Gaetano Gandolfi
San Matteo della Decima 1734-Bologna 1802
A Sheet of studies of Six Fantastical Heads, circa 1780s

PROVENANCE: Carl Mayer von Rothschild (Frankfurt 1788-1855 Naples), and thence by descent.

Pen and brown ink on paper

213 x 211 mm. (8 x 8 3/8 in)


Gandolfi spent most of his career in his native Bologna, apart from brief trips to Venice in 1760 and London in 1788. As a student at the Accademia Clementina he won two medals for sculpture and drawing. A brief period of study in Venice in 1760 was of great importance, as can be seen the vigorous brush work and colours of his paintings. He received numerous commissions for altarpieces for churches throughout Emilia and elsewhere, he undertook a number of important fresco decorations. One of his first important decorative projects was for a ceiling of the Four Elements, painted in collaboration with Serafino Barozzi in the Palazzo Odorici. In 1776 he painted the Marriage at Cana for a refectory of the convent of San Salvatore. Other commissions included the cupola of the church of Santa Maria della Vita in 1779, and for the Duomo in Pisa and San Domenico in Ferrara.

It is known from a contemporary source, from the 1790s, by Marcello Oretti in his Notizie deProfessori del Disegno that Luigi Tadolini was engraving un esemplare di teste tolte da varij capriccio a penna di mano Gandolfi. An album of twenty engravings by Luigi Tadolini was discovered in the Biliothque dArt et dArchologie Jacques Doucet, in Paris. This album bears the title: Raccolta di Teste Pittoriche inventate e designate a penna dal Sig. G. Gandolfi Accademico Clementino ed incise da Luigo Tadolini. For five of the twenty engraved plates Dottoressa Biagi Maino has been able to find the original drawings. She observes that It must be stressed that these capricci, which modern critics have tended to see as deriving from precedents which are actually of a quite different type, such as the caricatural sketches of Passerotti and Agostino Carracci, or Guercinos drawings of low life subjects, can in fact be interpreted as a self-conscious response to the most up-to-date international cultural currents of the period. Gaetano was already making drawings of this type in the 1770s, and continued to produce them for the rest of the century, apparently for private collectors with whom these drawings were very popular, they were conceived as independent works in their own right. 1

There are a number of drawings closely comparable to ours by Gaetano Gandolfi which have been on the auction market in recent years and include A Sheet of studies of Heads with Elaborate Hair studies, drawn in pen and brown ink and measuring 290 x 203 mm2. Other comparable drawings are in public collections including the Fondation Frits Lugt collection, Four Heads of Young Woman in Bonnets, drawn in the same technique and similar size, and another in the Molinari Pradelli collection. 3 Further drawings have been with dealers including of Heads with Didier Aaron Ltd in 2003.4

The attribution has been confirmed by Dottoressa Biagi Maino on the basis of a photograph, and she has made a number of additional comparisons, including Study of Six Heads from Feitelsen Collection, of Santa Barbara, in it the young man at the bottom that looks upward resembles that of your spreadsheet; the quality of drawing is also similar to many other sheets, such as the Study of Eight Heads in the Pushkin Museum in Moscow (cat. 1986 71). There is a copy of our drawing in Darmstadt, possibly by Mauro Gandolfi. 5

Our drawing was once in the collection of Carl Mayer von Rothschild, who was a German born banker in the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies and the founder of the Rothschild banking family of Naples. Born Kalman Mayer Rothschild in Frankfurt am Main he was the fourth of the five sons of Mayer Amschel Rothschild (1743-1812) and Gutl Schnapper (1753-1849). He would become known as Carl by the family, except the English relatives who called him Charles. He was trained in his fathers banking business and lived at home until the age of 29 when he acquired a house in Frankfurt, in preparation for his marriage to Adelheid Herz (1800-1853). In an effort to expand the family business across Europe Carls brothers were sent to different European cities to establish a banking branch. Carl was sent to Naples where he establish C.M. de Rothschild & Figli, to operate as a satellite office to the Rothschild banking family of Germany. Carl proved himself a strong financial manager and establish a good working relationship with Luigi de Medici, and his bank became the dominant banking house in Naples. In 1822 he was granted the title of Baron or Freiherr by Austrias Francis I. In 1829 he was appointed consul-general of Sicily. In 1837 Carl built the Villa Gnthersburg on a large country property outside Frankfurt.

1.Donatella Biagi Maino, Gaetano Gandolfis capricci of heads: drawings and engravings, The Burlington Magazine, June 1994, pp.375-79.

2.Anonymous sale, Sothebys London 3 July 1995, lot 130, and 133 and 136; and 2 July 1997 lot 40, and Sothebys London, 9 July 2003, lot 51.

3.Exhibition catalogue, Dessins Bolonais et Lombards de la Collection Frits Lugt, Paris, Institut Nerlandais, 14 April-5 June 1988, and Florence, 28 October-11 December 1988, number 61, pl. 32. Also see C. Johnston, Il Seicento e il Settecento a Bologna, 1970, Milan, fig. 29, p. 92.

4.With Didier Aaron Ltd, measuring 270 x 202 mm, also drawn in pen and brown ink and dated circa 1790, and another of Studies of four turbaned heads with Trinity Fine Art Ltd, An Exhibition of Old Master Paintings and Drawings, London 2004, cat no. 15.

5.Written communication 8 October 2013. See catalogue, Edited by Alfred Moir, Old Master Drawings from the Feitelson Collection, University Art Museum, University of California, Santa Barbara, 1983, number 59, pp140-1, incorrectly Attributed to Mauro Gandolfi; and Graphische Sammlung des Hessian Landesmuseums Darmstadt, edited by S. Twiehaus, Zeichnungen Bolognas Emilia und der 16. bis 18. Jahrhundert, 2005: n. 98, p. 151.