Giovanni Antonio Boltraffio 

Italian, c. 1467–1516

Head of a Woman 

c. 1495–97
Metalpoint heightened with white on gray prepared paper (detail)
Clark Art Institute, 1955.1470


In the soft handling of the woman’s head and gentle curls that frame her face, Giovanni Boltraffio demonstrated his skill in portraying facial features with extraordinary delicacy.  The deep shadow on the right side of the woman’s face—emphasizing the hint of a smile—and the sfumato (gradual shading) effect that shapes her cheek reflect the character and technique of the work of Boltraffio’s teacher, Leonardo da Vinci. This sensitive study may have served as a preliminary drawing for a painting of the Madonna and Child, but its remarkable directness and assured handling suggest that it could also have been an independent work.