Delicately drawn in soft red chalk, this large study for a standing figure was drawn by Testa in preparation for a spectator seen at left in his painting The Suicide of Dido in the Uffizi, completed in about 1548-1550 just before his premature death (fig. 1). Channeling Raphael’s grace and sense for Classical beauty, Testa conveyed the body of the figure at the center and filled the right side of the page with detailed studies of hands, drapery and the head, caught in a delicate profil perdu, and further developed on the verso. The model was likely drawn from life in preparation for the figure, possibly Dido’s sister, seen in the left foreground of the painting, witnessing with apparent composure her sister’s final moments.
Testa approached The Suicide of Dido, one of his most ambitious compositions to date, with a large pen-and-ink sketch in the Louvre, and developed each figure’s anatomy and drapery in a series of sheets now divided between the Staatsgalerie Stuttgart and the Uffizi, Florence, all executed in red chalk (A. Canveri, Pietro Testa e la nemica fortuna, Rome 2014, pp. 351-56, ill.). That the present work shares its early provenance with the group of drawings in Florence is indicated by the inscription ‘P. Testa’ which occurs in the same script (sometimes spelled ‘Pietro Testa’) on a large number of drawings in the Uffizi, bequeathed in 1866 by Emilio Santarelli.
Fig. 1. Pietro Testa, The Suicide of Dido, Gallerie degli Uffizi, Florence.