1616 — Florence — 1686
Portrait of a Cleric, bust-length
red & black chalk. 71/4 x 53/4" (195 x 146mm). watermark: fragment of crossed arrows. inscribed in brown ink on the verso in an 18th c. hand: originale de Carlo Dolci.
This remarkably refined head study, modeled expertly with both red & black chalks, is characteristic of the portrait studies of Dolci. See for instance, in the Uffizi his portrait of Reverend Giovanni Jacopucci (inv 1178F)1 and a bust of a young woman gazing upward (inv. 1179E),2 as well as a portrait in the Louvre. These three drawings exhibit the same dark pupils in irises penetrated by light, effecting eyes that invoke a lively intelligence and which are exceptionally realistic. A portrait in Lille is somewhat less realized, but still comparable.
Many of Dolci's extant drawings are preparatory for his paintings, but no painting of this cleric has thus far come to light. Sometimes, there are several drawn studies for a known painting, as in the case of drawn portraits of Teresa Bucherelli, the artist's wife, who was to be transformed into Sant'Agnese in an oil on canvas, now in a private collection in Texas. The two drawings of Teresa differ in both the extent of the finish, the one in the Louvre being quite detailed, while the one at the Fondation Custodia is very, very, highly finished. But it is also the case that the turn of the head is different, the arrangement of the hair, and the Louvre sheet also portrays both a neckline and draped bust of the sitter, while neither is indicated in the other version. Thus two separate sittings are recorded.
No other version of the present image is known to Dr. Francesca Baldassari, yet she is not inclined to accept this drawing as autograph, suggesting instead that it might be the work of a member of Dolci's busy workshop such as Agnese. With all due respect to Dr. Baldassari, I do not agree and though I acknowledge that the clothing indicated by our cleric was not executed with the subtlety and intelligence which is normally but not always Dolci's, I can see that in the execution of the face, Dolci's refined and expert technique is very much in evidence from the perfection in the juxtoposition of colored chalks to the extraordinarily delicate and subtle description of three dimensionality in the features and their integration within the hole of the head, the various sensitive treatments of hair be it that in a mustache or at the top of a head....and those exquisite, transparent eyes. Portrait drawings of lesser quality have been accepted; surely this one ought to be.
Dolci spent his whole life, save for a trip to Innsbruck in 1675, in Florence. His first teacher was Jacopo Vignali, but he studied Bronzino and the Flemish masters in the Medici collections. Ardent religiosity is often evident in his work.
Il Seicento Fiorentino, Palazzo Strozzi exhibition, Cantini, 1986, cat. # 2.325, pl. XL.
Italian XVIIth-Century Drawings from the Uffizi Gallery in Florence, curated by Anna Maria Petrioli Toffani, Montreal Museum of Art, 1986, pp 210-211, cat. # 50.