Work Head and Shoulders of a Man Writing
Department of Prints and Drawings: 17th century
RMN-Grand Palais - Photo M. Urtado
Prints and Drawings
Few of Strozzi's drawings survive. The Louvre acquired twelve of them in 1981.This one, from the "Borghese album," was attributed to the artist in the eighteenth century because of the annotation on the back - "P.G. Prete genovese" (the Genoese priest) - an allusion to the fact that the artist was once a member of a religious order. This skillfully executed work is of major significance, attesting to the sophistication and culture of Strozzi, who was influenced by seventeenth-century masters.
The inspiration of the writer
The sheet is irregular in shape, but the figure does not appear to have been cut off in any way. The man's face is turned three-quarters to the right, while the rest of his body faces the opposite direction. The reaction of sudden surprise, emphasized by the gleam in the eyes and parted lips, has not yet pervaded the entire body. The man holds his pen tightly in his hand, and the position of the torso and shoulders suggests deep concentration. The strokes used to render the flowing hair are swift, long, and fluent, giving the figure a very elegant air. The face, in contrast, is characterized by darker and shorter strokes in the darker or more descriptive parts, as, for example, the hairs on the chin. The artist skilfully suggests areas of light emerging from between the black chalk outlines; the luminous effect is accentuated by the white highlights. Furthermore, the evocation of light and the way in which the shadows are rendered indicates that the drawing was studiously prepared.
Genoa or Venice?
Although the attribution of this drawing has never been questioned, determing the period of the artist's career in which it was executed is more complicated. The drawing was thought to date from Strozzi's Genoese period, when he was exposed to influences from Tuscany and Lombardy as well as foreign ones - notably that of Peter Paul Rubens, who was in Genoa at the time. According to this hypothesis, the Louvre drawing was a preliminary study for a portrait of Saint John the Evangelist that is now kept in the Niedersächsisches Landesmuseum in Hanover. However, a more recent suggestion puts the date for this drawing and its painted version back to circa 1620, during the artist's Venetian period. This opens up an interesting interpretation of the purpose of the drawing.
A didactic purpose
It is thought that this drawing, like others, was part of a book of drawings designed for use by pupils of the master, who could thus learn and practise the art of draftsmanship using a resource put together for them. These drawings, selected by Strozzi himself, served an instructional purpose, in accordance with a procedure that had already been developed in the Academy of Drawing. The presence of details, whether Genoese or Venetian, apparently demonstrates that the drawing belongs to Strozzi's Venetian period - the painting must date from that time, given the nature of the draftsmanship and the color scheme.
BibliographyBoccardo P., Bernardo Strozzi, Genova 1581/82 - Venise 1644, Exposition à Gênes au Palazzo Ducale, 1995, p.308, n 105.Viatte F., Acquisitions du Cabinet des Dessins, 1973-1983, Expostion Paris au musée du Louvre, 1984, n 38.Viatte F., Anciens et nouveaux, Exposition Paris au Grand Palais, 1985/1986, n 48.
Bernardo Strozzi (Genoa, 1581-Venice, 1644)
Head and Shoulders of a Man Writing
Black chalk with white highlights on unevenly cut beige paper
H. 33.6cm; W. 22.2 cm
Sagredo collection. Purchased 1981.
Due to their fragility, works on paper are not on permanent display in the museum.
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