Elegantly drawn likenesses which often concentrate on facial features and the head and merely hint at the rest of the figure and the clothes were popular and widespread in aristocratic circles and the haute bourgeoisie in France during the late sixteenth century. This is the context in which this drawing, executed in different-coloured chalks, of the stern-looking gentleman with the carefully trimmed moustache and pointed beard came about. The artist has managed to capture his individual characteristics and, through the combination of rubbed colour and structured lines, to convey an impression of the surface of his skin and the full, bushy hair. At the same time, the portrait retains a certain discreet, slightly formulaic distance. The drawing technique and structure of the composition create a painterly effect, yet we can assume that this sheet did not serve as preparation for a painting but was produced as a completed portrait and was preserved as such.
This early example of the rich tradition of French portrait art dates from the era of the Wars of Religion in France, a time of great turmoil in which the last Valois kings were eventually succeeded by Henri IV from the House of Bourbon. It is classified alongside a large group of sheets with similar drawings, most of which are preserved in the Bibliothèque Nationale in Paris and which are considered to be the work of François Quesnel. Little is known about him other than he came from a French family of artists, worked for the French court in the 1570s and drew a town plan of Paris at the beginning of the seventeenth century. For this reason, the attribution must remain uncertain. Elsewhere, the somewhat older artist Antoine Caron (1521-1599) has been named as the possible creator of the drawings in question.