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Study for the Head of the Virgin

Considered one of the world’s greatest draftsmen, Federico Barocci produced many preparatory studies for his court portraits and religious works. He is credited with introducing a new approach to drawing by adopting a more painterly technique that included the use of colored pastels. The warmth and humanity of his studies led to their recognition as unique artworks near the time of their production. This drawing has been identified as a head study for the figure of the Virgin Mary in the high altarpiece for the church of San Francesco in the artist’s hometown of Urbino, Italy. The sheet is believed to have been originally in a rectangular format, but it was cut down into an oval by a previous owner.

Barocci produced a print after the altarpiece, Virgin Appearing to Saint Francis (Vision of Saint Francis), 1581, which is also in the Sidney and Lois Eskenazi Museum of Art’s collection (Eskenazi Museum of Art 72.135.1). In both the painted altarpiece and the reproductive engraving, Saint Francis of Assisi kneels in an ecstatic trance before a triumvirate of Christ, Saint Nicholas, and the Virgin Mary. His gaze is directed toward the serene face of the Virgin, who is looking up adoringly at her son (as seen in this drawing).

Federico Barocci
Italian, 1528–1612
Study for the Head of the Virgin
ca. 1576
Charcoal, chalk, and pastel on blue-gray paper
Sheet (oval): 10 1/2 x 8 ¼ in. (26.7 x 21.0 cm)
Sidney and Lois Eskenazi Museum of Art, Evan F. Lilly Memorial, Gift of Thomas T. Solley, 80.57