This drawing was discovered underneath Leonardo's 'Allegory of the Fidelity of the Lizard' (Metropolitan Museum of Art, acc. no. 17.142.3) at the time of the acquisition of the latter from Thomas Nash in 1917. At that time the 'Allegory' was hinged to a blue mount bearing inscriptions in an early nineteenth-century French hand: "de la main de Leonardo da Vinci and l'écriture est á gauche, et doit se lire dans une glace." These comments obviously refer to the 'Allegory' with its long left-handed annotations. At the bottom of the old mount is penned the name Parmegianino, which seems to indicate the attribution preferred by the French collector J.-G. Legrand for the present drawing. Though the pen work in this head bears little resemblance to that of Parmigianino, the attribution is not entirely misdirected because the Parmese master did draw heads in profile that have in the past been confused with the work of Leonardo (see acc. no. 1972.118.264). By placing the present drawing in such close proximity to an autograph work by Leonardo, Legrand may have wished to suggest that the "Parmegianino" head derives from an original by Leonardo.
Carlo Pedretti, who reproduced this drawing in 1973 as an autograph and hitherto unpublished work by Leonardo, does not seem to have been aware that it was illustrated in the 1935 edition of Seidlitz's work on the master. This grotesque head also occurs in the same direction on a sheet of Leonardesque studies from Vivant Denon's collection that is now in the British Museum (Popham and Pouncey, 1950, no. 122, pl. 110). Pedretti suggested that the London head is copied after the present drawing; this seems unlikely because the copy in London painstakingly imitates the left-handed shading characteristic of Leonardo, while the shading here is ambiguously vertical. The present drawing, dry and awkward in execution, seems a good deal further from Leonardo than is the copy in the British Museum.
(Carmen C. Bambach)