Tilting her head back, an ecstatic Saint Cecilia gazes heavenward in an appropriate martyr's pose. Virgin martyr and the patron saint of music, Cecilia is thought to have lived in the 100s or 200s A.D. After laborers discovered her miraculously preserved body beneath the altar of the Church of Santa Cecilia in 1599, her cult grew strong in Rome, and artists portrayed her often, because she represented the union of religion and music.
Domenichino probably made this drawing in preparation for his fresco decorations in the Church of San Luigi dei Francesi in Rome, on which he worked from 1612 to 1615. Scholars identify this female head as Saint Cecilia based on its similarity to the Cecilia in that fresco, where she wears the same expression of ecstasy as putti carry her up to heaven.
The pricking on this sheet shows that Domenichino's assistants probably transferred its outlines to another sheet, most likely the Musée du Louvre's much larger cartoon for the entire fresco. In the Louvre cartoon, Cecilia's head corresponds more closely to the fresco, so scholars assume that the Louvre cartoon was later. The four pieces of paper that comprise this sheet show that this fragment was also originally part of a larger cartoon.