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Sebastiano Ricci (Belluno 1659-Venice 1734)

The head of Simon the Pharisee c.1728-30

Red and black chalk | 31.1 x 24.2 cm | RCIN 907134

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A head study of a bearded elderly man, facing left wearing a black hat. The drawing is a final study for the head of the Pharisee seated at the far right of the table in Ricci’s huge painting of the Magdalen anointing Christ’s feet. The painting, over 6 metres (20 feet) wide, was the largest of the series of seven New Testament subjects owned by Joseph Smith. Like the drawings, these paintings were acquired by George III in 1762; the Magdalen now hangs at Hampton Court. There is no documentary evidence for the date of the painting. Marco Ricci probably collaborated in the background architecture, which would date much of that portion to no later than his death in January 1730; but the notable inclusion of a portrait of Marco amongst the attendant figures may have been intended as some sort of memorial, suggesting that Sebastiano was still at work on the painting when his nephew died. The drawing is unusually elaborate for a working study, in a three-chalks technique (with strokes of a brush dipped in water to blend and soften the chalks) more commonly associated with French than with Italian draftsmen. On his journey back from London in 1716, Sebastiano had visited Paris where he met Antoine Watteau, copying a number of his drawings in this technique. Four of these copies are also to be found in the Smith album. Catalogue entry adapted from George III & Queen Charlotte: Patronage, Collecting and Court Taste, London, 2004