standing, pointing with his right hand (inv. no. 62.926)