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Attributed to Pietro Perugino (Città della Pieve c. 1450-Fontignano 1523)

The head and shoulders of the Virgin c.1480

Metalpoint, heightened with white bodycolour, and some pen and ink on grey-brown prepared paper | 19.1 x 13.5 cm (sheet of paper) | RCIN 912797

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  • A drawing of the head and shoulders of the Virgin, looking down to the left. On the verso of the sheet is a very faint brown outline, perhaps of a skull in profile to the left.

    The same head occurs with two others on f.20v of the so-called ‘Libretto di Raffaello’ in the Accademia, Venice, an album of copies after Perugino, perhaps by Domenico Alfani. E. Steinmann (Die Sixtinische Kapelle, 1901-5, I, p. 293) suggested that the prototypes of all three (including the Windsor drawing) were studies for Perugino's destroyed fresco of the Finding of Moses in the Sistine Chapel.

    The band of the woman's smock in this drawing bears the letters VMI (the last not altogether clear) in white. This presumably stands for Virgo Maria Imperatrix (or, less probably, Immaculata), though the attitude of the woman is so generalised that she is unlikely to have been a study for a particular composition. She was more probably a figure of the pattern-book variety, sometimes given an arbitrary identity but deliberately non-specific in type to allow inclusion in a variety of contexts – as with many of the heads in the Venice Libretto.

    The Peruginesque character of this head is obvious, though it is not certain whether it is an autograph drawing by Perugino or a faithful copy. The intelligence of the facial modelling and of the structuring of the planes would support an attribution to Perugino himself, but it is quite possible that the drawing is a sensitive copy by a particularly able member of his studio. Both O. Fischel ('Die Zeichnungen der Umbrer', Jahrbuch der Königlich Preussischen Kunstsammlungen, XXXVIII, 1917, no. 181) and A.E. Popham (Popham and Wilde 1949, no. 24) catalogued the sheet as a copy after Perugino in the style of his Sistine frescoes. A. Blunt (Drawings by Michelangelo, Raphael & Leonardo and their contemporaries, exh. cat., Queen’s Gallery, London, 1972) attributed it to Perugino himself on grounds of quality; P. Joannides (Studi su Raffaello: Atti del Congresso Internazionale, 1987, p. 59) attributed it tentatively to Giovanni Santi as a copy after Perugino.

    Text adapted from M. Clayton, Raphael and his Circle, 1999, no. 2.

    First recorded in a Royal Collection inventory of c.1810 (Inventory A, p. 14, Albert Durer e Maestri Antichi Div:si, probably p. 5, among 'Heads of the old Masters; two in the stile of Pietro Perugino')

  • Medium and techniques

    Metalpoint, heightened with white bodycolour, and some pen and ink on grey-brown prepared paper


    19.1 x 13.5 cm (sheet of paper)

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