The attribution to Raphael has been confirmed by Professor Paul Joannides (oral communication) and Professor Konrad Oberhüber (e-mail dated 17 November 2003), both having studied the drawing in the original.
Professor Joannides dates the drawing to 1504-05, at about the time that Raphael arrived in Florence. This would place it among the artist's earliest studies in red chalk, a medium that he may have taken up through his knowledge of the drawings of Leonardo da Vinci who befriended him at about this time (P. Joannides, The Drawings of Raphael, Oxford, 1983, pp. 16-18). Professor Joannides connects the drawing to the head of the enthroned Madonna in Raphael's Colonna altarpiece painted for the convent of Sant'Antonio in Perugia in circa 1505 and now in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York (J. Meyer zur Capellen, Raphael, The Paintings, II, The Roman Religious Paintings ca. 1508-1520, Münster, 2005, no. 17). The head of the Colonna Madonna follows the drawing very closely in the angle of inclination and lighting and in the slightly equivocal smile, but with the addition of a dark veil that covers her ear. The most closely comparable drawing is a red chalk Head of a child, now in a private collection, which Professor Joannides dates to about the same time and which shows similar soft, open red chalk hatching and a remarkably similar handling of the rather prominent ear (sold Sotheby's, London, 8 July 2004, lot 23). Both drawings show strong morphological links to two other studies of the Head of a child, albeit in silverpoint, in the Städelsches Kunstinstitut, Frankfurt, and the Kunsthalle, Hamburg (P. Joannides, op. cit., nos. 106-7).
Professor Oberhuber, however, suggests that the drawing should be related to Raphael's Roman Madonnas painted after 1511, such as the Madonna di Foligno in the Vatican (J. Meyer zur Capellen, op. cit., no. 52). He further relates it to a number of drawings dating from the period 1511-14 such as a study for the Alba Madonna of circa 1511 now in the Musée de Beaux-Arts, Lille, which is likewise in red chalk overdrawn in pen and brown ink (P. Joannides, op. cit., no. 278r).
The early history of this drawing remains elusive, but it first reappears in the remarkable collection of the French banker Pierre Crozat, described by Frits Lugt as 'le roi des collectionneurs de dessins'. The ink number '60' lower left is of a characteristic type found on drawings from his collection, perhaps added at the time of his posthumous sale in 1741, a dispersal which included the incomparable holding of 155 drawings by Raphael. The inscription may however have been added a little later (perhaps to replace an earlier one lost through remounting) since it appears to be in the same ink as the repeated inscription 'Crozat' in the distinctive hand of the Swedish collector Count Carl-Gustaf Tessin (1695-1770). Tessin was Swedish ambassador in Paris in 1739-42, and took advantage of his position to accumulate an astonishing collection, particularly of drawings. Notably he was one of the major buyers at the Crozat sale (971 Italian and Spanish drawings, 396 Northern drawings and 243 French drawings). In 1743, following a brief mission to Copenhagen, Tessin returned to Sweden. His handwriting is known from two manuscript inventories now in Stockholm which date from about this time. In 1750 he passed the greater part of his collection to King Adolphus Fredericus, and this later became the kernel of the collection at the Nationalmuseum, Stockholm. Two groups of drawings remained at large, an album given to Queen Louisa Ulrica in Christmas 1749 (later dispersed) and the drawings that Tessin had managed to retain which were sold in two sales after his death in 1770.