© Soprintendenza Speciale PSAE Roma

Name of Object:

Portrait of a Laughing Youth


Rome, Italy

Holding Museum:

Borghese Gallery


c. 1584

Type of object:



Annibale Carracci (1560, Bologna-1609, Rome)

Museum Inventory Number:


Material(s) / Technique(s):

Oil on paper on canvas


h: 44.5 cm; w: 29 cm


Borghese Collection


The painting is mentioned for the first time as part of the collection in the 1693 inventory. It has been attributed variously to different artists in the past, but was confirmed as a “Carracci Caricature” in an 1833 fideicommissum (a deed forbidding the heirs to the Borghese estate from splitting up the collection). In the 20th century, it was deemed to be an early work of the Bolognese artist, at a time when Carracci made numerous attempts at “genre works”, leaving some superb examples, such as the famous canvas , The Beaneater in the Galleria Colonna, Rome (c. 1583–1584).
The portrait of the jester has always been thought to be a character from the Commedia dell'Arte. This small sketch shows a smiling, mocking youth dressed in a dark suit, ruff and light hat, awkward and upside-down. The supposed jester, with his grotesque red nose, cannot be identified entirely with the theatrical comic tradition and, although the severe and sober clothes resemble the Bolognese mask of “Dottor Graziano”, the unusual hat is perhaps an invention of Carracci himself.
The light comes from the right, creating a chiaroscuro effect on the folds of the hat, emphasising the satisfied look and ambiguous smile of the character, the focal point of the portrait.
It is the complicit look and smile of a comic actor that, between fiction and reality, skilfully establishes a relationship with the viewer.
The portrait stands against a simple yellow background, which helps to focus attention on the burlesque face, whose keen, realistic expression is rendered with a sombre palette of colours.
Free charcoal lines quickly define the sketch, combined with fast, fluid brush strokes. Given the medium (paper on canvas) the use of these tools seems to suggest a desire to capture the immediacy of a live portrait, rather than a caricature, which has been suggested, although this area was of interest to the painter.
The modernity of expression in the sketch anticipates by half a century the portraits of Velazquez and Bernini and appears to be the beginning of the study of emotions and character types that characterises 18th-century artistic innovation.
The work is one of Carracci's “small portraits” painted after 1582, where his search for reality was based on simple lines and not precise reproductions of faces.

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Current Owner:

Italian State

Original Owner:


How Object was obtained:

The Borghese Collection was acquired by the Italian State in 1902.

Selected bibliography:

Della Pergola, P., Galleria Borghese. I Dipinti, I, Rome, 1955, n.16, p. 21.
Santolini, S., in L'Anima e il Volto. Ritratto e fisionomica da Leonardo a Bacon, exhibition catalogue, Milan, 1998, pp. 148–149.
Benati, D., in Annibale Carracci, exhibition catalogue (Rome), Milan, 2007, cat. II. 9, pp. 110–111.

Additional Copyright Information:

Copyright image: Archivio fotografico Soprintendenza Speciale PSAE e Polo Museale della Città di Roma.

Citation of this web page:

Sofia Barchiesi, Maria Assunta  Sorrentino "Portrait of a Laughing Youth" in Discover Baroque Art , Museum With No Frontiers, 2019. http://www.museumwnf.org/thematicgallery/thg_galleries/database_item.php?itemId=objects;BAR;it;Mus11;29;en&id=portraits

Prepared by: Sofia BarchiesiSofia Barchiesi

SURNAME: Barchiesi
NAME: Sofia

TITLE: Author and Researcher

Sofia Barchiesi, a graduate and specialist in Art History and recipient of a scholarship from the School of Mediaeval and Modern Art History at Lumsa University, has been working with the Superintendency for Historical Artistic Heritage and the Museums of Rome since the late 1980s. She was responsible for cataloguing the art of the region and museums of Rome, studying the period of the Counter-Reformation particularly closely. She works with journals and writes essays, alternating her research and teaching work.
, Maria Assunta SorrentinoMaria Assunta Sorrentino

SURNAME: Sorrentino
NAME: Maria Assunta

AFFILIATION: Borghese Gallery, Rome

TITLE: Conservation Department Co-ordinator

Maria Assunta Sorrentino, holder a of a Diploma in Painting and Fresco Restoration and a degree in the Science of Cultural Heritage (historical-artistic), has worked at the Borghese Gallery since 1993, where she manages the Conservation Department and is in charge of the technical and organisational co-ordination of temporary exhibitions. She is currently working on the Ten Great Exhibitions project underway at the Borghese Gallery. She has published several papers on conservation and history in relation to the exhibition, with particular reference to artists such as Bernini, Domenichino, Canova and Caravaggio.

Translation by: Laurence Nunny
Translation copyedited by: Mandi Gomez

MWNF Working Number: IT1 37

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