The J. Paul Getty Museum

The Head of a Young Man

Object Details


The Head of a Young Man


Parmigianino (Francesco Mazzola) (Italian, 1503 - 1540)




Italy (Place Created)


about 1539–1540


Pen and brown ink

Object Number:



16 × 10.5 cm (6 5/16 × 4 1/8 in.)

See more

See less

Object Description

This jewel of a drawing is one of Parmigianino’s finest and most memorable surviving works. Though his absolute control of line, the artist yields an astonishing impression of the intensely close presence of the sitter, as a dramatic light from upper left floods his features. David Ekserdjian (Parmigianino, 2006) has described him as, “an unidentified youth, whose timelessly wide-eyed enigmatic gaze represents arguably the most haunting of all Parmigianino’s representations of his fellow man." The model was probably a garzone (studio assistant) in Parmigianino’s workshop, and the features here are similar to those of Saint Stephen in the artist’s Madonna with Saint Stephen and Saint John the Baptist (Dresden), for which the same model was probably used. Like the drawing, that painting dates to 1539-40, at the end of the artist’s short life, when he was at the peak of his powers. The gaze of the youth’s eyes and the sense of polish in the drawing show parallels with Roman portrait busts from the 2nd-century CE, such as the Young Marcus Aurelius in the Capitoline or the Getty’s own Portrait of a Roman Adolescent. They each possess curling hair that flops over a smooth forehead, and they too gaze up in a mysterious mixture of vacancy and transfixion. The short, curly hair of these ancient youths would have seemed particularly resonant to Parmigianino and his audience, as this hairstyle was in fashion in the 1530s. While living in Rome, Parmigianino studied the antique closely and reflections and quotation from that material occur throughout the artist’s work.


Possibly Cavaliere Francesco Baiardo, 1486 - 1561, by inheritance to his grandson, Marcantonio Cavalca. The inventory, drawn up around the time of Baiardi's death, includes a sheet described as "no. 239. un' disegno d'una testa d'un' giovine col'colo, fatta di penna finito del Parmesanino alto 0.3," which can be identified as a drawing under discussion.
Source: "Appendix I: Inventory of the Pictures, Prints and Drawings of the Cavaliere Francesco Baiardo (d. 30 September 1561)," in A. E. Popham, Catalogue of the Drawings of Parmigianino, New York, 1971, vol. 1, p. 286, no. 239.


Marcantonio Cavalca, presumably still in his collection when Giorgio Vasari visits him in 1566.

early 20th century

Private Collection, by inheritance within the family.
Note: Said to have been purchased on the art market in Germany in the early 20th century.


Private Collection (Philadelphia) [sold, Old Master and 19th Century Drawings, Christie's New York, January 23, 2002, lot 17, to Jean-Luc Baroni Ltd., London]


Jean-Luc Baroni, Ltd., sold to private collector, 2002/2003.

by 2003-2017

Private Collection, St. Peter Port, Guernsey, sold to the J. Paul Getty Museum, 2017.

Michelangelo to Degas: Major New Acquisitions (January 17 to April 22, 2018)
  • The J. Paul Getty Museum at the Getty Center (Los Angeles), January 17 to April 22, 2018
Spectacular Mysteries: Renaissance Drawings Revealed (December 11, 2018 to April 28, 2019)
  • The J. Paul Getty Museum at the Getty Center (Los Angeles), December 11, 2018 to April 28, 2019

Popham, A. E. Catalogue of the Drawings of Parmigianino (New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 1971), p. 268, no. 239.

Monbeig Goguel, Catherine. "Un proposition pour Parmigianino: à propos d'un dessin inédit, précédemment attribué à Francesco Salviati." In Parmigianino e il manierismo europeo [...]. Lucia Fornari Schianchi, ed. (Cinisello Balsamo: Silvana, 2002), pp. 284, 287, n.19.

Sgarbi, Vittorio. Parmigianino (Milan: Rizzoli, 2003), p. 124.

Giampaolo, Mario di, and Elisabetta Fadda. Parmigianino: catalogo completo dei dipinti (Santarcangelo di Romagna : Idea Libri, 2003), pp. 13, 16, ill.

Ekserdjian, David. Parmigianino (New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 2006), pp. 161, 277 n.141, fig. 167.

Karet, Evelyn. "The Tradition of Collecting Drawings in Northern Renaissance Italy Before Vasari." In A Demand for Drawings: Five Century of Collectors and Collecting Drawings, John Marciari. ed. (New York: 2018), pp. 25, 29 n.63, fig. 21.