The period that Parmigianino spent in Rome, from 1524 until the city was sacked in 1527, was a crucial stage in his artistic development: it enabled him to study the works of Raphael and to learn directly from artists who had worked in the master's studio, Giulio Romano and Perino del Vaga among them. It is likely that the present drawing dates from the end of this Roman period, as an almost identical head appears on a sheet of studies in the Galleria Nazionale, Parma (fig. 1; Popham 544 recto), which can be dated to circa 1527 owing to preparatory studies on the verso for The Vision of Saint Jerome (National Gallery, London). The head also resembles that of the hermit in the foreground of The Mystic Marriage of Saint Catherine (National Gallery, London), which was started at a similar time.
If the head on the Parma sheet is, as Popham suggests, a form of 'doodling' (Popham, op. cit., p. 22), then the present work perhaps represents a refinement and elaboration of the artist's initial idea, executed with the care and precision which is characteristic of Parmigianino's presentation drawings. The identity of the sitter is unknown, although the physiognomy of this head, with its short upper lip, long, aquiline nose, arched nostrils and curling beard, is similar to that shown in Parmigianino's Self portrait with studies of the Steccata canephori at Chatsworth, dating from around 1534 (Popham 719 recto, pl. 343), and to the Self Portrait in Profile in the Albertina, also dating to the later part of Parmigianino's life (Popham 600, pl. 430).
The drawing's provenance includes two of the greatest drawings collections ever formed in Britain: those of the Earl of Arundel and the Duke of Devonshire. Thomas Howard, 2nd Earl of Arundel (1585-1646), had one of the most important historical collections of Parmigianino drawings, and the present sheet was one of those etched by Lucas Vorsterman (fig. 2) who, along with Hendrick van der Borcht and Wenceslas Hollar, was employed to make prints of artefacts in the Earl's collection. While it was in Arundel's collection, the sheet was copied by Inigo Jones as part of his study of Italian draughtsmanship (Wood, op. cit., fig. 22). The present drawing then entered the collection of William Cavendish, 2nd Duke of Devonshire (1672-1729), one of four drawings by Parmigianino to have come from the Arundel Collection. One of the Duke's key sources was the posthumous sale of Sir Peter Lely, but since the present sheet does not bear Lely's collector's mark, it is most likely that it entered the Devonshire Collection by another route, perhaps from the collection of an 'old Countess', who was described by Jonathan Richardson the Younger as being an important source for the Duke's Italian drawings (cited in Popham, op. cit., p. 34). It then remained in the Devonshire Collection for 250 years before being sold as part of the momentous Chatsworth sale at Christie's, London, in 1984.
Signature: With number '238-845' (on the mount)
Washington D.C., National Gallery of Art, and elsewhere (International Exhibitions Foundation), Old Master Drawings from Chatsworth, 1969-70, catalogue ed. J. Byam Shaw, no. 51.
London, Victoria and Albert Museum, Old Master Drawings from Chatsworth, 1973-4, no. 51.
London, British Museum, and New York, Metropolitan Museum of Art, Correggio and Parmigianino: Master Draughtsmen of the Renaissance, 2000-1, no. 96.
A.E. Popham, Catalogue of the Drawings of Parmigianino, London, 1971, no. 723, pl. 296.
J. Wood, 'Inigo Jones, Italian Art and the Practice of Drawing', The Art Bulletin, LXXIV, no. 3, June 1992, p. 253, fig. 23.
M. Jaffé, The Devonshire Collection of Italian Drawings: Bolognese and Emilian Schools, London, 1994, p. 264, no. 705.
A. Gnann, Parmigianino: die Zeichnungen, Petersberg, 2008, I, p. 444, no. 591; II, p. 467 (where the location is incorrectly given as Chatsworth).
Thomas Howard, 2nd Earl of Arundel.
William, 2nd Duke of Devonshire (L.718), and by descent to
The Duke of Devonshire and the Trustees of the Chatsworth Settlement; Christie's, London, 3 July 1984, lot 32, where purchased by Richard Day for a New York private collection.
About Francesco Mazzola, called Parmigianino
Italian, 1503-1540, Parma, Italy, based in Casalmaggiore, Italy