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Bust of a woman angled to the left

Domenico Ghirlandaio (Florence 1449 – 1494)

Silverpoint, white lead on grayish brown paper
331 x 254 mm
no. 298 E

On the verso on the left, anonymous, ancient, in pen: ‘Grillandaio’

Ghirlandaio was famous among his contemporaries not only for his exceptional talent for narrative, as evidenced by the frescoes in the churches of Santa Trinita and Santa Maria Novella, but also his great skill as a portrait artist, and this drawing of a Florentine woman, perhaps created as a preparatory study for a portrait painting no longer in existence, sheds some light on the reasons for his popularity.

The observer is initially enchanted by the penetrating gaze of the subject, yet immediately afterwards focus cannot help but be drawn to the unique shape of rather long nose with two fleshy bulges either side of the tip. In fact, not only does the realistic depiction of this distinctive feature express a keen curiosity in the different forms of natural appearance and a diversion from the classical canons of aesthetic beauty, it also serves to give greater realism and credibility to the profound dignity expressed by the resolute and open manner of the face.

Moreover, in this work Ghirlandaio provides exceptional proof of his technical mastery, serving as a testament to the high quality of drawing achieved in the Tuscan city in the second half of the fifteenth century, particularly in the field of naturalistic art. The bright lines of the silverpoint and white lead applied with a fine-tipped brush produce a slight vibration of light on the face, emphasizing the facial contours and creating the effect of an almost imperceptible tremor of the skin. The delicate tones of the brownish gray paper also help to give the image a more real and lifelike quality, with the subject standing out against the background as a three-dimensional figure.

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