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jacob de wit
(1695–1754, Amsterdam)

Head of Christ in Profile. Red and black chalk, brown, grey and red wash, occasional white heightening. 29.7 x 23.8 cm. Signed: “JdeWit”.

Jacob de Wit from Amsterdam is best known today as an outstanding master of decorative painting. In 1708 he went to Antwerp, where he studied under Jacob van Hal from 1710, becoming a member of the local Guild of St. Luke in 1714. Having returned to Amsterdam, de Wit executed a large number of ceiling frescoes, chimneypiece paintings, overdoors and bas-relief imitations in grisaille, which earned him a reputation and spread his fame far beyond the borders of Holland. At this time De Wit also devoted his attention to other genres such as religious painting and, as the years passed, the inspiration he derived from various stylistic sources became readily apparent. While his early work is reminiscent of Flemish Baroque painting, especially that of Peter Paul Rubens, his later work comprises stylistic elements from the Rococo and early Classicism.

De Wit produced a substantial corpus of drawings, including many figure studies and detail studies of heads and hands in preparation for his paintings. These comprise numerous heads of Christ, shown in profile or en face; they are on display, among other places, at the Amsterdam Museum, Teylers Museum in Haarlem and the Kröller-Müller Museum in Otterloo. They all portray the same type of face: small and elongated with a low forehead, a pronounced straight nose, a short, parted beard and shoulder-length flowing hair. Whereas several of de Wit’s depictions of the Resurrection of Christ show his head from the front, the profile view evidently occurs much less frequently in his painting oeuvre.

The present drawing is executed in a secure and fluent style, indicating how closely de Wit examined Rubens’ drawn and painted work. The sensitive rendering of the face and the soft complexion of the flesh give the head of Christ a melancholic dreaminess. This contrasts starkly with the very liberal treatment of the hair, which is made to look convincingly real with a few sure strokes of the brush.