Stefano Della Bella (1610-1664)

Stefano Della Bella (1610-1664)

Stefano Della Bella (Florence 1610 - 1664 Florence)

Study of a Head

Pen and brown ink on paper, flattened semicircular top, 87 x 64 mm (3.4 x 2.5 inch), laid down onto piece of backing paper

Inscribed 'Dolobella' on the reverse of the backing paper in an 18th-century (?) hand

- From an album of drawings by Stefano della Bella assembled by Thomas Tomkins (1743-1816), London, with later provenance as follows:
- The posthumous Tomkins sale, London, Mr. Hickman’s Gallery, 25-28 February 1818, lot 289 (‘The Works of Steffano della Bella, consisting of a number of very fine Original Drawings in Pen and Ink – collected by the late Mr. Tomkins, with an additional Title, written by himself. 270.’), bt. Holroyd for £32.10/-
- Robert Stayner Holford, M.P., Dorchester House, London and Westonbirt, Gloucestershire.
- By descent to his son, Lt. Col. Sir George Lindsay Holford, K.C.V.O., Dorchester House, London and Westonbirt, Gloucestershire
- His posthumous sale, London, Sotheby’s, 22 May 1928, lot 29B (‘A Series of some 270 drawings by Stefano della Bella, of a variety of subjects, including animals, birds, landscapes, figures, vessels, etc., collected by Thomas Tomkins, mounted in a finely bound red morocco volume with gilt tooling’), bt. Castagnari
- Private collection
- Anonymous sale (‘A Collection of Drawings by Stefano Della Bella, the Property of a Gentleman’), London, Christie’s, 18 March 1975, lot 4
- Christie's, Rome, 24 May 1988, lot 246
- Private collection, United Kingdom


The hugely talented and prolific artist Stefano della Bella succeeded Jacques Callot as Medici court designer and printmaker. Between 1639 and 1650 he worked in France, establishing a flourishing career in Paris and publishing numerous prints; indeed, the majority of his prints date from this fertile period. After his return to Florence in 1650, Della Bella continued to enjoy Medici patronage. His oeuvre numbers over 1,000 etchings, and many times more drawings; all works of considerable energy and inventiveness.

This charming drawing was once part of an important album of drawings by Stefano Della Bella assembled by the calligrapher Thomas Tomkins (1743-1816). Containing a representative selection of Della Bella’s drawings from the entire course of his career, the album is first recorded in 1818 at the posthumous sale of the Tomkins collection, which also included a large number of engravings after Old Masters and drawings by contemporary English artists, as well as Dutch paintings. The Tomkins album was later acquired by the prominent collector and connoisseur Robert Holford (1808-1892), remaining intact in the Holford collection until its sale at auction in London in 1928, when some drawings were removed. Nevertheless, some 241 of the Tomkins drawings, including the present sheet, remained together as a group until finally dispersed at auction at Christie’s in London in 1975.

A comparable head study by Della Bella is preserved in the Louvre, Paris (see last image).1


1. Département des Arts Graphiques, inv. No. 330.3 recto.

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Stefano Della Bella (1610-1664)
Stefano Della Bella (1610-1664)
Stefano Della Bella (1610-1664)
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