This recently rediscovered study for an equestrian portrait by Barocci appears to depict one of his most important and loyal patrons, Duke Francesco Maria della Rovere II of Urbino (1549-1631). The recto shows the Duke in elaborate armor seated on a horse, done with wash heightened with white, his customary medium for highly finished compositional studies. On the verso is a characteristic pastel study for the right hand of the Duke holding a baton.
It is unclear whether this composition was made for an independent equestrian portrait, or if it is an early iteration related to Barocci's circa 1572 half-length portrait of the Duke now in the Uffizi, Florence. It is believed this painting was commissioned to commemorate the young Duke's victory at the Battle of Lepanto. Only one other drawing by Barocci is securely related to this painting, a study for the Duke's bent arm in the Uffizi (inv. 11581 F. recto; P. dal Poggetto, I Della Rovere: Piero della Francesca, Raffaello, Tiziano, exh. cat., Urbino, 2004, p. 481, no. XV.23, ill.). The recto of the present sheet is akin to a cartoncino per il chiaroscuro, an elaborately worked up compositional study that is a hybrid of a study of light and shadow and a presentation drawing. It became a distinctive and essential part of Barocci's preparatory process in his mature period from about circa 1570 onwards.
There are similarities in the pose of the figure in the painting and the present drawing such as the upper half of the bodies - the three-quarter turn of the torso, the bent arm, the puffed out chest of the convex curve of the armor plate, and the fabric sash draped across the chest. The recto of the present sheet is squared in red chalk and the verso is indented with a stylus, indicating that the intention was to translate the composition to another format.
The chalk, wash and heightening on the recto and the pastel on the verso demonstrate how Barocci used different medium for different purposes in the elaborate preparatory process that became characteristic of his mature works. The highly finished portrait uses the white heightening and wash to study light and shadow, although there are some areas that are unfinished such as his right hand, and an area of pentimento of the rein. Volume is created with the contrasting application of dark wash and white heightening. The study on the verso of the duke's right hand however is executed rapidly in pastel, and here Barocci is working out the exact pose of the hand, relatively unresolved on the recto. Dark slashes of chalk - indicating the baton - fan out from the clenched hand which is given a hint of fleshy substance with dabs of pinkish and red pastel. Neither the position of the baton nor the angle of the armor-covered arm have been finalized.
The use of different medium for different types of drawings is evident throughout Barocci's mature oeuvre. His studies for The Deposition, completed in 1569 for an altarpiece in the Cathedral of San Lorenzo in Perugia, just a few years before his painting of Francesco Maria II are considered the turning point in his preparatory process. They also shed some light on the dual roles of the drawings on the recto and verso of the present sheet. In a compositional study for The Deposition now in the Uffizi the entire composition is limned with ochre-brown wash and white heightening on ochre-brown paper similar to the present study for the equestrian portrait of the Duke (see Federico Barocci: Renaissance master of color and line, exh. cat., St. Louis and London, 2012, p. 96, cat. 3.2). Other chalk figure studies such as Nude study for the man on the ladder and Studies for Saint Bernardino (op. cit., 2012, p. 99, cat. 3.5; p. 105, cat. 3.10) also for The Deposition show the same multiple, minute changes of pose - a slight shift of the angle of the legs and the tilt of the head that create an almost kinetic feeling to the lines on the paper - as the study of a hand holding a baton on the verso of the present sheet.
Another drawing which is stylistically similar to the recto of the present sheet is Barocci's Compositional study for the Martyrdom of San Vitale (op. cit., 2012, p. 58, fig. 39), a drawing which is partially squared in black chalk and uses the white heightening to indicate light and shadow. The Casentine monks who commissioned the altarpiece demanded substantial changes to it upon being presented with this drawing. It is perhaps a useful comparative in the sense that like the Study for an equestrian portrait, it is a highly finished composition that differs significantly from the finished painting.
We are grateful to Nicholas Turner for confirming the attribution and providing additional history about the drawing.