Study for the Head of Julius Caesar, ca. 1520–21
Andrea del Sarto (Italian, 1486–1530)
Red chalk; 8 1/2 x 7 1/4 in. (21.5 x 18.4 cm)
Partial and Promised Gift of Mr. and Mrs. David M. Tobey, 2008 (2008.367)
A recent discovery due to George R. Goldner, curator of drawings and prints at the Museum, this drawing has been identified as Andrea del Sarto's study for the main figure in his monumental fresco The Tribute Presented to Julius Caesar in Egypt, painted in 1521 in the salone, or great hall, at the Villa Medici in Poggio a Caiano, near Florence. The drawing, executed in Sarto's favorite medium of red chalk, offers a precise portrait of Julius Caesar, based on the design of marble busts or coins representing the Roman emperor that were widely known during the Renaissance. The artist's actual source may have been either an antique or a fifteenth-century Florentine work. Caesar's profile and especially his long aquiline nose were carefully drawn with a fine, relatively continuous outline, then reinforced, while the rest of the head is more freely executed, with softer contours and delicate internal modeling. The faint exploratory lines along the profile, especially the nose, attest to the artist's concern for getting these features right. Commissioned by Pope Leo X and his half brother Cardinal Giulio de' Medici, the fresco cemented Sarto's position as the leading painter in Florence, soon after he had returned from his visit to the French court in 1518.