Anne Lauder has kindly confirmed the attribution of this drawing on the basis of a photograph and dated it to Franco's stay in Rome and Florence in the late 1530s and early 1540s. Anne Lauder will publish the drawing in her doctoral dissertation (Anne Varick Lauder, Battista Franco: His Life and Work, A Catalogue Raisonné, Ph.D. thesis, University of Cambridge, forthcomming) with the following comment:
'This is an important new addition to Franco's corpus of drawings after Michelangelo, most of which are dateable to the artist's stay in Rome and Florence in the late 1530s, early 1540s (see Anne Varick Lauder, 'Absorption and Interpretation: Michelangelo through the eyes of a Venetian Follower, Battista Franco', in Michelangelo's Effect on Art and Artists of the Sixteenth Century, ed. Francis Ames-Lewis and Paul Joannides, London, 2003). The central figure ultimately derives from an ideal head study of the 1520s and while Michelangelo's drawing in the British Museum (J. Wilde, Michelangelo and his Studio, London, 1953, no. 42, recto) is the likely source, the significant differences in the coiffure and facial features suggest that Franco could have also known a slight variant of this composition, either another version by Michelangelo, or else a copy, possibly by his colleague, Raffaello da Montelupo who had access to Michelangelo's original drawings. The present drawing certainly does not bear any closer resemblance to the other known copies of the London drawing such as that at Windsor (A.E. Popham and J. Wilde, The Italian Drawings of the XV and XVI Centuries in the Collection of His Majesty the King at Windsor Castle, London, 1949, no. 455) and the other copy in the British Museum (J. Wilde, op. cit., no. 88, not illustrated).
In Franco's version, executed in pen and ink compared to the black chalk study in the British Museum, the features of the individual - alternatively identified as Michelangelo's close friend, Vittoria Colonna, the Marchioness of Pescara or the Countess of Canossa - have been generalised; the eyes are schematically drawn and the profile has been altered to look distinctively Roman. Absent are some of the more fanciful details of the elaborate headdress like the winged cherub on the crown and the fish scale decoration. Further differences include the braid, which trails down the side of the neck, as opposed to the back, and the inclusion of the lower neck and shoulders. Franco's drawing is significantly larger in dimensions compared to the original by Michelangelo (287 x 235 mm) though the latter was considerably trimmed at the top.
Certainly made as a gift, possibly to the young Florentine nobleman, Gherardi Perini, Michelangelo's presentation drawing may have been conceived as a pair with another ideal head: his Count of Canossa in the British Museum (J. Wilde, op. cit., no. 87), as suggested by the etched pairing of 1613 by Antonio Tempesta. Franco undoubtedly knew the composition; as Paul Joannides first observed (personal communication), he borrowed the fighting figures on the Count's sleeve for his Battle of Montemurlo painting of 1537 in the Pitti Palace.
The sources for the other four head studies on the present sheet, similarly shown in left profile, have not been traced. It is highly likely, however, that they are also Michelangelesque in derivation. The male head drawn in outline to the left looks to be a caricature with a protruding upper lip not unlike that found in the head to the left of Michelangelo's sheet in the Uffizi (Inv. no. 18724 F, verso; C. De Tolnay, Corpus dei disegni di Michelangelo, Novara, 1976, II, no. 317v) while the head at the upper right of the present sheet was probably inspired by one of the ignudi.
Franco had a keen interest in ideal head studies by Michelangelo and at least two other copies survive. Like the present drawing, they may also be dated, with other Michelangelesque studies, to the late 1530s, early 1540s. The black chalk study in a private collection in Oxfordshire reproduces Michelangelo's red chalk original in the Ashmolean Museum while Franco's drawing in the Fondazione Horne is likely to be based on a now lost original. As in the case of the present drawing, it was not unusual for Franco, when copying a drawing by another artist, to change the medium, evidenced for example in his pen drawing in the Ashmolean Museum after Rosso's red chalk study in Chatsworth. Several other drawings by Franco include contain heads studies that may also derive from Michelangelo.'
We are grateful to Anne Lauder for providing us the information of this note and to Paul Joannides for first suggesting the attribution to Franco.