On July 17, 1865, Degas sailed from Marseilles to Naples, where he stayed with his grandfather and painted a portrait of his cousin Giovanna Bellelli (Lemoisne, vol II, no. 10). Three months later he arrived in Rome. As did many French artists living in the capital, Degas found it difficult to hire good professional models at a reasonable cost and took advantage of the evening life drawing sessions at the French Academy in the Villa Medici. The Academy had liberalized its regulations after the directorship of Ingres ended in 1840, opening many of its facilites to non-pensioners, who found it a convenient place to meet and study.
The model in this study is very likely one who appears in the other drawings of this period (cf. sale, Christie's, New York, May 11, 1995, lots 301 and 304, from the Collection of David Daniels), as well as a drawing dated 1858 by Gustave Moreau, who often worked at the Villa Medici side-by-side with Degas, which makes this date a plausible one for the present work.