The Head of a Woman in Profile Facing Left

Artist: Follower of Leonardo da Vinci (Italian, Vinci 1452–1519 Amboise) (Giovanni Antonio Boltraffio?)

Date: 1490–1500

Medium: Metalpoint, highlighted with white gouache, on pale blue-gray prepared paper

Dimensions: Overall: 5 3/16 x 4 in. (13.2 x 10.2 cm)

Classification: Drawings

Credit Line: Frederick C. Hewitt Fund, 1917

Accession Number: 19.76.3


The design of this greatly cropped female head (intended presumably to represent the Virgin) accords well with that of the controversial paiting of the "Madonna Litta" (State Hermitage Museum, Saint Petersburg), which a number of early critics thought to be by Leonardo himself, but which is presently considered to be mostly, if not entirely the work of a pupil or follower; a convincing attribution to Giovanni Antonio Boltraffio has been advanced by Pietro C. Marani, while David A. Brown has tended to ascribe it to Marco D'Oggiono, both men being documented in Leonardo's studio in 1490. Independently from the questions regarding the painting, the attribution of the fragmentary Metropolitan Museum sheet accords perfectly well with the production of Leonardo's pupils in Milan in the 1490s, and does not date from a later period as has been suggested; typical are the technique of metalpoint on blue-gray, the drawing style with uniform hatching, and the figural type. In the present author's opinion, the drawing is closest to the hand of Giovanni Antonio Boltraffio; while the study does not appear to exhibit Boltraffio's precise quality of execution, the perceived problem of quality may have to do with the abraded condition of the drawing surface. The sheet is of distinguished British provenance (Sir Peter Lely; the Earls of Pembroke; Pembroke sale, 1917), but was erroneously published and illustrated by Francesco Malaguzzi Valeri (La Corte di Lodovico Il Moro, Milan, 1917, vol. 3, p. 70, Fig. 55) as being in the "Galleria, Naples," causing relative confusion in the literature, and with an unconvincing attribution to Bernardino de'Conti. The Museum's drawing was remounted in 1980, or thereabouts, to reflect the fact that the head of the female figure was intended to be seen inclined toward the left, as in the "Madonna Litta" (pointed out by Carlo Pedretti in 1974; and David A. Brown, letter in Department files August 19, 1980). Early 20th century photographs show the drawing mounted as if the head were in an entirely upright vertical profile on the 17th century Pembroke mount; the Pembroke mounting itself accords with the placement of Sir Peter Lely's collector stamp. The remounting also redresses the fact that the right-handed metalpoint strokes of hatching are meant to course in a diagonal direction. (Jacob Bean, 15th and 16th Century Italian Drawings, 1982, pp. 121, no. 112, reproduced the drawing in the correct orientation, albeit with erroneous measurements). S. Arthur Strong seems to have been the first to reject the traditional attribution of this fine but damaged drawing to Leonardo himself, and rather tentatively proposed the names of Ambrogio de Predis and Boltraffio. Bean preferred a more general attribution to a right-handed Milanese follower of Leonardo.