Benedetto Luti was admired by his contemporaries for his fresh and lively character heads in pastel, executed with a blend of delicacy and vigour. Born in Florence, he later transferred his studio to Rome where he moved in the circles of the Medici Grand Dukes, to whom he served as unofficial court painter. He was also a well-known dealer and connoisseur, assembling a large collection of old master drawings; but his principal fame rested on his work in pastel, a medium which he popularised and with which his name was synonymous throughout Europe.
The present sheet is one of a series of twelve heads of apostles, most of them signed and dated 1712, which were sold and dispersed at Sotheby's in 1987. Many of the series are now in museum collections, such as the fine Head of an Apostle which belongs to the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (inv. AC1996.29.1). Since Luti did not include the usual attributes of the apostles, it is impossible to identify them with any certainty and this suggests that he may have intended the series primarily as a series of character heads, demonstrating his versatility.