Head studies are rather infrequent for Piranesi: this drawing of a youth’s head, caught in a powerful profil perdu, constitutes a rare surviving example to be added to his body of work. If the drawing’s subject might appear uncommon, its technique is completely aligned with that of Piranesi in the early 1740s. The energetic, highly expressive rendering of the figure is achieved through a combined use of a traditional quill pen and a reed pen in the hair locks, while the shadows are spread throughout the face in pen and ink with rather loose (and entirely characteristic) parallel hatching. The morphology of the face, strongly characterized by pointed features, has been associated with the painted work of Sebastiano Ricci (1659-1734) and Giovanni Battista Tiepolo (1696-1770), both possible sources of inspiration for Piranesi during his stay in Venice in 1743. Quickly sketched in red chalk, the lively series of figures on the verso is more typical in the artist’s oeuvre, as proven by comparison with the Five Crouching Figures in The Morgan Library, New York (Gift of J. Scholz, inv. 1983.38), also in red chalk. Figures like these had a specific role in Piranesi working and design practice, as they served as figural insets in his celebrated etchings.
We are grateful to Dr. Andrew Robison for confirming the attribution to Piranesi and for dating the figures on the verso to the early 1750s and the head on the recto 1755/1760.