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Fresco - Female Head Framed by a Pattern of Ribbons (fragment of wall decoration)
  • Female Head Framed by a Pattern of Ribbons (fragment of wall decoration)
    Udine, Giovanni da, born 1487 - died 1564
  • Enlarge image

Female Head Framed by a Pattern of Ribbons (fragment of wall decoration)

  • Object:


  • Place of origin:

    Italy (painted)

  • Date:

    mid 16th century (painted)

  • Artist/Maker:

    Udine, Giovanni da, born 1487 - died 1564 (painter (artist))

  • Materials and Techniques:


  • Museum number:


  • Gallery location:

    In Storage

Giovanni da Udine (1487-1564) was born in Udine and was apprenticed to Giovanni Martini (d. 1535) and subsequently to Giorgione (1477-1510) in Venice. He later joined Raphael's workshop in Rome where he became particularly inspired by the Roman decorations discovered after the recent excavations. When Raphael died in 1520, he worked mainly with Giulio Romano. He returned to Udine in 1527 after the sack of Rome and was later summoned to Florence by the Medici who commissioned him a series of works. By 1534 he was back in Udine where he was involved in many decorations projects, mostly unrealised. He was buried in the Pantheon.

The fragment is probably part of a fresco showing grotesque motives in the style of Giovanni da Udine. He may come from a decorative cycle executed around mid 16th century in a Friulian palace in the region of Udine. The fragment shows a head with blond curly hair, a flat nose, close round eyes and pointed hears and chin with floating ribbons underneath set against a plain Pompeian red background. For stylistic reasons, it is unlikely an authentic work by Giovanni and is rather attributable to one of his followers.

Physical description

Set against a plain Pompeian red background, a head with blond curly hair, a flat nose, close round eyes and pointed hears and chin with floating ribbons underneath.

Place of Origin

Italy (painted)


mid 16th century (painted)


Udine, Giovanni da, born 1487 - died 1564 (painter (artist))

Materials and Techniques



Height: 21 cm estimate, Width: 21 cm estimate

Object history note

Purchased, 1885

Historical significance: This fresco belongs to a series of 10 fragments which entered the Museum's collection as part of the walls of the Loggie in the Vatican, hence that they were designed by Raphael and executed by Giovanni da Udine (see especially the loggia of the cardinal Bibbiena, Vatican).
This fresco presents a head with blond curly hair, a flat nose, close round eyes and pointed hears and chin with floating ribbons underneath depicted on a plain Pompeian red background.
However, although close in style to some figures in the Loggie, no identical features occur and there seems no reason to suppose that the Museum's fragments were ever part of the Loggie, which were completed by 1519. Giovanni da Udine specialised in mural decorations all'antica after he went with Raphael to see Nero's newly rediscovered Domus aurea (i.e. 'golden house') as famously described in Giorgio Vasari's Life of Giovanni da Udine:

'[After] the excavations [were] made at S. Pietro in Vincula, among the ruins and remains of the Palace of Titus, in the hope of finding figures, certain rooms were discovered, completely buried under the ground, which were full of little grotesques, small figures, and scenes, with other ornaments of stucco in low-relief. Whereupon, Giovanni going with Raffaello, who was taken to see them, they were struck with amazement, both the one and the other, at the freshness, beauty, and excellence of those works, for it appeared to them an extraordinary thing that they had been preserved for so long a time'

Giovanni took over the earthen palette made of red, dark green and ochre pigments and exported the taste for these large scheme of grotesque decoration in the Friuli, i.e. Udine's region, where a great number of palaces were decorated in that style by Giovanni di Udine and his followers. This fragment, which shows a certain harshness in the execution, was therefore most likely executed by a follower of Giovanni and may come from a decorative cycle in the Friuli.

Historical context note

Fresco painting is among the most complex projects undertaken during the Renaissance. This technique, i.e. painting on wet plaster, originated in the Antiquity (see the surviving fresco of Pompeii, near Naples, destructed during the eruption of the Vesuvius in 79 B.C.), was reintroduced and developed in the late 13th century and the 14th century particularly in the work of the Isaac master, Giotto and his followers and perfected during the Italian Renaissance, culminating in Michelangelo's technological tour de force in the Sistine chapel, Rome (1508-12). This medium was used to decorate large wall areas of both private and public buildings. Such sizable paintings, in which timing was of critical importance, took careful planning and involved a number of assistants. A precise plan in the form of a drawing or of many drawings was required so that the composition would fit exactly on the wall. The artist could draw directly on the wet plaster (this underdrawing technique is called sinopia) or use cartoons (from the Italian word cartone) from which the composition was then transferred onto the wall. Another method of transfer, used especially in the 17th century for vast ceiling frescoes, was squaring, which replaced the time-consuming and costly cartoon technique.

Descriptive line

Fresco fragment, 'Female Head framed by a Pattern of Ribbons', follower of Giovanni da Udine, mid 16th century

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

Kauffmann, C.M., Catalogue of Foreign Paintings, I. Before 1800. London: Victoria and Albert Museum, 1973, pp. 131-3, cat. no. 152.
O. Fischel, Raphael, tr. B. Rackham, i, 1948, p. 194.
J. Pope-Hennessy, Raphael, 1970, p. 283, n. 8.
N. Dacos, La découverte de la Domus Aurea et la formation des grotesques à la Renaissance, Paris, 1969.
Gian Camillo Custoza, Giovanni da Udine. La tecnica della decorazione a stucco alla 'romana' nel Friuli del XVI secolo, Pasian di prato, 1996.


Pigments dissolved in water; Plaster



Subjects depicted

Female; Ribbon; Grotesque; Head




Prints, Drawings & Paintings Collection

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