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Work Head of an Angel
Department of Prints and Drawings: 18th century
Prints and Drawings
Two eminent biographers of Goya, the painter and archaeologist Valentin Carderera (1796-1880) and the art historian Paul Lafond, owned this drawing. It is linked to the first important fresco cycle executed by the artist at the age of 25: the frescoes of the cupola of the "coreto" (little choir) of the Basílica del Pilar in Saragossa (1772). This monumental red chalk
drawing shows how the emerging genius of the artist transfigured an academic subject.
The dawn of a great talent
This large drawing is one of the earliest known drawings by Goya. It is a preliminary study for the head of the angel on the extreme left of the ceiling of the little choir ("coreto") of the Basílica del Pilar in Saragossa. The fresco was commissioned from Goya by the church chapter on October 21, 1771. The theme, which corresponded to the official eulogy of the Liturgy of Hours sung in the choir, was the Glory or Adoration of the Name of God by the Angels. The artist submitted a preparatory fresco on November 11, 1771, followed by several sketches. It is not known whether Goya did several preliminary drawings but the painted sketch in Barcelona (private collection), which is the most important, shows that he made alterations, some of which are still visible, directly on the canvas. Goya submitted the definitive sketch on January 27, 1772 and completed the fresco on June 1. The first documented and dated work by the artist, it paved the way for other commissions, reflecting the vogue for fresco decoration in the second half of the eighteenth century (e.g., the fresco cycle that he painted for the Charterhouse of the Aula Dei near Saragossa in 1774 and, above all, the decoration of the cupola and the pendentives of the Basílica del Pilar in Saragossa in 1780-81).
The angel: a classic subject
Another Head of an Angel (Madrid, Biblioteca Nacional), drawn in black chalk with white highlights and attributed to Goya, as well as two red chalk drawings for The Angels in the Clouds (Madrid, Prado and Carderera Collection), are the only documented works from this period. It is not known whether the three drawings were preliminary studies for the models of the sketch or of the definitive fresco, in both of which they are similarly arranged: they may well have been used for both compositions. The differences with regard to the more spontaneous quality of the painted sketch or even of the fresco are underlined by the rigid draftsmanship of the drawings, in all three of which the profiles are very carefully delineated.
Drawings done after returning from Italy
These large red chalk drawings, which resemble cartoons rather than mere
preparatory studies, are the first drawings that Goya is known to have done after his visit to Italy (1770-71), as attested by his Italian sketchbook (Madrid, Prado) which contains several preliminary drawings for his first Spanish works. However they are different from the drawings in the sketchbook, which are references to classical works (the Farnese Hercules, the Belvedere Torso) and especially contemporary Roman art (Marco Benefial, Corrado Giaquinto, Pompeo Batoni, Pierre Subleyras, and Hubert Robert). Nor do they reflect the working method used by the artist during this phase of his youth: an initial rapid sketch of the composition drawn on paper, then a sketch in oil in which the details were reworked, before painting the definitive version. On the contrary, the figures, which here are extremely finished, are in the academic tradition, represented at the time by the drawings of Raphael Mengs, and especially Ramón and Francisco Bayeu.
BibliographyBoubli L., Inventaire général des dessins : Ecole espagnole XVIe-XVIIIe siècle, Paris, RMN, 1984, n 187.Sérullaz A., Acquisitions du Cabinet des Dessins 1973-1983, Exposition Paris, Musée du Louvre, 1984, n 156.
Francisco José de Goya y Lucientes (Fuenderodos, 1746-Bordeaux, 1828)
Head of an Angel
Red chalk with light white highlights on brown paper
H. 46.6 cm; W. 34.8 cm
Collection of Javier Goya y Bayeu (Goya's son). Collection of Valentin Carderera (1796-1880). Paul Lafond Collection. J-P. Lafond Collection. Purchased 1978.
Due to their fragility, works on paper are not on permanent display in the museum.
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