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Work Two Male Head Studies, Frontal View

Department of Prints and Drawings: 16th century

Deux études de têtes d'homme, de face

RMN-Grand Palais - Photo M. Urtado

Prints and Drawings
16th century

Mancini Federica

The figure of a man leaning forward holding a tethered lion is sketched several times on the recto and verso of this sheet. It corresponds to a figure in Del Sarto's fresco of the Tribute Money, part of a cycle commissioned by the Medici Pope Leo X for his villa at Poggio a Caiano. Work on the frescoes was cut short by the Pope's death in 1521. The principal study on the sheet, and the first one to be executed, was clearly drawn from life, given the vitality and force of the figure.

A homage to Lorenzo the Magnificent

The decoration of the drawing-room of the Villa Medici at Poggio a Caiano was commissioned by Pope Leo X in honor of his father, Lorenzo the Magnificent. Scenes from the iconographical programme devised by Paolo Giovio, were divided between Andrea del Sarto and Franciabigio, who executed the side walls, and Pontormo, who painted a fresco for the lunette (see the related drawing, inv. 2903). The work was interrupted by the death of the Pope in 1521, and only recommenced in 1581, when Cristoforo Allori completed the final third of Andrea del Sarto's fresco. The biblical episode of the Tribute Money, in St Matthew's gospel, is an allegorical reference to a gift given by the Sultan of Egypt to Lorenzo the Magnificent in 1487.

An artist's pilgrimage to Rome

A preparatory study for the same scene (of which a copy is now in the Louvre, inv.1673) gives an idea of Del Sarto's original plan for the composition. There are nevertheless important differences between the study and the finished painting. The changes were made after Del Sarto's journey to Rome, to receive papal approval, during which he discovered and was influenced by numerous masterpieces of antique Roman statuary. Like the other preparatory studies, the Louvre drawing shown here was made after the artist's Roman visit.

A great Italian master

These drawings are among the most expressive of the artist's mature period. They are an excellent example of a "composite study", in which the central figure is surrounded by details reworked on a larger scale, and to a higher degree of finish, more closely resembling the final painting. The studies' idealized, eloquent style, characterized by the turbulent interplay of contours and shadows, is typical of Del Sarto's style in the 1520s. The masterfully-rendered, lively graphic style was a personal trademark, confirming Del Sarto as one of the West's greatest artists, on a par with Leonardo da Vinci and Michelangelo.


Cordellier Dominique, notice 29, in Hommage à Andrea del Sarto, Paris, Éditions de la Réunion des musées nationaux, 1986.
Coffey C., notice 25, in Maestri Toscani del Cinquecento, Firenze, éditions Alinari, 1979.
Petrioli Tofani Anna Maria, notice XXI recto, in Andrea del Sarto, Disegni, Firenze, 1985.
Boubli Lizzie, Savoir-faire. La variante dans le dessin italien au XVIe siècle, Paris, Éditions de la Réunion des musées nationaux, 2003, p.72 et notice 9.

Technical description

  • Andrea d'AGNOLO di FRANCESCO, known as ANDREA DEL SARTO (Florence, 1486 - Florence, 1530)

    Two Male Head Studies, Frontal View


  • Red chalk on beige paper

    H. 33.5 cm; W. 26 cm.

  • Everhard Jabach Collection; acquired for the Royal Collection in 1671.

    INV 1684

  • Prints and Drawings

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

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