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Work Head and shoulders of a woman, in three-quarters profile facing left, with folded arms

Department of Prints and Drawings: 16th century

Femme en buste, de trois quarts vers la gauche, les bras croisés

Prints and Drawings
16th century

Author(s):
Mancini Federica

This drawing reflects Raphael's admiration for Leonardo da Vinci and in particular for the latter's portrait of Mona Lisa. The Umbrian artist knew the work of the Florentine through his master Perugino, Leonardo's fellow pupil under Verrocchio, and in Florence he was able to study his works directly. But his tribute to the painter of La Gioconda is not a mere copy; this Head and Shoulders of a Woman presents a synthesis of the Leonardesque models, in a personal interpretation of them.

The Lombard line

The woman, shown in three-quarters profile, faces the viewer. Her arms are folded and rest on a balustrade. Her clothes are described in detail and her hair is dressed in a style that was popular in Lombardy until 1510, known as the "lenza lombarda" (Lombard line). Two partially visible columns form a tight, vertical frame on either side of the portrait. The figure stands out against the wide open-air space in the background; a landscape is suggested in the outline of a tree to the left and a sketch of some buildings to the right.

A Gioconda its own right

The unfinished form of this composition is unusual in the work of Raphael, who considered drawing as a field of research, and consequently as a study in progress. Recently, a new work has been attributed to the master: the Portrait of Costanza Frugoso (private collection), which features the same pose, dress, and type of hair style. This discovery enlightens us as to the function of a drawing in relation to a particular painted work, which accounts for the finished state of the drawing. The apparent connection between the Head and Shoulders of a Woman and La Gioconda does not suffice to date the drawing, for Leonardo's work impressed Raphael throughout his life. He left for Florence in 1504 and stayed there until his departure for Rome in about 1508. His stay in Florence was essential to his knowledge of Florentine art. Considered one of the finest drawings in the French collections, the Head and Shoulders of a Woman was executed during this period, while Raphael was working on the Baglioni altarpiece (Lamentation over the Dead Christ, drawing, Louvre) and the Lady with a Unicorn (Rome, Galleria di Villa Borghese).

The fruit of admiration

According to Giorgio Vasari, it was the possibility of admiring Leonardo's drawings that drew Raphael to Florence in his youth. The historiographer saw a significant difference between the two artists: in his Lives of the Artists, his preference goes to Leonardo, whom Raphael never outclasses in the solving of certain difficult problems. This drawing shows the artist's in-depth knowledge of the Leonardesque models, which he used to create a masterpiece in its own right. The depiction of light, the precise technique, and the distribution of the spaces shown by hatching all contribute to his homage to Leonardo. Added to these are the strong, free lines of the face, an illustration of the artist's exceptional skill in technique, which led to Raphael the portrait drawer being described as a "painter without color." The lesson learned from Leonardo brought about a change in the drawing style of the young Umbrian, who developed a smooth, fluid line. When the two artists met up in Rome in 1513, Leonardo was forced to recognize the favor Raphael now enjoyed with the pope Julius II, and left for France three years later with his Mona Lisa.

Bibliography

Fischel O., Raphael, Londres, 1948.
Viatte François, in Raphaël dans les collections françaises, Galeries nationales du GrandPalais, Éditions de la Réunion des musées nationaux, 1984, notice 50.
Vasari Giorgio, Le Vite de' più eccellenti Pittori, Scultori ed Architettori, Florence, 1568, traduction française d'André Chastel, Paris, 1981-1989, 12 vol.
Lucco M., "A new portrait by Raphael and its historical context", in Artibus et Historiae, 41, XXI, 2000, p. 49-73.
Viatte François, Léonard de Vinci : Dessins et manuscrits, Musée du Louvre, Éditions de la Réunion des musées nationaux, 2003, p. 190-192, notice 62.

Technical description

  • Raffaello Sanzio, known as Raphael (1483-1520)

    Head and shoulders of a woman, in three-quarters profile facing left, with folded arms

    c. 1505-07

  • Pen and brown ink, traces of black chalk

    H. 22.2 cm; W. 15.9 cm

  • Everhard Jabach Collection; purchased for the Cabinet du Roi in 1671

    393882

  • Prints and Drawings

    Due to their fragility, works on paper are not on permanent display in the museum.

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