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July 14, 2023

Acquisition: Baccio Bandinelli

Baccio Bandinelli, "Four Male Heads"

Baccio Bandinelli
Four Male Heads, c. 1534
pen and brown ink on laid paper
sheet: 35.56 x 26.99 cm (14 x 10 5/8 in.)
National Gallery of Art, Washington
Patrons' Permanent Fund

A favorite of the powerful Medici family, Baccio Bandinelli (1493–1560) was, next to Michelangelo, one of the most important sculptors in 16th-century Florence. The National Gallery of Art has acquired Four Male Heads (c. 1534), a drawing that conveys in two dimensions and on a small scale the presence and power of monumental sculpture. One of the National Gallery’s finest 16th-century Italian drawings, it is a bridge between drawings from the High Renaissance and those by Bartolomeo Passarotti (Bandinelli’s pupil) and Luca Cambiaso, as well as the graphic work of northern Mannerists such as Hendrick Goltzius and Jacob de Gheyn III. Stylistically, it is an exquisite example of a sculptor’s drawing and virtuoso draftsmanship from any period or school. This drawing joins three others by Bandinelli in the collection, all figure studies.

Bandinelli’s graphic language was inspired by Michelangelo’s construction of powerful forms using rhythmic pen work. Despite this, Bandinelli interpreted ancient and High Renaissance models with special freedom, abstracting their forms and translating them into swift, perfectly regular calligraphy. Opposite in character to his monumental statues, Bandinelli’s studies for them are elegant, vibrant, and personal. For the first time, drawings executed at the speed of preparatory sketches were intended as autonomous works, establishing an important new category in the graphic arts.

In their idealized form, the heads in this drawing resemble the ancient Roman portrait busts that inspired him, as well as the contemporary work of Michelangelo that he sought to rival. In dramatic contrast to their physical definition, their personalities, glances, and even relationship to one another are ambiguous. Four Male Heads recalls Bandinelli’s study of ancient Roman portraits as well as his own skill as a portraitist. The knitted brow, deep-set eyes, and parted beard of the main figure point to Bandinelli’s draftsmanship at its closest to that of Michelangelo’s, while the large pen nib, heavy line, and strong contrast between densely worked passages and blank paper suggest a sculptural, three-dimensional surface. The independent draftsmanship, emphatic plasticity, and bold personality of this drawing anticipate the development of the medium as an independent art form.

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