Bust of a Woman with an Elaborate Coiffure

Artist: Rosso Fiorentino (Italian, Florence 1494–1540 Fontainebleau)

Date: ca. 1530

Medium: Black chalk; some contours reinforced in pen and brown ink, and background tinted in brown wash (by another hand)

Dimensions: 9 5/16 x 6 15/16 in. (23.6 x 17.7 cm)

Classification: Drawings

Credit Line: Rogers Fund, 1952

Accession Number: 52.124.2


Rosso intended this drawing as an ideal representation of a beautiful young woman, in response to the genre of "teste divine" (divine heads) that Michelangelo made famous in drawings of the 1520s and 1530s, especially the "Zenobia" (Uffizi, Florence). Here, he invented elegant "s" shaped rhythms for the figural pose. The woman is seen in bust-length from the back, her head turned in profile, slightly lowered, to gaze directly at the viewer, while the exquisite complexity of details of her fashionable dress soften her pose with airy curves and twists. Her fantastic coiffure is laden with braids curled around a pair of ram's horns, while her artfully puffed-up dress, with layers of agitated drapery, is fastened on the back with a mask-like brooch. Although minor passages were touched up with ink and the figure was silhouetted with wash at a later time, the characteristic clarity and precision of Rosso's original drawing in chalk are plainly evident. The delicately ornate mount and the pen inscription below, telling the colorful, apocryphal story about the presumed subject of the drawing, are both due to the British collector John Talmann, who incorrectly thought this to be a portrait of Giulia Gonzaga (1513-1566), Contess of Fondi, a famous beauty in her day.

(Carmen C. Bambach)