A study for the head of the shepherd in the lower left of Cavedone's Adoration of the Shepherds, one of the artist's most important works, painted circa 1613-4 for the Arrigoni Chapel in the Church of San Paolo Maggiore, Bologna, and still in situ (E. Negro and N. Roio, Giacomo Cavedone, 1577-1660, Modena, 1996, no. 41). The decoration of the chapel was commissioned in 1611, with Cavedone supplying the Adoration of the Shepherds for the left wall, the pendant Adoration of the Magi for the right wall and frescoes of The Circumcision, The Return from Egypt and Christ disputing with the Doctors on the vault. Cavedone had been in Venice shortly before undertaking this work and was strongly influenced by Tintoretto, as the former attribution recognized.
Although Cavedone revisited the composition in a painting of 1628 now in the Prado, Madrid (E. Negro and N. Roio, op. cit., no. 106), the fall of light in the present drawing suggests that it is connected to the earlier work.
Preparatory drawings for the composition are in the Louvre (C. Legrand, Le dessin à Bologne, 1580-1620, Le réforme des trois Carracci, exhib. cat., Paris, Louvre, 1994, no. 86) and the Biblioteca Nacional, Rio de Janeiro (A.M. Ambrosini Massari and R. Morselli, Disegni Italiani della Biblioteca Nazionale di Rio de Janeiro, Pesaro, 1995, no. 30), while studies for individual figures are at Windsor and Stuttgart (E. Negro and N. Roio, op. cit., p. 115).