Executioner Holding Up a Severed Head

Giovanni Battista Piazzetta Italian

Not on view

This drawing of an executioner holding up a head was possibly conceived by Piazzetta for his paiting with "The Martyrdom of Saint Paul" (Private collection, Italy), where a similar mustachioed executioner appears in a slightly different pose. Ugo Ruggeri was the first to point out that the figure in this drawing was copied in a small painting executed by the workshop of Piazzetta, "The Martyrdom of Saint Eurosia", in the Ca' Rezzonico, Venice (Ruggeri 1973). The painting is generally ascribed to the Venetian painter Giulia Lama (1681-1747), and Ruggeri was led to attribute the present drawing and another drawing in the collection of the Metropolitan Museum of Art (inv. 66.53.4) to this rather derivative artist. However, both our drawings display a vigor and authority that is absent in the graphic material presented by Ruggeri as the work of Giulia Lama. If she was indeed the painter of the Ca' Rezzonico picture, Giulia Lama must have simply borrowed this executioner from Piazzetta's repertory of figures.

The Museum’s drawing share a similar provenance and dimension with a sheet in the collection of the late Janos Scholz, a "Man with a Cane" in black and white chalk on grey paper, which bears the inscription "Giambattista Piazzetta Venezi" certainly annotated by the so-called "Reliable Venetian hand" (Lugt 3005d), an eighteenth-century Venetian collector of drawings (see: Catalogue of the Exhibition of Venetian Drawings from the Collection Janos Scholz, Venice 1957, pl. 62). The Scholz and the Metropolitan Museum of Art drawing may have been part of some sketchbook: not only they are stylistically similar, but the Scholz drawing is the same size and has old bands of paper pasted along all the margins on the verso as the present sheet. Possibly part of the same sketchbook is a drawing in the Musée du Louvre, Paris (inv. 5265) with "Kneeling Young Woman Facing Right", also annotated "Giambattista Piazetta Venezi" in the "Reliable Venetian hand".

Executioner Holding Up a Severed Head, Giovanni Battista Piazzetta (Italian, Venice 1682–1754 Venice), Charcoal, highlighted with white chalk, on gray-blue paper

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