Studies of Five Heads
21.1 cm x 29.1 cm (8 5/16 in. x 11 7/16 in.)
(Bologna, 1764 - 1834)
Medium and Support:
Pen and brown ink on cream antique laid paper, laid down
Blanton Museum of Art, The University of Texas at Austin, The Suida-Manning Collection, 2017
Studies of imaginary physiognomy are as old as Italian drawing. Leonardo da Vinci’s famous grotesque heads are the most conspicuous early examples. For Parmigianino such studies were a pretext for exploring stylized appearance and sheer graphic beauty. They also established a distinct tradition in Emilian drawing. The reaction against Mannerism in the late sixteenth century brought a new concern with natural appearance and psychological states. The artistic reform of the Carracci featured their systematic pursuit and conventional expression through life study. By the later seventeenth century, this had become a staple of academic training. The rendering of physiognomic expression was now an explicit artistic research, while imaginary studies were generally relegated to the new realm of caricature. Bolognese artists, however, upheld their early tradition. The school’s principal academic painter of the late eighteenth century, Gaetano Gandolfi, and his son Mauro made a specialty of the genre, transforming it into virtuoso performance for collectors. Gaetano’s studies of the kind are more dense in pattern, coherent in emotion, and regular in articulation. Mauro’s are distinguished by a greater detachment of one motif from another, flourishes about the perimeter, and prominent stipple in the modeling. This is a very fine example, inscribed in French as a gift and thus underscoring its intended function.