Or are you looking for Search the Archives?

Please complete the form to email this item.

Drawing - Study of the head of an old man
  • Study of the head of an old man
    Oliver, Isaac, born 1558 - died 1617
  • Enlarge image

Study of the head of an old man

  • Object:


  • Place of origin:

    Great Britain (made)

  • Date:

    ca.1610 (made)

  • Artist/Maker:

    Oliver, Isaac, born 1558 - died 1617 (artist)

  • Materials and Techniques:

    pen and brown ink

  • Credit Line:

    R. H. Stephenson Bequest

  • Museum number:


  • Gallery location:

    Prints & Drawings Study Room, level H, case PD, shelf 313

Although best known as a miniaturist and pupil of Nicholas Hilliard, Isaac Oliver was also a prolific draughtsman and was arguably the first artist in England to use drawing as an independent art form; he created a number of highly-finished autonomous drawings using a wide range of materials including pen and ink, chalk, wash, bodycolour and coloured papers. Most importantly of all, Oliver introduced a new concept to England: that drawing could be a dynamic, spontaneous activity, ideally suited to the jotting down of quick visual notes, rather than, as his master Hilliard had used it, a tool whose use was limited to the setting out of a composition’s basic contours. However, although his lively drawings have the air of having been made directly from the life, they are mostly based on existing visual sources. This drawing in particular appears to be based on head studies by Leonardo da Vinci, although the influence is probably indirect and filtered through contemporary printmakers.

Physical description

Small drawing of the head of an old man with the profile of a second figure to the left in the background

Place of Origin

Great Britain (made)


ca.1610 (made)


Oliver, Isaac, born 1558 - died 1617 (artist)

Materials and Techniques

pen and brown ink


Height: 9.1 cm, Width: 7.8 cm

Object history note

R. H. Stephenson bequest.

From the collections of Earl Spencer and Lord Northwick.

Descriptive line

Drawing by Isaac Oliver (c.1565-1617); Head of an Old Man, pen and brown ink

Bibliographic References (Citation, Note/Abstract, NAL no)

Owens, Susan, The Art of Drawing British Masters and Methods since 1600, V&A Publishing, London, 2013, p. 25, fig. 7
Jill Finstein, ‘Isaac Oliver: Art at the Courts of Elizabeth I and James I’; a Ph.D. thesis presented to the Department of Fine Arts, Harvard University, Cambridge, Mass., 1979: ‘As in the preceding, cat. 205, but even more markedly here, is the impression of a “Leonardism” arrived at via de Gheyn and Goltzius. Although the graphic technique is very characteristically Oliver’s own, one suspects that the impetus for this kind of re-interpretion of an earlier 16th century master came from Goltzius, whose “fantasy” portraits of the late nineties and first decade are primarily based on Durer.’ (cat.206.
Victoria and Albert Museum, Department of Engraving, Illustration and Design and Department of Paintings, Accessions 1929, London: Board of Education, 1930.


Pen and ink






Prints, Drawings & Paintings Collection

Large image request

Please confirm you are using these images within the following terms and conditions, by acknowledging each of the following key points:

Please let us know how you intend to use the images you will be downloading.