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Tête d'homme criant

Musée du Louvre, dist. RMN-Grand Palais - Photo S. Nagy

Prints and Drawings
17th century

Author(s):
Mancini Federica

The attribution of this work to Reni and has never been challenged, and it remains one of his most celebrated drawings. Nevertheless, its fame has not dispelled doubts concerning the painting for which this was the preparatory drawing. Several paintings have indeed been linked to this Head of a Man, and two of them are in the Louvre: Deianeira and the Centaur Nessus and The Funeral Pyre of Hercules.

Anatomy of a scream

The study of the face extends down to the shoulders. The head, shown in three-quarter profile, is tilted backwards slightly and turned to the right. The neck is foreshortened. The gaping mouth and rolling eyes bear witness to the suffering of this man, whose screams we can almost hear. The intensity of the pain is such that the face is convulsed by a spasm, its features contorted into a ghastly grimace. Thise precise, impassioned depiction focuses on the man's mouth: all the energy of the folds of the face seems to stem from its unrelieved darkness.

First thoughts

The drawing is one of a group of works relating to the story of Nessus and Deianeira, one of the four paintings of scenes from the life of Hercules executed for Ferdinando Gonzaga. However, the paintings are more supple in tone than the drawn versions. The difference in the renderings produced by the two techniques has led to comparisons between this drawing and the painting of Apollo and Marsyas (1622) in the Alte Pinakothek, Munich: the pain expressed in the screams of the flayed Marsyas is comparable to the suffering contained in this drawing. Finally, the Head of a Man Screaming may also represent the initial idea for The Funeral Pyre of Hercules (Louvre). Either way, study of this piece has shown Reni was tireless in his efforts to create an accurate depiction of suffering, a preoccupation that was characteristic of his works commissioned at this period.

After Leonardo

The Head of a Man Screaming attests both to Reni's exceptional technical ability and to his deep learning. The Louvre drawing displays the influence of famous models by Leonardo da Vinci, notably his Study of a Warrior now in the Szépmüvészeti Múzeum in Budapest. But Reni added his own personal touch with the rendering of the short, crisp hair, and in the expression, at once dynamic and repellent.

Bibliography

Michel Regis, Le Beau idéal ou l'art du concept, Editions de la Réunion des Musées Nationaux, 1989, pp. 22-3
Loisel Catherine, Le dessin à Bologne, 1580-1620 : La réforme des trois Carracci, Editions de la Réunion des Musées Nationaux, 1994, p.120
Contini R., "L'Anima e il volto, Ritratto e fisiognomica da Leonardo a Bacon," ex. cat. Milan, Palazzo Reale, 1998-9, notice p. 253.

Technical description

  • Rouen (first half of the 18th century)

    Nielloed ochre plate

    1619-21

  • High-fired faience

    Diam. 24 cm

  • Giraudeau bequest, 1895

    398920

  • Prints and Drawings

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

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