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Study for the head of Christ for The Last Supper
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16th Century
Leonardo da VINCI
Born 1452 Italy, Died 1519
Study for the head of Christ for The Last Supper
[Testa di Cristo]
drawing on paper
40 x 32 cm  [HxW]
Pinacoteca di Brera, Milano

The drawing is in a poor state of conservation due to the application, on torn and patched-up paper, of various materials which have caused swelling and buckling. The head of Christ which can now be seen on the sheet is very similar to the one in The Last Supper and is the result of superimposed layers starting with an extremely fine application of red chalk (still appreciable on the chin, the lips, the nose and the cheek bones) and black chalk (traces of which can be seen on the neck, at the right, on the eyebrows and on the hair at the left), which was then reworked with tempera (on the face and hair) and charcoal (on the hair and bust), as though the drawing had continually been updated with a form of “restoration” to “improve” it, just as happened to the wall painting itself. If the traces of the initial work in red and black chalk (which do not, however, reveal the unequivocal use of the left hand) were truly by Leonardo, then the sheet can be considered as one of the few, possibly the only example of Leonardo’s use of crayons for the heads of Christ and the apostles for The Last Supper to which Lomazzo refers. Lomazzo (1584) states that they were “eccellenti e miracolose” (on this statement and the connection with the use of crayons introduced to Italy by Jean Perréal, see Marani in Brambilla and Marani 1999, p. 26 ff.). Lomazzo himself refers to the anecdote about the unfinished head of Christ in The Last Supper and about Leonardo’s uncertainties as to how to complete it, as well as the fact that he turned to Bernardo Zenale for advice. Lomazzo tells us (ed. Ciardi 1973) that, to comfort him, Zenale told him he could not possibly have given “maggior divinità e bellezza ad alcuna figura di quella … data a Giacomo Maggiore e Minore” (“greater divinity and beauty to any face … than to those of James the Greater and James the Lesser”) and that he should leave the face of Christ in its imperfection.

Pietro C. Marani

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