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Work Head of an Old Man Facing Forward and Wearing a Cap

Department of Prints and Drawings: 14th-15th centuries

Tête d'homme âgé, de face, coiffée d'une toque

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

Prints and Drawings
14th-15th centuries

Author(s):
Boyer Sarah

The realistic qualities of this portrait by Lorenzo di Credi of a man with pronounced features are tempered by the need for individualized representation. Di Credi's powers of observation indicate his familiarity with Flemish naturalism (as seen in the work of Hans Memling, whose renown in Florence is attested at this time), as well as with the evolution of naturalism toward realism, as seen in the work of Florentine sculptors such as Mino da Fiesole, Antonio Rossellino, and Benedetto da Maiano.

An exceptional portraitist

This study is one of many drawings by di Credi (circa 1458-1537) that belonged to Pierre-Jean Mariette. The Louvre collections include seven heads drawn in metal-point on prepared paper (one of the essential features of a draughtsman's technique), a study for an Annunciation in black chalk, and a Head of the Virgin in red chalk. The drawing is a life study of an old man with hollow eyes, heavy eyelids, and tight lips, and of a certain social standing, as is evidenced by his clothing and headwear. The type of flat cap seen here was fashionable only in northern Italy, thus lending truth to Vasari's claim that di Credi made trips to northern Italy, probably after the death of his teacher Verrocchio in 1488.

Typically Florentine technique

Of the methods for making life studies of faces, metal-point drawing on "carta tinta" (tinted paper) with white highlights was one of the most highly regarded by Florentine artists from before 1460 until after 1510. This technique, where stylus-work has a gradual but irreversible effect on color density, requires delicacy of touch. Lorenzo di Credi was particularly fond of it and used it for different purposes, not just for studies of heads from life, but for preparatory drawings for his religious pictures, and for portraits. The refinement of di Credi's workmanship and the quality of his execution are evident in his sparing use of white highlights (applied with a brush), his exploitation of the full range of the medium's potential (from the finest to the darkest effects), and in the way in which the eyes are rendered - the thickness of the right eyelid is defined, and the use of the stylus balanced, by a delicate highlight in gouache.

A study without a subject?

This study does not appear to be the preparatory drawing for any picture. It is unlikely to be a preparatory drawing for the figure of a bishop on the retable of the Pistoia altarpiece (The Virgin Enthroned between St. John the Baptist and St. Donatus, Bishop of Arezzo), commissioned by Bishop Donato de' Medici (d.1474) from Verrocchio and probably completed by Lorenzo di Credi. This is an individualized study made with a confident hand, stylistically close to mature works by di Credi and quite unlike the stereotypical face of the saint on the retable. Moreover, any comparison between the two figures would go against the tradition that attributes the saint's features to the eponymous patron (who in this case, however, was already dead). The compositional formula used in all the painted portraits currently attributed to di Credi is a development, with some variations, of a single formula inherited from Hans Memling and also seen in Leonardo da Vinci's Ginevra Benci in the National Gallery of Art in Washington: the model is shown in three-quarters view, bust-length or half-length, the hands positioned in the foreground, and the face standing out against a screen of greenery or architecture, with space left at the side for a view of a landscape. Raphael would use this formula at the start of the sixteenth century.

Bibliography

Dalli Regoli Gigetta, Lorenzo di Credi, Milan, Edizioni di Comunita, 1966, 229 p.

Ames-Lewis Francis, Wright Joanne, Drawing in The Italian Renaissance Workshop, catalogue d'exposition, Nottingham, 12 février-12 mars 1983, Londres, Victoria and Albert Museum, 30 mars-15 mai 1983, p. 200-201, 292-293, n 40, 65, pl. 14.

Cordellier D., in Visages du Louvre : chefs-d'oeuvre du portrait dans les collections du Louvre : exposition, Tokyo, musée national d'Art occidental, 18 septembre-1er décembre 1991, p. 116-117, n 52.

Angelucci Laura, Roberta Serra, Verrocchio, Lorenzo di Credi, Francesco di Simone Ferrucci, Paris, musée du Louvre ; Milan, 5 Continents éditions, 2003, p. 83, n 35.

Technical description

  • Lorenzo SCIARPELLONI, called Lorenzo di CREDI

    Head of an Old Man Facing Forward and Wearing a Cap

    Circa 1490-1500

  • Metal point, white highlights on prepared grey/pink chain-laid paper

    H. 29.6 cm; W. 21.5 cm

  • Pierre-Jean Mariette collection; sold at the auction of the collection in Paris, 1 November 1775, as part of lot no. 381; purchased for the Cabinet du Roi.

    391779

  • Prints and Drawings

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

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