This impressive sculptural nude was executed between 1770 and 1778 while Fuseli was living in Italy. Backed by the banker Thomas Coutts (1735-1822), Fuseli journeyed to Italy and settled in Rome, where he largely remained until 1778. There he studied classical sculpture and Michelangelo’s frescos in the Sistine Chapel.
As with many of his figure studies, Fuseli has paraphrased several sources of inspiration into this one drawing. Nicholas Powell has suggested the Lansdowne Hermes, which was discovered by Gavin Hamilton in 1769 in Hadrian’s Villa, Tivoli (Carlsberg Glyptotek Museum, Copenhagen). The stooped pose of the male nude is also reminiscent of the Statue of Hermes fastening his sandal in the Pio Clementino, Vatican Museum and quite closely follows the pose of Michelangelo’s figure of a woman with a mirror in the Naason lunette in the Sistine Chapel. Inspired by these sources Fuseli has produced a highly finished work; the muscles are carefully modelled, the limbs deliberately elongated and the whole work imbued with a dramatic contrast between light and shade, all of which combine to produce an image of dramatic monumentality.
The high regard in which the present drawing has always been held is demonstrated by its notable provenance. Sir Thomas Lawrence (1769-1830), pre-eminent artist of his generation and President of the Royal Academy was one of the greatest collectors of drawings of his generation. Subsequently the work was then included in an album compiled by Harriet Jane Moore (1801-1884), daughter of Fuseli’s close friend James Carrick-Moore (1762-1840), and granddaughter of Dr John Moore, M.D. (1729-1802). John Moore was family physician to William Lock of Norbury (1732-1810), through whom Fuseli may have met Moore in the 1780s, though they may already have been acquainted as they were both in Italy at the same time. It was his son, James, though who travelled with Fuseli to Paris in 1802. Correspondence between Fuseli and the family show a real closeness between the artist and James’s daughters; Harriet Jane, Louise and Julia. Harriet Jane also owned the painting, Titania and Bottom, painted for Boydell’s Shakespeare Gallery in the 1780s and now in the Tate Gallery, London and the Roman Album of Fuseli’s drawings which is now in the British Museum. A further group of 57 drawings owned by Harriet was sold at Christie's, London, 14 April 1992.