Head of a Man; Sketch for the Façade of the Palazzo Borghesi, Siena; Seated Putti

red chalk drawing of man's face

Domenico Beccafumi (1486–1551)
Head of a Man (recto); Sketch for the Façade of the Palazzo Borghesi, Siena; Seated Putti (verso), ca. 1512–14
Red chalk (recto); pen and brown ink and black chalk (verso), on paper
8 ¼ x 5 ¼ in.
Gift from Mrs. Barbara Fleischman in honor of Colin B. Bailey (2011.3.01)

This double-sided work is likely by the Sienese artist Domenico Beccafumi (1486–1551), recognized as one of the greatest draftsmen of the Cinquecento. The sheet was given to the Frick by Trustee Barbara G. Fleischman in honor of then Deputy Director and Peter Jay Sharp Chief Curator Colin B. Bailey.

The recto displays a red-chalk study of a head of a man, turned to the left in three-quarter view, gazing upwards with an open mouth, in an expression of expectancy. The artist rendered the features of the face with skillful, precise hatching, leaving the white of the paper in reserve for the highlights. Although the profile and nose are established by single, uncorrected lines, the back of the figure’s head dissolves in a halo of hatching at right. Through his deft handling of the chalk medium, deliberately applied with a light touch, the artist evokes the effect of glowing, perhaps divine light, as the figure’s soulful countenance suggests a moment of spiritual transcendence. The verso of the sheet displays a swiftly drawn pen-and-ink sketch of the façade of a building, identified as the Palazzo Borghesi in Siena. From 1512–14, directly following his return from his first visit to Rome, Beccafumi designed and executed a complex program of painted and incised plaster decoration for the façade that included classicized, armored figures, monumental putti, and pilasters in the form of classical columns. Although the palazzo still stands, Beccafumi’s façade has long vanished, yet its design is known through a detailed description in Vasari’s Lives and an important presentation drawing of the left half of the plan in the collection of the British Museum.