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Getty Museum announces acquisition of rare early Renaissance drawing attributed to Piero del Pollaiuolo
Portrait of a Young Man, Head and Shoulders, Wearing a Cap, about 1470. Attributed to Piero del Pollaiuolo (Italian, c. 1443-1496). Pen and brown ink over black chalk. The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles.
LOS ANGELES, CA.- The J. Paul Getty Museum today announced the acquisition at auction of Portrait of a Young Man, Head and Shoulders, Wearing a Cap, drawn about 1470, attributed to Piero del Pollaiuolo (c. 1443-1496). The drawing, from the early Florence Renaissance, is extremely rare, and is the first portrait drawing of this period to be included in the Getty’s permanent collection. Its acquisition by the Getty will allow it to be put on public display for likely the first time in its long history.

"This acquisition anchors and provides context for the Museum’s Italian Renaissance drawings collection, one of the strongest of any U.S. museum,” explains Lee Hendrix, senior curator of drawings at the Getty Museum. “This is the first major drawing from this pivotal early Renaissance period to come on the market for many years, which, paired with its extraordinary condition, makes this a very significant acquisition.”

The drawing belongs to a crucial moment in the Renaissance when the independent portrait emerged as a genre and gained wide popularity. Unlike other portrait drawings of the time, which typically showed the sitter in strict profile, the drawing shows the full face of the sitter, adding depth and character to the subject. It depicts a young man, probably a nobleman, looking directly at the viewer with an intense focus. Subtle parallel pen hatching sets the facial features carefully in space, while thick pen strokes provide additional texture, such as those in the sitter’s curly hair. The directness of the sitter’s gaze and the unusual reversed buttoning (right-over-left) of his tunic suggest that the work could perhaps be a self-portrait. Given the unusually large scale of the drawing, and the intricacy with which it was drawn, it is likely that the portrait was intended as a finished work in its own right. Very few other finished portrait drawings survive from its era.

The Pollaiuolo brothers
The Pollaiuolo brothers, Antonio and Piero, ran one of the three major workshops in Florence in the 1460s, 1470s and 1480s, often called the ‘golden age’ of Florentine art. They won commissions from the Medici family and other princely, guild, papal and religious patrons in the fields of painting, sculpture, and the production of bronzes, coins, medals, niello (inlaid silver), and engravings. The brothers worked in close collaboration across projects, but scholars believe that Piero was more active in the production of portraits, as well as objects in gold and silver.

Stylistically, the Pollaiuolo brothers’ art is characterized by a core interest in anatomy and the human body in action. Representation of the exercise and exertion of muscles and their effect on facial expression run parallel in their work with a new understanding of naturalism in portraiture.

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