Collection online


  • Object type

  • Museum number


  • Description

    Head of a monk; turned to front, eyes closed or partly open, wearing a hood Black chalk and grey wash with traces of pen and ink

  • Producer name

  • School/style

  • Date

    • 1635-1655 (c.)
  • Materials

  • Technique

  • Dimensions

    • Height: 277 millimetres
    • Width: 196 millimetres
  • Curator's comments

    Modified text from McDonald 2013

    Zurbarán is best known for his paintings of saints and monks who are depicted as monumental single figures bathed in dramatic light emphasising their three-dimensional quality, and to impart a sense of their inner spirituality. Paintings in his style were in great demand during the first half of the seventeenth century mainly in and around Seville but also for clients in the New World where numerous copies were sent.

    Whereas Zurbarán's paintings are easily recognisable his drawings are something of an enigma. There are no signed sheets and the majority attributed to him are quick studies that do not have the same extraordinary degree of finish evident in the Head of a Monk (Angulo Iñíguez and Pérez Sánchez 1985, III, nos 229–46). A pen and ink drawing of St Agatha for example, shows a single standing figure that is similar to a number of paintings of female martyrs. The sheet is inscribed in a seventeenth century hand with the painter’s name lending credibility to the attribution, but whether it is by him is difficult to assess (see 1973,0915.32).

    Soria suggests that the Head of a Monk could be preparatory for Zurbarán's 1629 painting of Saint Bonaventura on his Bier in the Musée du Louvre (Soria 1953). Although there are passing similarities, the saint is viewed from a completely different angle and wears a bishops mitre. In the drawing the monk’s eyes are partly open suggesting that he is in an upright position, not lying down. Like so many highly finished Spanish drawings, the Head of a Monk seems to be an independent study. His head fills the entire sheet and every facial detail is revealed. The sombre and meditative qualities that pervade so many of Zurbarán's paintings is also evident in this drawing. Its technique is worth mentioning: the outlines are drawn mainly using the edge of the chalk and the shading by lightly working it, probably using his fingers, to produce carefully modulated areas of light and dark. The touches of pen and ink around the mouth and nose provide additional relief.

    There exist important precedents in Seville for this type of study that have not been mentioned. Zurbarán would have known Pacheco's post-mortem portraits in his Libro de retratos, some of which were engraved (M. Cacho Casal, 'The “true likeness” in Francisco Pacheco’s Libro de retratos', Renaissance Studies, XXIV, 2010, pp. 381–406). Both Fray Pablo de Santa María and Fray Pedro de Valderrama from Jerónimo Moreno, 'La vida y muerte, y cosas milagrosas qe el Señor ha hecho por el bendito Fr. Pablo de Santa-Maria ….' Seville 1609 were engraved by Francisco Heylan around 1609 and provide a clear precedent for their subject, composition and appearance.

    The earliest known owner of the Head of a Monk was José de Madrazo, the Director of the Museo del Prado and also the Royal Lithographic Works in Madrid. It came the British Museum from the Malcolm collection in 1895 as a work attributed to Zurbarán. Given the context for its production – both the engraved precedents and his paintings – there is no reason to doubt this attribution.

    J.C. Robinson, 'Descriptive Catalogue of Drawings by the Old Masters, forming the Collection of John Malcolm of Poltalloch, Esq.', London 1869 (re-published 1876), no.424; A. L. Mayer, 'Die Handzeichnungen spanischer Meister. 150 Skizzen und Entwürfen vom 16. bis 19. Jahrhundert', 2 vols, Leipzig 1915 (Spanish edn 'Dibujos originales de maestros Españoles: 150 apuntes y estudios de artistas del siglo XVI hasta el siglo XIX', 2 vols, Leipzig and New York 1920), plt.46; M.S. Soria, 'The Paintings of Zurbarán', London, 1953, no.34, p.141; P. Guinard, 'Zubarán et les peintres enpsgnols de la vie monastique', Paris, 1960, no.397, 9.256; J. Gállego and J. Giudol, 'Zurbarán', Barcelona, 1976, no.564, fig.500; D. Angulo Iñíguez & A. E. Pérez Sánchez, 'A corpus of Spanish Drawings: Seville 1600-1650', 1985, no.245; A. E. Pérez Sánchez & B. Navarrete Prieto 'Tres siglos de dibujo sevillano', exh. cat., Seville 1995, p.26; X. Bray, 'The Sacred made Real. Spanish Painting and Sculpture 1600-1700',, National Gallery, London, 2009, no.30; M. P. McDonald, 'Renaissance to Goya: Prints and drawings from Spain',, British Museum, London 2012, pp.134-35; M. P. McDonald, 'El trazo español en el British Museum: Dibujos del Renacimiento a Goya', exh. cat., Museo Nacional del Prado, Madrid 2013,


  • Bibliography

    • McDonald 2013 25 bibliographic details
    • JCR 424 bibliographic details
  • Location

    Not on display (Spanish Roy XVIIc)

  • Exhibition history

    1974 July-Dec, BM, 'Portrait Drawings', no. 79 ( 1976 BM, 'Spanish Drawings' ( 1980 Feb-Mar, Nottingham Uni, 'Spanish Art', no. 38 1984 BM, 'Master Drawings and Watercolours in the British Museum', no. 149 1996 BM, 'Old Master Drawings from the Malcolm Collection', no.51
    2005 July-Sep, BM, 'Masterpieces of Portrait Drawing' (no cat.)
    2009/10 Oct-Jan, London, National Gallery, `The Sacred Made Real`
    2012/13 Sept-Jan, London, British Museum, ‘Renaissance to Goya: Prints and Drawings from Spain’
    2013 March-June, Madrid, Museo Nacional del Prado, ‘El trazo español en el British Museum …’
    2013, Aug-Nov, Sydney, AGNSW, 'Renaissance to Goya'
    2013-4, Dec-Mar, Santa Fe, New Mexico Museum of Modern Art, 'Renaissance to Goya'

    This drawing cannot be lent for exhibition until 2020.

  • Acquisition name

  • Acquisition date


  • Department

    Prints & Drawings

  • Registration number


Head of a monk; turned to front, eyes closed, wearing hood Black chalk, with dark grey wash


Head of a monk; turned to front, eyes closed, wearing hood Black chalk, with dark grey wash

Image description



If you’ve noticed a mistake or have any further information about this object, please email: 

View open data for this object with SPARQL endpoint

Object reference number: PDO301

British Museum collection data is also available in the W3C open data standard, RDF, allowing it to join and relate to a growing body of linked data published by organisations around the world.

View this object

Support the Museum:
donate online

The Museum makes its collection database available to be used by scholars around the world. Donations will help support curatorial, documentation and digitisation projects.

About the database

The British Museum collection database is a work in progress. New records, updates and images are added every week.

More about the database 


Work on this database is supported by a range of sponsors, donors and volunteers.

More about supporters and how you
can help