(Vercelli, c. 1509-1581)

Head of a Female Saint

black and white chalk on blue paper

inscribed “Gaudenzio” in the upper right on the historic mount

9 x 6 ¾ inches (22.9 x 17.1 cm)



Duke Vittorio Amadeo I (d. 1637), and by descent in the Library of the Dukes of Savoy.
Cavaliere Antonio Abrate, Turin (1834-1925), after 1887, and by descent to Adele Abrate Carle, Turin (d. 1956).
Ernesto Bertarelli, Milan (1873-1957).
With Francis Matthiesen (1897-1963), London, after 1940.
Where probably acquired by Wilhelm Suida, New York, by 1957.
Suida-Manning Collection, New York.
Private Collection, USA.


Wilhelm Suida, “Contributo alla conoscenza delle pitture piemontesi in America,” in Belle Arti, 1954-1957, fig. 87.

Paola Astrua and Giovanni Romano, Bernardino Lanino, exhibition catalogue, Milan, 1985, p. 118.

Giovanni Romano, Bernardino Lanino e il Cinquecento a Vercelli, Turin, 1986, p. 228.

This elegant head of a female saint is an especially finework by Bernardino Lanino. Lanino was a close associate and probably a pupil of Gaudenzio Ferrari, the leading painter of Vercelli. Following Gaudenzio’s departure for Lombardy in the mid-1530’s, Lanino succeeded him as principal painter of the region. Lanino was greatly influenced by Gaudenzio’s visual language, and both his painted and graphic works reveal his debt to the elder artist’s style.

In the present drawing, the saint’s head is tilted slightly to the right and there is a gentle twist in her neck. She is shown looking skyward, which suggests that she may either be receiving divine inspiration or is a female martyr witnessing a heavenly intervention, like in Gaudenzio Ferrari’s Martyrdom of Saint Catherine in the Pinacoteca di Brera.[1] This drawing stands out for Lanino’s masterful handling of the chalk, particularly in the articulation of the curling hair and the careful hatching around the outlines of her face, creating a soft sfumato effect.

This sheet is related in style and format to several drawings produced by Lanino in the 1550’s and 1560’s, including his study for the head of the Virgin in the Adoration of the Magi (c. 1550) in San Giuliano, Vercelli (fig. 1) and for the head of the Virgin in Lanino’s Madonna delle Grazie (commissioned in 1554 and signed and dated 1568) in San Paolo, Vercelli (fig. 2).[2] Paola Astrua first associated the present drawing with the sheet formerly in the Bick collection, suggesting that they were produced at roughly the same moment.[3] Although this drawing has not yet been associated with one of Lanino’s paintings, it is almost certainly a finished study for a religious commission of the 1560s.

The mount for this drawing is inscribed in the upper right with an old attribution to Gaudenzio Ferrari. It is no surprise that this sheet, like many of Lanino’s drawings, was mistakenly attributed to his predecessor. Not only did Lanino emulate Gaudenzio’s style and techniques, but the contract for Lanino’s Madonna delle Grazie specified that he must base his altarpiece on Gaudenzio’s Madonna degli Aranci in San Cristoforo, Vercelli.

This inscription also reveals the early history of this work. It has not previously been recognized that this drawing was part of the so-called Abrate album, a collection of drawings assembled for the House of Savoy in 1635, which belonged to Antonio Abrate in the early twentieth century.[4] In his publication on this album, Giacomo Rodolfo noted that “the name of the artist is written above every drawing in a seventeenth-century script.”[5] Several drawings by Gaudenzio and Lanino that derive from the album bear inscriptions written in the same hand and are mounted on similar paper as the present sheet, including the study for the head of the Virgin in the Adoration of the Magi cited above, which demonstrates that our drawing originally belonged to this group.[6] The album was purchased around 1950 by Francis Matthiesen and was split up for sale. It is likely from Matthiesen that Wilhelm Suida acquired this work.

We are grateful to Robert Coleman for confirming the attribution to Bernardino Lanino on the basis of photographs (written communication, 11 January 2019), and to Antonella Chiodo for confirming the provenance from the Abrate album (written communication, 19 January 2019). Dr. Chiodo will be including this drawing in her forthcoming publication on the drawings from the Abrate album.

Fig. 1. Bernardino Lanino, Head of a Virgin, black, white, and yellow chalk on blue paper, 11 2/5 x 9 4/5 inches (29 x 25 cm), private collection, Santa Barbara

Fig. 2. Bernardino Lanino,  The Head of the Virgin , black and white chalk on blue paper, 12 ¾ x 8 5/8 inches (32.4 x 22.1 cm), private collection, New York.

Fig. 2. Bernardino Lanino, The Head of the Virgin, black and white chalk on blue paper, 12 ¾ x 8 5/8 inches (32.4 x 22.1 cm), private collection, New York.


[2] A variant of this drawing is in the Morgan Library & Museum in New York (1993.325), and a weaker version is in the Biblioteca Reale in Turin (inv. no. 14646).

[3] Op. cit.

[4] For a discussion of this album, see: John Marciari, “Janos Scholz and His Era: Forming a Study Collection in the Twentieth Century,” in A Demand for Drawings Five Centuries, ed. John Marciari, New York, 2018, p. 126. This album has been reconstructed by Antonella Chiodo and is the subject of her forthcoming study: Antonella Chiodo, “Riscoprendo L’Album Abrate: Dalla Formazione alla dispersione di un album di disegni del Seicento,” in Libri e Album di Disegni: 1550-1800: Nuove prospettive metodologiche e di esegesi storico-critica, ed. Vita Segreto, Rome, 2019, pp. 139-148.

[5] Giacomo Rodolfo, Disegni di Gaudenzio Ferrari e di Bernardino Lanino già nella Galleria dei Duchi di Savoia in Torino, Carmagnola, 1927, p. 7. “In alto a ogni diesgno, in carattere del principio del secolo XVII è scritto il nome dell’artista che l’eseguì.”  

[6] For a list of drawing by Gaudenzio and Lanino from the Abrate album, see: Giovanni Romano, Bernardino Lanino e il Cinquecento a Vercelli, Turin, 1986, p. 228.p. 289.