Of powerful physicality, exceptional realism and luminosity, this monumental drawing stands out in Piazzetta’s œuvre as one of his most accomplished academic nude studies. Executed around 1715, the large sheet survived in the artist’s studio for over fifty years, treasured by his assistants as an example of the master’s outstanding achievements in nude drawing. After Piazzetta’s death in 1754 it was engraved by Francesco Bartolozzi (1725-1815) and Giovanni Marco Pitteri (1703-1767) as part of a selection of the artist’s best drawings, the Studi di Pittura, published in Venice in 1760 by Giambattista Albrizzi (1698-1777), where it appears reproduced on plate XVII (a copy of the Studi was sold at Christie’s, New York, 29 October 2013, lot 765; another one is in the Morgan Library, inv. PML 129783). A black-chalk copy of the present drawing, also at the Morgan, was likely made for Albrizzi’s publication is (inv. 1961.12:54).
Powerfully foreshortened in a highly dramatic pose, the male nude was drawn in a combination of delicate outlines and strong hatching done in black chalk, softened with stumping. The highlights in white chalk contribute to the sheet’s exceptional chromatic quality, further enhanced by its contrast with the blue paper support. The drawing’s remarkably large size and highly finished state suggest it was made as an independent work of art, although the same figure was certainly used by Piazzetta on at least one occasion, the figure of the dying Abel in his painting Adam and Eve lamenting Abel, described by the artist as a work from his 'prima maniera' in the 1741 inventory of the collection of Johann Matthias von der Schulenburg (see L. Moretti, ‘Notizie e appunti su G.B. Piazzetta, alcuni piazzetteschi e G.B. Tiepolo’, in Atti dell’Istituto veneto di Scienze, Lettere ed Arti, CXLIII [1984-85], p. 362). An image of this painting survives in the archives of the Fondazione Federico Zeri, Bologna (Fig. 1), while an oil bozzetto for the same composition was illustrated by Aldo Rava in his 1921 Piazzetta monograph.
Fig. 1. Giovanni Battista Piazzetta, Adam and Eve lamenting Abel, whereabouts unknown (formerly Bruzzichelli, Florence; Photo: Fondazione Federico Zeri, Bologna)