This sensitive and highly refined drawing relates to a painting now in a private collection, New York which Batoni completed in around 1744 of the youthful Jesuit, Saint Louis Gonzaga. The New York painting (see cat. 6) is the finest of the known versions and replicas.
As Hugh Macandrew notes, ‘The practice of drawing remained central to Batoni’s activity as an artist. Never was it regarded by him in practical terms only, a necessary but nevertheless subordinate process in the production of a painting. For Batoni drawing remained an act of renewal and regeneration because it was the foundation of his art and its inspiration’ (‘A Group of Batoni Drawings at Eton College, and Some Eighteenth-Century, Italian Copyists of Classical Sculpture’, Master Drawings, 1978, p. 140). Edgar Peters Bowron agrees, writing, ‘drawings performed a decisive role in the preparation of his (Batoni’s) work…this ability to derive sustained inspiration from nature throughout the process of pictorial invention explains both the meticulous naturalism in his work admired by contemporary critics and the conviction of his best paintings’.
We see in this sheet Batoni’s adherence to the traditions of Carlo Maratti (himself a delicate draftsman, especially in red chalk) and the Roman Grand Manner. This drawing shows the composition at an advanced stage, and we may assume was itself drawn from studies from life. Our drawing is executed in red chalk, a medium frequently employed by Pompeo Batoni. The sheet is squared for transfer to the larger format of the actual painting and differs from the latter in that the lilies on the stone ledge have not here been included. Such squared drawings were typical of Batoni’s practice at this date as seen in the sheet of studies for Saint Bartholomew of ca. 1740-43 now in the Art Institute of Chicago (2013.894), the Study for ‘The Visitation’ of 1736-37, National Gallery of Scotland, Edinburgh (D1940) and the Study of Mercury in this exhibition (cat. 9).❖