Red chalk over graphite (portrait), pen and black ink and watercolor over graphite (surround), circular framing line in graphite
Support: Cream laid paper laid down on cream laid paper (with blue modern laid paper and strip gold leaf added as decorative mount to primary or secondary support)
Image: 36 x 35.9 cm (14 3/16 x 14 1/8 in.); Secondary Support: 39.1 x 38.7 cm (15 3/8 x 15 1/4 in.)
John L. Severance Fund 1999.172
The woman’s hairstyle in this drawing—cut short and frizzed at the front and sides, with loose curls in the back—was called à la hérisson, or "hedgehog style," and was fashionable during the 1780s.
The woman portrayed in the oval has not yet been identified, but she is made to look highly important by her rendition in profile, like an ancient Renaissance coin, and by the elaborate decoration surrounding the cartouche (the central area containing the portrait). Increasing her distinction, the flying male nudes personify Victory and Fame, while the crown, that of an English viscountess, indicates her nobility. The contrast in technique between the cartouche—composed of pen, ink, and watercolor—and the red-chalk portrait was purposefully emphasized to suggest that the portrait is an older "icon" of reverence. Giuseppe Cades was an important history painter and frescoist, known also for his decorative ensembles, whose influence can be detected in the decorative quality of this composition. This drawing combines the contemporary French Rococo style of the red chalk portrait with the antique-based, Italian style of the surrounding decorative figures and forms. A finished work rather than a preparatory study, it would have been made as a souvenir for the English tourist during her stay in Rome on the Grand Tour.
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