Portrait of the Miniaturist, Ercole Pedemonte
Ottavio Leoni was admired in his lifetime for his drawings of the great artists and men of science of his time. He was particularly known for his portrait of Caravaggio, dated 1621. This portrait of the miniaturist Ercole Pedemonte was painted in 1614, as indicated in the annotations signed by the artist at the bottom of the drawing. The model was most likely a close friend of the artist as his face is found again in the painting of Suzanne et les vieillards [Susanna and the Elders] conserved in Detroit.
Leoni always used the same technique in his drawings: the facial characteristics of the characters are executed in pierre noire, the light areas are suggested using white chalk, and the paper he used was blue, grey-blue or buff.
His portraits were produced “alla macchia”: after just one sitting with the model, Leoni depicted the model in a few moments, like a stain (“macchia”) spreading out over the paper. The speed of execution and absence of a model when painting the portrait underlines the artist’s originality. We do not know for whom his drawings were intended, but we do know that some, like the one in the Magnin collection, were later reproduced as engravings.