Battista Franco was a gifted draftsman, engraver and painter, born in Venice who studied in Rome early in his career. Primary information on Franco comes from Vasari who dedicated a chapter on him in the Vite, which details his influences and major projects in Rome and in Venice. Franco's primary influence was Michelangelo and he is thought to be the first to copy the frescos in the Sistine Chapel. The artist's interest extended to classical antiquity and he endeavored to record all of the classical sculptures held in private collections in Rome. His extraordinary draftsmanship earned him commissions with Raffaelle de Montelupo on the Ponte Sant' Angelo project, grisaille scenes from Roman history at the Porta San Sebastiano, and he worked with Vasari on the decoration of the Palazzo Medici in June 1536. Franco was appointed personal painter to Cosimo de' Medici in 1537, and in 1545-46 he executed the vault of the choir of the Urbino Cathedral. In addition to numerous fresco commissions, Franco designed works on a smaller scale, notably those for maiolica produced at Castledurante. As an engraver, Franco is remembered for numerous plates of allegorical and mythological figures, scenes from the life of Christ and that of the Virgin, subjects drawn from antique cameos, saints, angels, and various scenes depicting Roman antiquity and history. In these works the influence of Michelangelo and other luminaries of early 15th-century Italian art is evident, a tendency that Vasari criticized.
Franco, like many Italian artists of the time, incorporated classical figures into his compositions. This drawing, ostensibly a study for an Angel of the Annunciation due to the suggestion of a lily stem in the figure's right hand, is drawn from the antique. Executed in red chalk, this drawing stands out as unusual in the oeuvre of an artist who usually worked in pen and black or brown ink. The date of ca. 1553 suggests that it could be related to the fresco cycle of scenes of the Life of the Virgin in S. Maria Sopra Minerva from 1550. Although there are many engraved figures based on classical figures in Franco's oeuvre, none relate directly to this figure, the closest being the angel at the lower right of The Annunciation. The attention to the drapery suggests that Franco may have copied an existing sculpture for source material, and the Vatican Museum's Ariadne Sleeping has been suggested as a source.