First identified and published in 1998 by George Goldner (op. cit.), the two sides of the present sheet relate to works executed by Andrea del Sarto around 1518, at the peak of his highly successful career. Drawn in red chalk, the artist’s preferred medium, the recto of the sheet features a partially draped young man shown from the back with his head in profile. Broadly outlined, the figure’s musculature and his drapery are lightly rendered through a soft network of short chalk strokes. It served as a study for the figure of Saint Sebastian seen kneeling while holding arrows in the left foreground of the artist’s Dispute on the Holy Trinity with Saints Sebastian, Augustine, Lawrence, Peter, Francis and Mary Magdalen, painted circa 1517-1518 for the church of San Gallo, Florence, and now in the Galleria Palatina, Palazzo Pitti (Fig. 1; inv. 1912, no. 172; see A. Natali and A. Cecchi, Andrea del Sarto. Catalogo completo dei dipinti, Florence, 1989, no. 32, ill.).
The Bonna sheet belongs to a group of lively chalk drawings executed for the panel’s six figures and immediately follows a study in the Uffizi for the same Saint, clearly drawn from a nude studio model (inv. 6918F; see A. Petrioli Tofani, Andrea del Sarto (1486-1530). Dipinti e disegni a Firenze, Florence, 1986, no. 23, ill.). Whereas in the Uffizi sheet del Sarto worked out the figure’s overall position and anatomy, in the Bonna drawing he mostly focused on the model’s back muscles, added drapery around the body and tilted the angle of the figure’s head upward, getting closer to the final painting. A similarly abbreviated profile and rendering of the anatomy can be found a drawing at the J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles, also showing a kneeling man seen from the back (inv. 84.GB.7; J. Brooks, Andrea del Sarto. The Renaissance Workshop in Action, exhib. cat., Los Angeles, The Paul Getty Museum, and New York, The Frick Collection, 2015, no. 26, ill.).
On the verso of this sheet is a slight sketch in black chalk, showing the upper half of a child reaching to the right. Goldner has tentatively connected the figure with the putto at the upper left of Sarto’s Charity (Paris, Louvre), a painting datable to circa 1518, i.e. around the same date as the main study on the recto.