Artist: Giovanni Battista Tiepolo (Italian, Venice 1696–1770 Madrid)
Date: 18th century
Medium: Red chalk, highlighted with white chalk, on blue-gray paper
Dimensions: Sheet: 10 3/8 x 7 1/2 in. (26.4 x 19 cm)
Credit Line: From the Collection of Rita and Frits Markus, Bequest of Rita Markus, 2005
Accession Number: 2005.330.7
Giovanni Battista Tiepolo is most famous for the spontaneity of his copious quick sketches in pen and ink with wash. But as his much rarer chalk drawings demonstrate, he was also a brilliantly deliberate draftsman with exceptional powers of description. In his life studies, in particular, he was able to convey the psychological depths of his models through animated gestures and closely observed naturalistic details.
This fresh, beautifully preserved study of a young boy's head is a superb example of Tiepolo's mature drawings in red chalk on blue-gray paper (a medium he used from 1740–43 onward). It is exactly comparable in technique, style, and scale to two autograph sheets from the mid-1750s (Kupferstichkabinett, Berlin) that were preparatory to Tiepolo's two famous altarpieces depicting the martyrdom of Saint Agatha (Gemäldegalerie, Berlin, and Basilica of Sant'Antonio, Padua). This young boy, with his watery gaze and tremulous, half-open mouth, was probably a study for an onlooker in one of Tiepolo's late, deeply moving religious pictures. Beginning with quick, dry strokes, the artist thickly layered the red chalk, then apparently wet it to deepen the shadows and added vibrant touches of white chalk close to the edges of the forms. The blue-gray hue of the paper provides the middle tone for the drawing.