This sensitive drawing relates to a painting Batoni completed in around 1744 of the Jesuit Saint Aloysius Gonzaga. A characteristic preparatory study made with a net of lines, used to square up the composition to full-scale, this drawing is a comparatively recent rediscovery. The finished painting, now in a private collection, seems to have been acquired in Rome by a British Grand Tourist, Charles Turner.
As such it is a fascinating example of a contemporary Catholic devotional work be acquired by a Protestant traveller as a gallery picture. Turner is a little studied figure who features in comic conversation pieces by Thomas Patch (now in the Lewis Walpole Library, Farmington) and Joshua Reynolds (Museum of Art, Rhode Island School of Design). Turner appears in the Reynolds caricature with John Woodyeare who was painted by Batoni (Minneapolis Institute of Arts) in splendid Hussars costume in 1750. There is ample evidence that Batoni’s studio was open to artists at this date and that both his style and working methods were keenly observed and imitated by travelling British painters. A red chalk study by the Scottish portraitist Allan Ramsay now in the National Gallery of Scotland, explicitly replicates a painting by Batoni of Vulcan in His Forge (National Gallery of Canada, Ottawa). The drawing in red chalk may be a direct copy of the painting, which is dated 1750, or a copy of a preparatory drawing similar to this sheet of Saint Aloysius Gonzaga; Ramsay did not arrive in Rome on his second Grand Tour until December 1754. Ramsay’s choice of red chalk points towards his knowledge of preparatory drawings by Batoni, such as this.
Saint Aloysisus Gonzaga was a Jesuit novice who died working in a plague hospital in Rome in 1591. He was canonised with another Jesuit novice, Stanislaus Kostka, by Pope Benedict XIII in 1726. Batoni shows the saint in traditional iconography dressed in the white surplice of the Jesuit novitiate and adoring a crucifix I the presence of a skull, symbols of his ascetic life; the lily signifies his purity and chastity. Batoni regularly produced commanding red chalk compositional studies, these preparatory works are often squared for transfer. For example the sheet of studies for Saint Bartholomew of c.1740-43 now in the Art Institute, Chicago.