Jean - Luc Baroni Ltd

Della Bella


Stefano della Bella

Florence 1610-1664

Study of a Hand pointing to a Skull and a separate study of a Female Head looking down



Pen and brown ink, with the headstudy drawn in black chalk.

170 x 252mm. (6 ¾ x 10 in.)

A gifted and prolific draughtsman and etcher, Stefano della Bella was born into a family of artists. Apprenticed to a goldsmith, he also received training in painting and etching. He was particularly influenced by the work of Jacques Callot, whom he eventually succeeded as Medici court designer and printmaker. Under the patronage of the Medici, he was sent to Rome in 1633, where he made drawings after antique and Renaissance masters, landscapes and scenes of everyday life. In 1639 he accompanied the Medici ambassador to the Parisian court of Louis XIII, remaining in France for ten years. He established a flourishing career in Paris, publishing numerous prints and obtaining commissions from Cardinals Richelieu and Mazarin, among other members of the court and the aristocracy. Among his projects was the design of a set of playing cards in 1644 for the young Dauphin, the future Louis XIV. After his return to Florence in 1650, della Bella continued to enjoy Medici patronage. Over the next few years he produced drawings of the gardens of the Medici villa at Pratolino, the port of Livorno and the Villa Medici in Rome; he also became the drawing master to the future Duke, Cosimo III. After suffering a stroke in 1661, he appears to have worked very little before his death three years later.

This fascinating sheet of studies, a combination of both powerful and subtle draughtsmanship, shows an attention to observation which is highly characteristic of Della Bella as well as in inventive use of the different techniques of pen and ink and chalk. Whilst skulls and skeletons appear rather frequently in Della Bella’s art, more usually as part of a decorative design, here the skull is presented as a still-life study, with the black chalk drawing of a woman looking down in a contemplative manner prompting the thought that the sheet comprises elements of a Mary Magdalen scene. The particularly scratchy and varied penwork is similar to the style Della Bella used for his impressive male nude academy drawings such as the ones in the Louvre (inv. 451 and 371)1 and the mise-en-page is similar to some of the studies of the Flight into Egypt which were made for a small series of engravings published by Pierre I Mariette in around 16412.

  1. See François Viatte, Dessins de Stefano della Bella 1610-1664, Paris Musée du Louvre, 1974, cats.330-331.
  2. See F. Viatte, op. cit., 1974, pp-86-89.

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