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Traces of the Hand: Master Drawings from the Collection of Frederick and Lucy S. Herman


Giovanni Battista Tiepolo
Italian, 1696–1770
Head of a Youth, c. 1730–1770
Red and white chalk on blue paper
15 3/8 x 12 in, 39.05 x 30.48 cm (sheet)
Inscriptions (verso) in brown ink: "No. 2060 x 24"
Provenance: Bossi-Beyerlen Sale, Stuttgart, 1882; acquired from Colnaghi & Co. Ltd., 1977
Gift of The Frederick and Lucy S. Herman Foundation, 2006.11.61

The attribution of this drawing is uncertain. While it is clear that a Tiepolo executed it, there is considerable debate about whether it was by the father, Giovanni Battista, or his son, Giovanni Domenico. The Hermans acquired the drawing as by Domenico, but George Knox, author of the Tiepolo catalogue raissoné, attributes the work to Giambattista.1 As Knox acknowledges, however, separating the two hands is extremely difficult.2

There is no finished fresco or painting by either artist in which this specific youth appears, and this drawing and the many others like it should not be regarded as preparatory studies. Indeed, preliminary studies in the Tiepolo workshop were rarely done in red chalk, but rather in pen and wash or black chalk.3 This drawing has a direct, spontaneous quality suggesting it was drawn from a live model, conceivably a shop assistant. Additionally, the verso has red chalk smudging, indicating that it was stacked with other drawings or, more likely, bound in an album with other drawings, which was a customary practice of the Tiepolo workshop.4 Some albums survive, though others have been disassembled. The grouping of drawings in these albums does not seem to have been determined by artist or subject.5 As the inscription on the verso reveals, this drawing came from the Bossi-Beyerlen sale of 1882, in which over eight hundred Tiepolo drawings were auctioned, of which three hundred were head studies and 149 of those were executed in red chalk.6 Though the exact function of these albums of drawings in the Tiepolo shop is unclear, these drawings very likely served as models for basic training exercises for apprentices.7

The freshness of this drawing owes much to the manipulation of the two-chalk technique. From the sixteenth century, it was popular in Italy to combine multiple chalks on colored paper. In this case, red chalk is used for deep shadows and the definition of form, white chalk for highlights, and the blue paper serves as a middle tone. Red chalk was especially popular because it could be used broadly or sharpened to achieve very fine lines; as this drawing shows, it allows for everything from deep maroon to dusty orange values.

Emily Fenichel
Lilian Gladstone


1. George Knox, Giambattista and Domenico Tiepolo: A Study and Catalogue Raissoné of the Chalk Drawings, Oxford, 1980, 218, No. M76a.

2. Knox, Chalk Drawings, "Introduction."

3. George Knox, Tiepolo: A Bicentenary Exhibition, 1770–1970, Cambridge, MA: Fogg Art Museum, 1970, 213.

4. Knox, Tiepolo Bicentenary, xiii. Unfortunately, this drawing has been trimmed on all sides so no binding edge is visible.

5. Giulio Lorenzetti, Le Cahier des dessins des Tiepolo au Musée Correr de Venise, Venice, 1946, 160.

6. Knox, Chalk Drawings, 200–209. The inscription provides a lot number and the price in Austrian kreutzers. See Knox, Chalk Drawings, 205.

7. Knox, Tiepolo Bicentenary, xx.


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