Guido Reni was one of the most influential 17th-century Italian painters. His renderings of mythological and religious subjects are celebrated for their compositional and figural grace. Reni prepared intensely before painting his narrative works, creating numerous studies from models, including chalk drawings, such as this head of a young woman.
According to one biographer, Reni boasted about being able to “paint heads with their eyes uplifted a hundred different ways” to portray ecstasy or divine inspiration. Here, the artist’s loose, spontaneous manner animates the three-dimensionality of the woman’s head. Though her identity is not confirmed, she has a resemblance to painted portrayals by Reni of the penitent Saint Mary Magdalene with eyes lifted, tearful, and pleading.