Battista Franco, called Il Semolei
Venice circa 1510-Venice 1561
Head of a Bearded Soldier

PROVENANCE: Jonathan Richardson, Senior (1665-1745) (Frits Lugt 2183), and his associated shelf number on the verso, y.53/z.; Possibly his sale, Mr. Cock, London, 22 January - 10 February 1747; Anonymous sale, London, Sotheby's, 24 October 1962, lot 166; Private collection, Switzerland.

Inscribed on the 18th century mount by Jonathan Richardson, Battista Franco apresso Mich. Ang:

Red chalk

386 x 250 mm. (15 x 9 7/8 in.)


This drawing by Battista Franco is a characteristic example of his ideal head studies or teste divine, which ultimately derive from Michelangelo. There is no known drawing by Michelangelo on which our drawing is based1, though there are a several ideal head drawings by Franco, which do take examples after Michelangelo as the source2. One such drawing, which was recently on the market, is An ideal female head, in profile to the left, after Michelangelo, with other head studies3. Francos drawing was based on Michelangelos drawing of Vittoria Colonna in the British Museum and it is interesting to note that the drawing was executed in pen and ink, whilst Michelangelos is in black chalk. Indeed Lauder has observed that it was not unusual for Franco, when copying a drawing by another artist, to change the medium, evidenced for example in his pen drawing in the Ashmolean Museum after Rossos red chalk study in Chatsworth.4 Dr Anne Varick Lauder, who has seen the drawing, has dated ours to the late 1540s or 1550s, and has compared ours to two red chalk drawings in the Albertina of a similar date5. The subject of ideal heads was one explored by other Italian 16th century artists, such as Rosso, Salviati, Clovio, Passarotti and Ligozzi6.

It is likely that the source for our drawing is Michelangelo7. Franco has taken the head of the central figure in a figure group at the bottom right of The Crucifixion of St. Paul, in the Pauline Chapel, in the Vatican. This central figure is turning back in a similar pose to our drawing and the headdress is in a similar position. However Franco has greatly embellished upon this structure. The headdress adopted by Franco for this warrior is that of a lion, he has given the man a beard and an elaborate armoured back plate, and there is a plume coming from the helmet8.

Franco worked as a painter, draughtsman and engraver. He arrived in Rome at the age of 20. In April 1536 he worked with Raffaello da Montelupo on the decoration of the Ponte SantAngelo for entry of Charles V into Rome. Later that month he settled in Florence where he was engaged to work on the decorations for the wedding of the Grand Duke Cosimo I deMedici and Eleanora of Toledo in 1539. Franco was back in Rome by 1542. In 1545 he was summoned to Urbino by Duke Guidobaldo II da Montefeltro to work in Duomo and work on designs for the majolica factory. The last ten years of his life were spent in Venice.

The famous English 18th collector Jonathan Richardson who in 1719 described Francos drawings as exquisitely fine though his paintings contemptible once owned the drawing.

Carmen Bambach has pointed out that a there is a painting of The Crucifixion of St. Paul, after Michelangelo, which she believes is from the circle of Michelangelo, and could be possibly by Franco9.

1.This was confirmed in conversation with Paul Joannides 10 December 2005, and in written communication 14 November 2005.

2.Anne Varick Lauder, Absorption and interpretation: Michelangelo through the eyes of a Venetian follower, Battista Franco, in Reactions to the Master: Michelangelos Effect on Art and Artists in the Sixteenth Century, edited by F. Ames-Lewis and P. Joannides, Ashgate, Aldershot, 2003, pp.95-97.

3.Anon. Sale, New York, Christies, 22 January 2003, lot 10.

4.note in the catalogue entry at the 2003 auction.

5.Written communication 26 April 2006, the two drawings are Study of a Warrior [inv.236] and Study for the Allegory of Fortitude and Temperance [inv. 1568], V.Birke and J.Kertsz, Die Italienischen Zeichnungen der Albertina, Vienna, 1992-7, vol.1, p.140 and vol.2, pp.83-34.

6.It is interesting to compare the group of ideal heads drawn by Jacopo Ligozzi, in particular the broach of a head worn on the dress of a female head, see Phillips, London, 7 July 1993, lot 132, and the mask on the back of the breastplate in our drawing.

7.Stephen Ongpin made this connection, verbally, January 2006.

8.Stuart W. Pyhrr has commented on the armor of the drawing The armor depicted in your drawing is a charming fabrication of classicizing Renaissance inspiration with little or no specific reference to contemporary armor. There may be some allusion in the leonine iconography to the character of the bearded man. The oversized mask on the back is certainly Michelangelesque. The droopy flaps of the hat/helmet may suggest either an exotic character or one of great antiquity (of the Near Eastern/Old Testament variety rather than classical), written communication June 15 2006.

9.Carmen Bambach Cappell, Michelangelos cartoon for the Crucifixion of St. Peter Reconsidered Master Drawings, Summer 1987, p.136, fig.7, no.2, XXV, as anonymous after Michelangelo.