(Siena or Lucca ca. 1492-1556 Parma)

Head of a Putto

red chalk on paper

5 ¼ x 4 ¾ inches
(13.3 x 12.1 cm)


Suida-Manning Collection, New York.
Private Collection, USA.

This unpublished drawing is a new addition to the graphic oeuvre of Michelangelo Anselmi. While he trained in Siena, Anselmi made his mark in Parma, the city where his family likely originated. He undertook numerous church commissions there, sometimes collaborating with Correggio and Parmigianino. Despite his contact with these towering figures of sixteenth-century painting, Anselmi remained stylistically distinct and original. He has been described as the most imaginative painter in Parma after Correggio and Parmigianino.

Fig. 1. Michelangelo Anselmi, Putti Playing with Hoops, black chalk with outlines pricked for transfer, 22 × 24 13/16 inches (55.9 × 63 cm), Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York

This drawing depicts the head of a putto in three-quarter profile. He is shown glancing sharply to the left with something of a mischievous air about him. The sheet exhibits the bold and expressive manner of drawing so typical of Anselmi. Rough strokes of the chalk are used to model the putto’s face. Hatching has also been applied around the face, creating a sfumato effect. The artist has masterfully modulated the pressure applied to the chalk, achieving the hard outline of the face and the soft curls of the hair. The curved strokes in the upper right suggest that this drawing may have been cut from a larger sheet that contained additional head studies.

We are grateful to David Ekserdjian for proposing the attribution to Michelangelo Anselmi (written communication, 13 January 2019) and to Elisabetta Fadda, author of the monograph on Anselmi, for confirming this attribution on the basis of a photograph (written communication, 15 January 2019). Professor Fadda has dated the sheet to ca. 1545, comparing the face of the putto with those found in Anselmi’s monumental cartoon used to paint the decorative border of a fresco on the vault of the cathedral in Parma in 1548, now in the Metropolitan Museum of Art (fig. 1).