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Sebastiano Ricci (Belluno 1659-Venice 1734)

Two heads 1726

Black, white and coloured chalks on blue paper | 29.1 x 41.9 cm | RCIN 907200

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The woman's head corresponds generally with that of the Madonna in Sebastiano Ricci's painting of the Adoration of the Magi (also in the Royal Collection and from Joseph Smith's collection), though there are differences in the headdress, the tilt of the head, and most significantly in the direction of the lighting. The boy's head may be identified with that of the page in the foreground of the painting, though in a different attitude, and the same model probably served for the study here and for that figure. Thus while the head of the Madonna may be regarded as a study for the Adoration, and is accordingly drawn in a tight, carefully modelled manner, the much more atmospheric head of the boy seems not to have been drawn directly for the painting. Drawings in coloured chalks are uncommon in Ricci's oeuvre, but the European fame of Rosalba Carriera must have acted as an impetus for other artists in Venice to experiment with the medium. The Adoration is dated 1726 and was in Smith's collection in Venice by 1742, together with six other canvases by Ricci of episodes from Christ's ministry, each around 3 metres square. The scale of the series would be most unusual for a private collector, but there is no record of the circumstances of the commission nor of any owner earlier than Smith. It has been suggested that the six other paintings of the series may have been an abortive project for the Turin court, subsequently bought by Smith who then commissioned the matching Adoration; this must remain a hypothesis. Catalogue entry from Royal Treasures, A Golden Jubilee Celebration, London 2002