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Work Four Heads of a Young Girl and Two Hands

Department of Prints and Drawings: 16th century

Quatre têtes de fillettes et deux mains

Musée du Louvre, dist. RMN-Grand Palais - Photo M. Beck-Coppola

Prints and Drawings
16th century

Grollemund Helene

A prominent figure in late fifteenth-century Bruges, Gerard David continued the pictorial traditions developed during that century. In this study, however, he shows considerable sensitivity in his treatment of the face and great candour, with no attempt at virtuoso technical display. In these respects, the drawing anticipates sixteenth-century portraiture.

Capturing the moment

Here the artist shows his delight in depicting childhood and fleeting changes of expression, portraying the child in several different poses. In contrast to his predecessors Jan van Eyck and Rogier van der Weyden, who were extremely precise in their use of metalpoint, David uses this technique with great freedom, his flowing lines, rapid hatching and reworked outlines creating subtle transitions. The energy of this small drawing is a reflection of the speed with which the artist must have worked. His decision to work in this way was undoubtedly influenced by the methods of painters of the studio of Dirk Bouts. The two hands sketched beside the heads demonstrate David's fascination with the study of the structure of forms. The bones are merely veiled with an attenuated layer of skin, indeed, while the joints are disproportionately large.

A scattered sketchbook

Recognized today as the authentic work of Gerard David, this study was formerly attributed successively to Holbein the Younger, Rogier van der Weyden and the French school of the fifteenth century. A connection has been established between it and a set of five drawings now in a number of different collections (Krakow, Czartoryski Museum; Frankfurt, Städelsches Kunsinstitut; Paris, Louvre, Rothschild collection inv. 170DR; and two unlocated drawings), but all originating from the Klinkosch collection, dispersed in Vienna in 1889. These works must have come from an artist's sketchbook. Similar in format, they are all metalpoint drawings done on prepared paper, the lower parts of which have been damaged by damp, and all bearing numbers handwritten in ink (in this case XXXIII). All are studies of heads and hands taken from life, the variety of the poses and expressions no doubt serving the artist for his paintings.

A recently dated work

Although they are not preliminary studies for known works, some of these drawings have been linked with paintings by Gerard David, such as The Marriage at Cana (Louvre), The Virgin among Virgins (Rouen, Musée des Beaux-Arts) and the triptych of the Baptism of Christ (Bruges, Groeninge Museum). Recently these drawings have also drawn comparisons with a manuscript illumination of The Virgin Among Virgins, from a devotional book attributed to Gerard David and an unidentified illuminator from Bruges (New York, Morgan Library). These connections suggest a date for this work of c.1500-5.


Ainsworth M.W., Gerard David: Purity of Vision in an Age of Transition, New York, 1998, pp. 7-17.
Ainsworth M.W., Illuminating the Renaissance: The Triumph of Flemish manuscript Painting in Europe, exhibition, Los Angeles, J. Paul Getty museum, 2003, n 106.
Calvet A. et Sérullaz, Dessins du Louvre: écoles allemande, flamande, hollandaise, Paris, 1968, n 35.
Duclos L., Le XVIe siècle européen: Dessins du Louvre, exhibition, Paris, musée du Louvre, 1965, n 65.
Lugt F., Inventaire général des dessins des Ecoles du Nord: Maîtres des anciens Pays-Bas nés avant 1550, Paris, 1968, n 57.
Van Miegroet H.J., Gerard David, Antwerp 1989, n 75C.
Winkler F., "Das Skizzenbuch Gerard Davids", Pantheon, n 6, 1929, Heft, pp. 271-5.

Technical description

  • Gerard DAVID (Oudewater, c.1455-60 - Bruges, 1523)

    Four Heads of a Young Girl and Two Hands


  • Metalpoint (possibly silverpoint) on traces of black chalk, on white prepared paper

    H. 9 cm; W. 9.7 cm

  • Philip Dräxler von Carin collection, until 1874. Josef Carl von Klinkosch collection; sale of this, Vienna, April 1889, lot number 468. Adalbert von Lanna collection, Prague; sale of this, Stuttgart, 6-11 May 1910, lot number 199; purchased at this auction by the Louvre.

    RF 3812

  • Prints and Drawings

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

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Additional information about the work

On the reverse, top left, in brown ink: XXXIII