Among the most gifted Mannerist artists working in Rome, Taddeo Zuccaro had a relatively brief career, lasting less than twenty years. He arrived in Rome at the age of fourteen and was essentially self-taught, studying the works of Raphael and his studio. Little survives of his work before 1553, and this phase of his career can only really be studied in his surviving drawings. Taddeo’s earliest independent paintings show the particular influence of Polidoro da Caravaggio, and include several facade decorations of a type made popular by him, the most important of which was at the Palazzo Mattei. After a brief trip to Urbino, where he failed to complete the decoration of the choir of the Duomo left unfinished by Battista Franco, he returned to Rome in 1553. There he immediately began work on his first major commission, the decoration of the Mattei chapel in the church of Santa Maria della Consolazione. Between 1556 and 1558 he began work on a fresco cycle in the Frangipani chapel in San Marcello al Corso, a project completed after his death by his younger brother Federico. The last decade of his career found Taddeo enjoying the extensive patronage of the Farnese family, who commissioned from him the decoration of both the Palazzo Farnese in Rome and their large villa at Caprarola with scenes illustrating the history of the family. He was often assisted by his brother Federico, whose extensive travels after Taddeo’s early death at the age of thirty-seven served to disseminate a somewhat diluted version of the elder artist’s style throughout Italy.
Taddeo Zuccaro was a superb draughtsman, whose drawings reveal a highly original and inventive artist. His figure studies, in particular, are drawn with a vitality and exuberance that ranks them among the most remarkable graphic statements of Roman Mannerism. Yet, as John Gere has noted, ‘though he was a draughtsman of unusual range and versatility to whom the act of drawing came naturally and who was able to express his ideas with the utmost fluency in this medium, the impression made by his drawings as a whole is that the drawing itself was never the end-product. All of them, from the rough, sometimes incoherent, pen and ink scribbles in which he noted down his thoughts as fast as they came into his head, to the sculptural studies of single figures highly wrought with the brush-point, are part of the preparatory material leading up to a painting.’ Given the scarcity of easel paintings by Taddeo which survive, as well as the fact that much of the large-scale decorative projects which he designed were painted by assistants, it remains through his drawings that his talents are best appreciated today.
Although this remarkable drawing was previously attributed to Girolamo Muziano (1528-1592), it can, however, instead be recognized as an early work by Muziano’s contemporary, Taddeo Zuccaro. The confusion with the work of Muziano is perhaps understandable given the friendship between the two artists and their close working relationship when both were young painters in Rome. Carlo Ridolfi records that Muziano, who was three years younger than Taddeo, befriended the older artist when he had newly arrived in Rome, and that the two spent time together studying the famous paintings and antique sculpture in the city.
Almost certainly drawn from life, the present sheet is unusual among Taddeo Zuccaro’s surviving drawings in its high degree of finish. It may best be stylistically compared with a double-sided red chalk drawing by the artist of a 'Standing Nude Man' in the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, which may be dated to c.1550. Both drawings share a similar use of the chalk medium, combining rapid strokes of parallel hatching with areas of carefully modulated tones to suggest the play of light on muscles and skin, as well as a sketchy, almost calligraphic treatment of the head and hair. The way in which the hair is drawn with rapid loops and curls is, in fact, a typical feature of Taddeo’s draughtsmanship, found in both chalk and pen drawings by the artist.
Like the 'Standing Nude Man' in the Metropolitan Museum, this drawing should be dated to the early 1550’s, at the very beginning of Taddeo’s career in Rome. Also indicative of a dating for the present sheet to the early part of Taddeo’s career in Rome is the sculptural quality of the draughtsmanship, which finds stylistic echoes in the chalk drawings of Michelangelo, such as those for the Sistine Chapel frescoes. However, as John Gere has pointed out, ‘though no Roman artist in the 1540’s could escape the by then widely diffused and all-pervading influence of Michelangelo and Raphael, there is little in Taddeo’s early work to suggest direct study of either...at no stage in his career can Taddeo be described as a Michelangelo follower in the sense of which this can be said of his contemporary...Pellegrino Tibaldi. When he essays the ‘Michelangelesque’ it is under the immediate inspiration of Tibaldi and Dan