Bust-Length Portrait of a Woman (recto); Bust-Length Study of a Girl (verso)

Artist: Agostino Carracci (Italian, Bologna 1557–1602 Parma)

Date: 1557–1602

Medium: Red chalk, over possible traces of black chalk (recto); red chalk (verso)

Dimensions: Sheet: 13 11/16 x 9 13/16 in. (34.8 x 25 cm)

Classification: Drawings

Credit Line: Purchase, Lila Acheson Wallace Gift, 1994

Accession Number: 1994.143


Painter, engraver, and draftsman, Agostino Carracci was active in Bologna, Rome, and Parma and was a founder of the Carracci Academy in Bologna in 1582. Rejecting the extreme artifice of Mannerism, the prevailing style of painting during the late sixteenth century, the Accademia degli Incamminati ("those who are making progress"), as the Carracci Academy soon came to known, championed the study of nature and the primacy of drawing from life as central tenets of a new artistic idiom that derived its expressive capacity and emotional force from an engaging naturalism and verisimilitude.
Agostino's depiction of a partially blind woman (her glazed right eye is unseeing), drawn from life, exemplifies the new naturalism that lay at the heart of the Carracci reform. The unknown sitter is both physically and psychologically present: even with her impaired vision she confronts the viewer with an unwavering gaze. Details such as her slender neck scarf, hoop earrings, and braided coif dressed with bows or flowers (adornments indicating that, unlike Annibale Carracci's portraits of blind subjects, this sitter is not impoverished) are confidently rendered. This powerful, exceptionally lifelike portrait is among Agostino's most important and accomplished red-chalk drawings.