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Carlo Biffi

(1605 – circa 1675, Milan)

Four Character Heads. Etching with white heightening on blue paper. 11.3 x 14.7 cm. Not in Bartsch, Le Blanc 2.

The sculptor and engraver, Carlo Biffi, was the son and student of the cathedral sculptor, Gianandrea Biffi the Elder. He continued his training at the Accademia Ambrosiana, where his father taught sculpture, and is subsequently thought to have been apprenticed to Camillo Procaccini. According to Orlandi (1733), Biffi was a talented painter. However, he soon gave up painting and from 1631 worked as a sculptor at Milan Cathedral. Biffi’s activities as an engraver are interesting. Bartsch records just one engraving, the Portrait of the Actor Francesco Gabrielli (1633), which he commends with the words “Elle est d’un dessin parfait, et gravée d'une pointe ferme et nourrie”.

The present depiction of four character heads, mentioned only by Le Blanc, is exquisitely rare. We were able to verify just one other impression, which is in the Bertarelli Collection in Milan (Raccolta Stampe Bertarelli, Cart. 263). The small sheet has been executed in a skilful, engaging etching technique and the delicate white heightening lends the picturesque subject added charm. The distinctive male heads with their long, flow­ing hair and expressive features form part of a long tradition which stretches back to the character heads by Leonardo.

A superb, contrasting impression with thread margins around the framing line. Minor staining, otherwise in perfect condition.

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