Mobile menu

'Character heads'

Giovanni Battista Piazzetta made a significant part of his income from hundreds of chalk drawings of ‘character heads’, executed in black and white chalk on blue paper and intended to be framed and hung. The consequent exposure to daylight has caused the blue paper to discolour to brown; in some sheets, margins of blue paper are visible at the edges where the original frame masked the sheet from the light. Piazzetta occasionally used his wife and children as models, but the drawings are intended as general types rather than portraits. Some of the figures hold simple attributes—cups, lamps, musical instruments—and there are allusions to youth, maturity, deceit, honesty or innocence, but the meaning of each drawing is often elusive. Joseph Smith probably owned the 36 drawings by Piazzetta now in the Royal Collection. The display attempts to give a sense of how the heads might have hung together in tight groups.