GIULIO CESARE PROCACCINI
Bologna 1574 — 1625 Milan
Head of an Angel
oil on paper laid down on canvas. 121/4 x 101/4" (311 x 260 mm).
In his important article, L'inizio dell'abbozzo autonomo (Paragone, 1966), Roberto Longhi drew attention to Procaccini's treatment of oil sketches as autonomous works of art. Much more rare is the preparatory oil sketch by the artist. About 20 years ago, Hugh Brigstocke thought this study was the latter and linked it to the head of an angel in the altarpiece of Madonna and Child with Saints in S. Afra in Brescia. At that time, he hoped to publish it as that scarce example of the preparatory oil sketch but it appears he lost sight of the work amidst his more pressing concerns.
This Head of an Angel, no doubt studied from life, is stylistically suffused with strong echoes of Correggio and Leonardo, which is typical for Procaccini. The heavily loaded brush strokes describing the braids and curls and the richness of the honey-colored hair, the ruddy tonality of the cherubic faces - these are hallmarks of the artist and indeed such heads appear regularly in Procaccini 's altarpieces. See for instance the Vision of Sant Teresa in Santa Maria della Grazia in Pavia, the Mystic Marriage of St. Catherine in the Brera, Milan, and the Holy Family in the Gemaldegalerie of Vienna.
Procaccini was born in Bologna but his family moved to Milan when the artist was eleven years old. His artistic education was evidently familial - from his father Ercole and his elder brothers Camillo and Carlo Antonio, all painters; his career began as a sculptor and at an early age. His first known commission, a sculpted saint for the Duomo of Milan, came when he was only seventeen years old. Procaccini's earliest documented painting, the Pietà for the Church of Santa Maria presso San Celso in Milan, was completed by 1604. By this time the artist had made the trip to Parma recorded by his biographers, where he studied Correggio, Bedoli, and especially Parmigianino; reflections of their work are apparent throughout Procaccini's career.