- Museum number
Head of a man looking up, with long hair and beard
Black chalk, pricked for transfer
- Production date
Height: 390 millimetres
Width: 262 millimetres
- Curator's comments
The attribution of this pricked cartoon of a head, possibly for a Christ in an Agony in the Garden or for a figure gazing up at the Crucified Christ, has oscillated between Melozzo da Forlì, whose name has been associated with it at least since Robinson's catalogue in 1876, and Popham and Pouncey's suggestion that it is by Giovanni Bellini. Those in support of the old attribution, to which Carmen Bambach is the most recent advocate, cite comparisons with the foreshortened heads in the fragments of the fresco painting of the 'Ascension', originally from the apse of SS. Apostoli in Rome painted by Melozzo around 1481-3, now in the Vatican Museum and Quirinal Palace. While the BM drawing is probably not related to this commission - Popham and Pouncey point out the differences in scale and costume - the surviving fragments do show that Melozzo deserved his fame as a painter of foreshortened figures and that he employed cartoons to paint them. Popham and Pouncey rejected an attribution to Melozzo on the stylistic grounds: 'the present sheet shows none of the qualities that we would associate with drawings of the Central Italian School and which we would should expect to find in Melozzo. The drawing of the hair and beard in the existing fragments of Melozzo's SS. Apostoli fresco is much more schematic'.
Popham and Popham's suggestion of Giovanni Bellini is no less problematic as, in common with Melozzo, there is not a single drawing that can be connected to one of his paintings. They compared the head with those in various Bellini paintings: the 'Pietà' in the Vincent Ferrer altarpiece of c. 1465 in SS. Giovanni e Paolo, Venice (Robertson pl. XXVIIIa as a Studio work); and the painting of the same subject in Berlin (Robertson pl. XLII a). The subtle description of light and the care with which the differing qualities of the hair on his face and head are detailed certainly resemble passages in Bellini's paintings. It is also now known that Bellini and his workshop did sometimes use cartoons as pouncing (black chalk or charcoal dots dusted through the pricked contours of a cartoon) has been found in some of the paintings (see J. Dunkerton, 'Bellini's Technique', in P. Humfrey ed., 'The Cambridge Companion to Giovanni Bellini', Cambridge, 2004, pp. 204-5). Nonetheless the difficulties of attributing any drawing to Bellini, not least one so different in type from the pen studies in the mould of Mantegna which are most securely attributable to his hand, make it very hard to endorse Popham and Pouncey's idea with the same enthusiasm expressed by Scharf in his review of their catalogue. (George Goldner does not include it in his recent study of Bellini's drawings in the Cambridge 2004 volume). The drawing remains under the name of Bellini because even if not by him, it is arguably more likely the work of a fellow Venetian than one from Central Italy such as Melozzo. David Ekserdjian (email December 2-16) noted that the head of San Roch in Andrea da Murano's altarpiece at Trebaseleghe (Padova) is similar in type and pose, although he feels the disparity in quality between the painting and the drawing makes it unlikely that the latter was executed by Andrea rather that he may have seen it or a similar study. The likelihood that the BM is Venetian is arguably increased by by Aidan Weston Lewis's observation (oral communication 2013) on the similarity between the BM study and the foreshortened head of one of the kneeling saints in the 'Vision of Christ carrying the Cross' painted by Domenico Brusasorci in 1547 for S. Stefano, Verona (illustrated S. Marinelli, in exhib. cat., Verona, Museo del Castelvecchio, 'Veronese e Verona', 1988, p. 75).
Tom Henry (2011) considers this drawing, 'the cornerstone of any subsequent attributions of drawings to Melozzo.'
Lit.: J.C. Robinson, 'Descriptive Catalogue of Drawings by the Old Masters, forming the Collection of John Malcolm of Poltalloch, Esq', London, 1876, no. 154 (as Melozzo da Forlì); K.T. Parker, 'North Italian Drawings of the Quattrocento', London, 1927, no. 34, p. 29 (as Melozzo da Forlì); A.E. Popham and P. Pouncey, 'Italian drawings in the BM, the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries', London, 1950, I, no. 16, II, pl. XV (with previous literature); A. Scharf, review of Popham and Pouncey, 1950, 'The Burlington Magazine', XCIV, 1952, p. 210; C.L. Ragghianti, review of Popham and Pouncey 1950 catalogue, "Critica d'Arte", VI, 1954, p. 597 (as Melozzo da Forlì); E. Ruhmer, 'Melozzo as Zeichner', in A. Kosegarten and P. Tigler (eds), 'Festschrift Ulrich Middeldorf', Berlin, 1968, pp. 201-5; 'G. Robertson, 'Giovanni Bellini', New York, 1981 (reissue of 1968 ed.), p. 28, pl. XI a (as Andrea Mantegna or Bellini ?); N. Clark, 'Melozzo da Forlì: pictor papalis', London, 1990, pp. 70-1, 94 (as Melozzo da Forlì); S. Tumidei, in exhib. cat., Forlì, Oratorio di San Sebastiano, 'Melozzo da Forlì : la sua città e il suo tempo', 1994, p. 23; N. Turner, in exhib. cat., BM, 'The Study of Italian Drawings: The Contribution of Philip Pouncey', 1994, no. 22; H. Chapman, in exhib. cat., BM, 'Old Master Drawings from the Malcolm Collection', 1996, no. 6; C.C. Bambach, 'Drawing and Painting in the Italian Renaissance Workshop: Theory and Practice, 1300-1600, Cambridge, 1999, p. 239, fig. 212 (as Melozzo da Forlì): T. Henry, review of Melozzo da Forlì' exhibition, Musei S. Domenico, Forlì, "The Burlington Magazine", 153, May 2011, pp.354-5; N. Pons, in exhib. cat., Reggio Emilia, Palazzo Magnani, 'Piero della Francesca: Il disegno tra arte e scienza', 2015, pp. 333-4, no. III.24, illustrated p. 174; C. Schmidt Arcangeli, in exhib. cat., Reggio Emilia, Palazzo Magnani, 'Piero della Francesca: Il disegno tra arte e scienza', 2015, pp. 392-3, no. VII.17, illustrated p. 279.
Popham & Pouncey 1950
Literature: JCR 154; A. Schmarsow, Melozzo da Forlì, 1886, pp. 368 f.; B.M. Guide, 1895, no. 90; C. Ricci, Melozzo da Forlì, 1911, p. Il, pl. vie (repr. in reverse); K. T. Parker, North Italian Drawings, 1927, pl. 34; T. B(orenius), Vasari Society, Second Series, x (1929), 2; R. B(uscaroli), Melozzo da Forlì (periodical so entided), fase. 7 (1939), p. 379 (detail reproduction).
Attributed to Melozzo da Forlì in the Malcolm Catalogue, where, however, it is not
stated whether the drawing was already so named or whether Robinson was responsible for the ascription. The idea has been accepted by all critics without question. It must, however, be remembered that ever since the publication of Vasari's second edition Melozzo has been regarded as the pioneer of illusionistic foreshortening. The present cartoon, therefore, may well have been associated with his name for no other reason than that the backward tilt of the head is rendered in a masterly fashion. There is no justification for assuming, as is often done, that we have in this drawing the cartoon for the head of one of the apostles in the fresco of the 'Ascension' originally in the church of SS. Apostoli in Rome, of which fragments are preserved in the Vatican and the Quirinal Palace (Venturi, 'Storia', vii. I (1913), fig. 23): the position of the head is different and the scale of the drawing is smaller. Again, it will be observed that the surviving apostles are clad in tunics which mount to the base of the neck.
The man in the drawing differs from them not merely in costume but in wearing an expression of suffering patiently borne. Robinson is indeed perhaps right in supposing that it is Christ who is here represented, though the context is not necessarily the Agony in the Garden as he suggests.
The attribution to Giovanni Bellini, here proposed for the first time, though impossible to substantiate, seems more probable than the generally accepted one to Melozzo da Forlì. The present sheet shows none of the qualities that we associate with drawings of the central Italian School and which we should expect to find in Melozzo. The drawing of the hair and beard in the existing fragments of Melozzo's SS. Apostoli fresco is much more schematic. Here, on the other hand, it very closely resembles that by Bellini in such paintings as the 'Pietà' in the 'S. Vincent Ferrer' altarpiece in SS. Giovanni e Paolo, the 'Pietà' in the Berlin Museum and the more elaborate monochrome painting of the same subject in the Uffizi. The foreshortening of the face, the drawing of the eyes, nostrils, and mouth also find a close parallel in the head
of the S. Christopher in the 'S. Vincent Ferrer' altar-piece.
The drawing, if by Bellini, would appear to date from the period of the Pesaro altar-piece.
- Not on display
- Exhibition history
1894, BM, No. 90
1994, BM, 'The Study of Italian Drawings', No. 22
1996-7, BM, 'Old Master Drawings from the Malcolm Collection', No. 6
1990 April-Aug, BM, Treasures of P&D (no cat.)
2007 Mar-June, Beijing, Palace Museum, Britain meets the World
2015 Mar-Jun, Reggio Emilia, Palazzo Magnani, 'Piero della Francesca'
- Acquisition date
- Prints and Drawings
- Registration number