HANS VON AACHEN
1552 Cologne – Prague 1615
Click images to toggle info
attributed to HANS VON AACHEN 1552 Cologne – Prague 1615
Study for the Head of St. Sebastian
oil on paper; 137 x 105 mm (5 3/8 x 4 1/8 inches)
Jonathan Richardson, sr. (1665–1745), London (his dry stamp Lugt 2184; on verso of mount in pen and ink his shelf marks B.C.19./ Ze.47 / J.J.19./ Ts.11
Sir Francis Ferrand Foljambe (1750–1814), Osberton Hall, Scofton near Worksop, Nottinghamshire;
thence by descent
This mysterious little oil sketch remains somewhat of a puzzle. Mainly based on its technique, it has been located to Urbino (Federico Barocci) as well as Siena (Alessandro Casolani or Vincenzo Rustici). It is not even obvious if the depicted head is male or female. The sole general agreement that can be obtained is for the date of its execution in the time period around 1600.
What is characteristic is the way the head is tilted to the side with the eyes turned upward and the strange manner in which the hair of the figure is depicted, or rather: not depicted. Whereas curls are indicated to the left of the ear, above the forehead, and in the shadow behind the face, most of the area around the ear remains undefined. All of these details show intriguing parallels to the head of St. Sebastian in Hans van Aachen’s altarpiece in the Jesuit church of St. Michael in Munich, painted in 1594. The composition was widely disseminated through Jan Muller’s engraving in reverse. Our sketch, however, is in the same direction as Von Aachen’s painting. The sketch further shows a softness in the execution of the features that positions it closer to the painted version. Further similarities are the prominent and somewhat awkward positioning of the ear, the small, full-lipped mouth, and the long straight nose with a somewhat rounded tip – all features that can also be found in Van Aachen’s paintings.
One needs to caution, though, and ask if all or at least some of the described characteristics are owed to a period style or can be determined – in an admittedly “Morellian” way – to be the personal style of one single artist. What further complicates the question of attribution is the medium of the oil sketch since there seem to be no other examples known that can be firmly attributed to Hans von Aachen nor do we know much about oil sketches by other painters of the School of Prague.