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Chiaroscuro Drawing of a Bearded Venetian Man Gazing Downward

  • Chiaroscuro Drawing of a Bearded Venetian Man Gazing Downward

A fine chiaroscuro drawing of a Bearded Venetian Man gazing downward

Possibly by Giovanni Battista Piazzetta or his ambit
Early 18th century; Venice, Italy
Charcoal with white lead heightening on prepared blue paper
Approximate size: 29.5 x 22 cm

The present drawing, of superb execution and carefully articulated expressiveness, features the head of an elderly bearded man gazing downward. While his cap suggests a man of middle-class stature, his contemplative gaze embodies a sense of dignity and the wisdom that comes with age. The man is pensive, contemplative, beguiled by his own meditations.

The portrait emerges from the negative space of the sheet, with the protagonist’s beard dissipating into the void of prepared rich blue paper—the Venetian carta azzurra—and rendered in black charcoal with white heightening, offering a tonal depth that emphasizes the dimensional relationship between the sheet itself and its portrait.

The sketch is highly finished, made with great efficacy, and perhaps copies some detail of a finished work: perhaps a painting made by the artist himself, or one derived from another artist’s work.

The verso appears to feature a white chalk counterproof of the Penitent Magdalene and an inscription along its margin offers an old attribution to Giovanni Battista Tiepolo. While the suggestion of Tiepolo is likely incorrect, a more befitting suggestion could be Tiepolo’s contemporary, Giovanni Battista Piazzetta who frequently executed and sold drawings in a similar manner such as the present sketch.

The present work is from a private Italian collection and also features an unidentified old collection stamp in the lower-left corner (the stamp is not mentioned in Frits Lugt’s census of historic collections).

With thanks to Cormac Murray (private collector) and Jonathan Bober (National Gallery of Art) for their feedback and insight on this artwork.