Head and Shoulders of a Youth, Looking Up to the Left

WAG 1995.64


This is a study for the head of the Archangel Gabriel in the fresco 'Allegory of the Triumph of Christ', painted in about 1614 - 15 on the cupola of the Chapel of the Holy Sacrament in Ravenna Cathedral, Italy. The fresco was commissioned by the Archbishop of Ravenna, Cardinal Pietro Aldobrandini, nephew of the former Pope Clement VIII. The cupola itself was painted quickly, perhaps because of the unpleasantness of a lengthy stay in the declining city of Ravenna. A contemporary described it as hot and disease-ridden, notorious for its awful wine and infamous water. Reni did not enjoy working on large-scale frescos. He left most of the actual painting to his assistants. He concentrated instead on producing the cartoons for the composition and a range of figure studies and details in black chalk and pen and ink. Although no doubt drawn from a live model, Reni has given this drawing an air of elegant refinement appropriate to the Archangel Gabriel. The fresco itself is no longer in good condition, having been restored on a couple of occasions. A study such as this is the best way to enjoy the graceful beauty of Reni's original concept, which won the praise of his contemporaries. The artist Cavaliere d'Arpino said of him, whilst 'we paint like mere mortals, he paints like an angel'.