A Capriccio of Heads of Seven Young Women in elaborate Headdress
Pen and brown and red ink
171 x 221 mm
Executed in pen and brown and red ink, this is among Gaetano Gandolfi’s finest drawings of capricci of heads to come down to us. Very fine parallel and cross hatching combine with small dots for a smooth surface effect reminiscent of stipple engravings such as those Francesco Bartolozzi made in the 1760s after drawings by Guercino in the Royal collections. It is a virtuoso exercise in a particularly difficult technique which allows for few, if any, errors. The drawing presents the heads of the seven young women, densely grouped together and seen from different angles, wearing extravagant, veil-like head-dresses that appear to be loosely inspired by calash bonnets, a type of headwear that was particularly fashionable in the 1770s but worn well into the early nineteenth century. These studies belong to a type of drawing that Gandolfi made from the 1770s to the end of the century, of which perhaps some fifty to seventy sheets are still extant. Gaetano Gandolfi’s head studies stand in a long Bolognese tradition going back to pen-and-ink drawings of Bartolomeo Passerotti, the Carracci Academy, Guercino and, at the beginning of the eighteenth century, Donati Creti. Yet, as Biagio Maino has pointed out, Gaetano’s studies are different from the at times caricatural sketches of his predecessors and should be interpreted ‘as a self-conscious response to the most up-to-date international cultural currents of the period.’ More precisely, they must be seen in the context of the intense academic discourse at the time of Gaetano’s formative years on the expression of the emotions, following the Italian publication of Charles Le Brun’s Conférence sur l’expression générale et particulière in 1751. In his capricci of heads, Gaetano deploys his brilliant draughtsmanship to offer the widest possible range of characters from all walks of life, including the latest fashions, as in our sheet, in a highly original, fundamentally new, and visually compelling form.
The present drawing is now in a private collection.