La Scapigliata

  (Redirected from Head of a Woman (Leonardo))

La Scapigliata[n 1] (Italian for 'The Lady with Dishevelled Hair') is an unfinished painting generally attributed to the Italian High Renaissance artist Leonardo da Vinci, and dated c. 1506–8. Painted in oil, umber and white lead pigments on a small poplar wood panel, its attribution remains controversial, with several experts attributing the work to a student of Leonardo. The painting has been admired for its captivating beauty, mysterious demeanor, and mastery of sfumato.

La Scapigliata
English: The Lady with Dishevelled Hair
Leonardo da vinci - La scapigliata.jpg
ArtistLeonardo da Vinci
Yearc. 1506–8 (unfinished)
MediumOil, umber, and white lead pigments on poplar wood panel
Dimensions24.7 cm × 21 cm (9.7 in × 8.3 in)
LocationGalleria Nazionale di Parma, Parma

There is no real consensus on the painting's subject, date, history or purpose. It shows an unknown woman gazing downward while her hair fills the frame behind her. Many theories regarding the subject have been proposed, such as the painting being a sketch for an uncompleted painting of Saint Anne; a study for the London version of The Virgin of the Rocks or Leda and the Swan painting, now a lost work; or—for its aesthetic value—a purposefully unfinished painting.

The painting was recorded in a 1826 sale of Gaetano Callani's collection to the Galleria Nazionale di Parma, the museum the currently houses it, but proof of its existence may date back to 1531. Most scholars attribute it as a work by Leonardo da Vinci—though many are silent on the issue—and it has been listed as such in various major Leonardo exhibitions.


The painting has no formal name but is best known by the nickname La Scapigliata[n 1] (English: The Lady with Dishevelled Hair),[2] in reference to the tousled and waving hair of the subject.[3] It has been known by various other names in combination with La Scapigliata, including Head of a Woman,[4] Head of a Young Woman,[5] Head of a Young Girl,[6] Head and Shoulders of a Woman,[7] Portrait of a Maiden[8] and Female Head.[9]


Detail of sfumato in La Scapigliata

The work's true intent is unknown and it has been variously referred to as a sketch, a drawing or a painting.[10] Due to the use of paint, it is correctly described as a painting,[1] but scholars continue to discuss its sketch and drawing like qualities, often linking it to early works such as the Adoration of the Magi and Saint Jerome in the Wilderness,[7] as well as later ones like The Virgin and Child with Saint Anne and Saint John the Baptist.[11] Art historian Carmen Bambach suggests that it should be described as a "brush drawing", or a "painted sketch".[5]

The painting is done on a small[n 2] 24.6 cm × 21.0 cm (9.7 in × 8.3 in) poplar wood panel with oil, umber, and white lead pigments.[13] It portrays the unfinished outline of a young woman whose face gently gazes downward while her loosely drawn dishevelled hair waves in the air behind her.[7] The woman's eyes are half-closed and completely ignoring of the outside world and viewer, while her mouth is slightly shaped into an ambiguous smile, evocative of the Mona Lisa.[3] Other than her face that takes up most of the painting, the rest of the painting is barely even sketched in, with a primed but unpainted background.[4] The differences in the face and the rest of the painting are effectively blended by a mastery of sfumato.[3] Art historian Alexander Nagel notes that the sfumato results in the shadows concealing any strokes or marks, and points out how the shadows are softened by careful lighting around them, such as on the left side of the jaw.[14] The appeal in this contrast of the unfinished and finished parts has provoked speculation that the painting is not incomplete, and was left in an unfinished state on purpose.[7][10]

The subject of the painting is unknown and no theory has proved convincing to modern scholars.[1] One theory is that the painting is a study for Leonardo's lost painting of Leda and the Swan, but this is discredited by existing copies of the painting showing Lena with hair more elaborate than that of the woman in La Scapigliata.[7] Other claims are that the painting was a sketch, like The Virgin and Child with Saint Anne and Saint John the Baptist, for a painting of Saint Anne that was never completed, or a study for the London version of the Virgin of the Rocks.[1] According to scholars at the Galleria Nazionale di Parma, the subject of the painting may be an anonymous woman.[3]


La Scapigliata is thought to have been made around the same time as Leonardo's cartoon The Virgin and Child with Saint Anne and Saint John the Baptist

It is generally agreed by modern scholars that La Scapigliata is by Leonardo da Vinci.[15] The attribution is not as widely accepted as other debated Leonardo paintings, like his Ginevra de' Benci, Portrait of a Musician, Lady with an Ermine and Saint John the Baptist and is ignored by some art historians, with many refraining from even commenting on it.[12][16] Art historians, Martin Kemp and Frank Zöllner leave the work out of their catalogues of Leonardo's paintings,[17] while museum curator Luke Syson proposes the painting to be by one of the many students of Leonardo.[18]

Doubts concerning the painting's attribution are not recent. In 1896, museum director Corrado Ricci [it] claimed it had been forged by its former owner, Gaetano Callani,[1][10] which caused it to be re-attributed as "by the school of Leonardo".[10] In 1924 this claim was challenged by the art historian Adolfo Venturi, who asserted that the work was by Leonardo, and who revealed evidence that sought to link the work with the House of Gonzaga.[1] The attribution to Leonardo was further advocated by Carlo Pedretti, who connected the painting to Isabella d'Este, a known patron of Leonardo.[1][11] Most scholars have since accepted the work to be an autograph Leonardo,[19] but modern critics such as art historian Jacques Franck continue to question its authenticity.[4][20] Franck, basing her doubts on the irregular proportions and strangely shaped skull of the subject, has proposed the painting to be by Leonardo's student Giovanni Boltraffio. She has cited the similarity between La Scapigliata and Boltraffio's work Heads of the Virgin and Child.[20] Bernardino Luini, another student of Leonardo, has also been suggested as the artist, the evidence being based on his depictions of female faces.[1] Major exhibitions at the Louvre (2003), Milan (2014–2015), New York (2016), Paris (2016), Naples (2018) and the Louvre (2019–2020), have all displayed the painting as being by Leonardo.[21]


The painted is usually dated c. 1506–1508 based on stylistic similarities to other works by Leonardo, namely The Virgin and Child with Saint Anne and Saint John the Baptist and the London Virgin of the Rocks.[22][23][24] In 2016, Bambach dated the painting to c. 1500–1505 since she believes Leonardo was commissioned by Agostino Vespucci at this time.[7]


Portrait of Isabella d'Este, proposed patron of La Scapigliata, by Leonardo da Vinci (1499–1500)

No records of a commission survive for the painting, but its intimacy suggests it may have been for a private patron.[7] Bambach cites a note by Florentine official Agostino Vespucci that mentions Leonardo, and describes the appeal and beauty of the unfinished bust of Venus by the famous ancient Greek painter Apelles.[7] She believes that La Scapigliata may be the result of Vespucci commissioning Leonardo to make a work along the same lines.[25] A more widely accepted theory is that the work was commissioned by a known patron of Leonardo and member of the Gonzaga family, Isabella d'Este, who had asked Leonardo for a painting of a Madonna for her private studio in 1501.[21] Isabella d'Este probably gifted the painting to her son Federico II for his wedding with Margaret Paleologa.[26] This is evidenced by a 1531 letter from the secretary of the Mantuan Gonzaga family, Ippolito Calandra, who suggests that a painting with very similar features to La Scapigliata be hung in the bedroom of Federico II and Margaret Paleologa.[11] A 1531 inventory of Gonzaga family's art collection in the ducal palace also records a painting that could be La Scapigliata.[15] Another inventory from 1627 almost certainly refers La Scapigliata and is likely the origin of the nickname since the record describes it as: "A painting depicts the head of a dishevelled woman... by Leonardo da Vinci."[10][15] This record implies that it was not sold in a large 1626–1627 sale of paintings from the Gonzaga family to Charles I of England. It was possibly stolen in July 1630 when an imperial army of 36,000 Landsknecht mercenaries, under the pay of Ferdinand II, sacked the city.[21]

The next and first certain record of the painting is in 1826, when Francesco Callani offered the collection his father, the Parmesan artist Gaetano Callani, for sale to the Gallery in the Accademia di Belle Arti di Parma.[10][15] In a list of the works in the collection for the director of the Gallery, Paolo Toschi, La Scapigliata appears listed as "A head of Madonna painted in chiaroscuro."[1] The sale implies that it entered the collection of Gaetano Callani at some point, probably during his 1773–1778 stay in Milan, but other than being in Milan, there is no information on the painting's whereabouts before then.[10][21] The sale took place in 1839, but La Scapigliata itself entered the gallery of Palatine Gallery of Parma (Now Galleria nazionale di Parma), where it was listed as "The head of Leonardo da Vinci" and described by Toschi as "a very rare work to find today.[3][10] It has been housed in the National Gallery of Parma ever since.[15]


Here Leonardo does not simply create an icon of female beauty but much more. With a unique experimentalism of its kind, it manages to summarize the divine complexity of reality.

Pietro C. Marani[21]

Many theories have been proposed about the work's intended purpose and meaning, which the Galleria Nazionale di Parma suggests is due to the ambiguity in the work's 'painted-drawing' demeanor.[3] Scholars at the Metropolitan Museum of Art note that the contrast between the subject's sculptural and detailed face with her fragmentary hair, shoulders and neck evokes a similar contrast between intensity and freedom.[7] Scholars at the Galleria nazionale di Parma have interpreted this contrast as a feminist representation of powerful but elegant femininity.[21]

The work has been recognized as the apex of Leonardo-esque sfumato.[24] Nagel notes the attentive detail to masterful shadowing and lighting.[14] Nagel compares La Scapigliata with head studies by Leonardo's teacher, Andrea del Verrocchio, noting the similar approach and attention given to the shading,[14] and that both Verrocchio's studies of female heads and Leonardo's La Scapigliata seem to 'know' that the edge of the panel exists. He concludes that

"In Leonardo's work, shadow is investigated to the point where it assumes an entirely new role, Shadows no longer "belong" to the form but are treated as variations of a more general visual phenomenon, subject to the laws that govern all visibility. They behave as gradual modulations within a continuous range extending between 'the beginnings and the ends of shadow,' that is, from light to absolute darkness. The shadow against the right cheek ('outside the form') belongs to the same system as the shadows under the chin, on the cheek, or around the eyes; under different conditions, they might unite to swallow the entire face."[14]

It is uncertain what access Leonardo would have had to Pliny the Elder's Natural History, but in 2016 Bambach suggested that La Scapigliata may have been inspired by an anecdote from it. Pliny refers to an unfinished painting of Venus of Cos by the famous ancient Greek painter Apelles that was admired even though it was unfinished. Bambach cites a note from Agostino Vespucci that mentions both Leonardo and this story, and claims that Leonardo was inspired to achieve the same result as Apelles.[25]


  1. ^ a b pronounced [la ska.pi.ʎi.ˈa.ta]; sometimes spelled Scapiliata;[1] known by various names.
  2. ^ Out of all paintings attributed to Leonardo, La Scapigliata is the smallest[12]


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i Galleria Nazionale di Parma – New Website.
  2. ^ Reynolds 1962, p. 703.
  3. ^ a b c d e f Galleria Nazionale di Parma – Old Website.
  4. ^ a b c Palmer 2018, p. 70.
  5. ^ a b Bambach 2003, p. 97.
  6. ^ Marani 2003, p. 145.
  7. ^ a b c d e f g h i Baum et al 2016, p. 297.
  8. ^ Pedretti 2006, p. 70.
  9. ^ Fried 2010, p. 74.
  10. ^ a b c d e f g h Marino 2018.
  11. ^ a b c Vezzosi 2019, p. 275.
  12. ^ a b Marani 2019, pp. 338–340.
  13. ^ Metropolitan Museum of Art.
  14. ^ a b c d Nagel 1993, p. 11.
  15. ^ a b c d e Marani 2003, p. 340.
  16. ^ Boussel 1989, p. 87.
  17. ^ Zöllner 2019, pp. 212–251.
  18. ^ Syson et al 2011, p. 198.
  19. ^ Marani 2019, p. 340.
  20. ^ a b Manca 2020.
  21. ^ a b c d e f La fortuna della Scapiliata di Leonardo da Vinci.
  22. ^ Marani 2003, p. 145, 340.
  23. ^ Vezzosi 2019, p. 58.
  24. ^ a b Fried 2010, p. 70.
  25. ^ a b Baum et al 2016, p. 37.
  26. ^ Marani 2019, p. 423.



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