In 1692, the oratorian priest Pasquier Quesnel published Réflexions morales sur le Nouveau Testament, a book that was based on, and meant to spread, Jansenist ideas. In 1708, Pope Clement XI condemned the book, although his action had no effect in France where Quesnel's publication continued to be printed and read. King Louis XIV later asked the Pope for a new Bull and in September 1713, the papal Bull Unigenitus was published. It condemned 101 propositions from Quesnel's book. The publication of the Bull divided opinion in France and it was only in 1730, after the deaths of Quesnel and the Archibishop of Paris, Louis-Antoine Noailles, that the Bull finally became law in France as well as in Italy.
The present drawing probably celebrates the presentation of the Bull to Pope Clement XI whose effigy is recognisable through other known portraits of the pontiff by Ghezzi (A. Lo Bianco, Pier Leone Ghezzi, pittore, Palermo, 1985, pp.105-06, 152-53, nos. 8-9) and a larger composition A public audience of Clement XI for which a preparatory drawing is at the Ashmolean Museum, Oxford (op. cit., pp. 110-11, 163, nos. 20, 20a).
In the present drawing the Pope is flanked by two female allegorical figures, Divine Wisdom on the left and Abundance on the right. Wisdom is represented with the allegorical attributes of the sceptre with the eye of wisdom, and the symbol of the sun on her chest, whilst holding a book with seven seals. Beside the horn of plenty, Abundance stands near a globe with a putto at her feet holding a club.
Although no painting seems to have derived from this very finished drawing, the sheet is certainly to be related to a Clement XI commission, for whom Ghezzi had also painted a series of six works celebrating his pontificate; these are all in Urbino, Galleria Nazionale delle Marche (op. cit., pp. 109-10).
An alternative attribution to Giuseppe Ghezzi (1634-1721) or to Niccolo Ricciolini (1687-1772) has been suggested.