Jean, Comte de Sellon d'Allaman (1736-1810), Château d'Allaman, Pays de Vaud, Switzerland;
Jean-Jacques de Sellon (1782-1839), Geneva;
Thence by descent.
Catalogue Raisonné des 215 Tableaux les plus capitaux du Cabinet de Monsieur le Comte de Sellon 'd'Allaman, dont une partie se voit dans son hôtel à Genève, et l'autre dans son château d'Allaman, en Suisse pays de Vaud...., Geneva 1795, p. 9-10, no. 22:
Del Sarto (André)
Sur marbre,hauteur 2 pieds 9 pouces, largeur 2 pieds 2 pouces. Le portrait de Baccio Bandinelli, fameux architect Florentin, d'un dessin pur et correct, d'une expression admirable, et très riche de draperies et d'accessoires. C'est un des plus belles oeuvres de ce mâitre';
M. Natale, Art vénitien en Suisse et au Liechtenstein, exhibition catalogue, Pfaffikon, Seedamm-Kulturzentrum and Geneva, Musée d'Art et d'Histoire, 1978, p. 104, no. 65 (as attributed to Jan Stephan van Calcar);
S. Mason Rinaldi, in Prospettiva, vol. 19, 1979, pp. 65-66 (as attributed to Girolamo Bedoli);
C. Volpe, in Paragone, vol. 30, no. 347, 1979, p. 76 (as Girolamo da Carpi);
D. Peggazzano, Bindo Altoviti: commitenza e mecenatismo di un banchiere del Cinquecento, Thesis Florence University, 1988, p. 92 (as Girolamo da Carpi);
A. Ballarin, Jacopo Bassano, Cittadella 1996, fig. 249 (as by Francesco Salviati);
M. Di Giampaolo, Girolamo Bedoli, Florence 1997, no. 48 (as by Girolamo Bedoli);
P. Costamanga, 'Il Ritrattista', in Francesco Salviati (1510-1563) o la bella maniera, exhibition catalogue, Rome and Paris, 1998, p 52, n.29 (as Girolamo da Carpi);
A. Pattanaro, Girolamo da Carpi: Ritratti, Cittadella 2000, pp. 160-61, no. 24a (as by Francesco Salviati);
M. Jeanneret and M. Natale ed., La Renaissance italienne. Peintres et poetes dans les collections genevoises, exhibition catalogue, Geneva (Cologny) Bodmer Foundation, Geneva 2006-2007, p. 328 (as Girolamo da Carpi);
P. Costamanga, Raphael, Cellini & A Renaissance Banker. The patronage of Bindo Altoviti, exhibition catalogue, Boston, Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum and Florence, Museo Nazionale del Bargello, 2003-2004, p. 398, no. 17 (as Girolamo da Carpi).
This arresting portrait provides us with a penetrating likeness of one of the most remarkable personalities of the Renaissance in Florence and Rome. The sitter, the Florentine banker Bindo Altoviti (1491-1556), was a powerful financier to the Papacy, an important patron of the arts, and a major political opponent of the Medici family, the rulers of Florence. At the age of only 16, he inherited his father's bank, and by shrewd political and financial acumen he amassed one of the largest private fortunes in Italy. He was the friend and patron of many of the greatest Renaissance artists, among them Vasari, Michelangelo, Cellini, and Raphael. He divided his time between his native Florence, where his wife and family lived, and Rome, where his business was based and where, around 1549-50, when he was fifty eight, this portrait was painted.
Bindo Altoviti was born in Rome into a prominent Florentine family. His father had set up a bank in Rome, but he died in 1507, leaving the 16-year-old Bindo as head of the family business. In 1511, Bindo married Fiammetta Soderini, uniting him with one of the most politically powerful families in Florence. Her great uncle Piero Soderini was ruler of the Republic of Florence. An enemy of the Medici, Soderini commissioned Michelangelo's David for the city of Florence, but was exiled by his opponents in 1512. Bindo's bank in Rome made its money principally by lending money to the pope, who headed a vast bureaucracy that administered not only the Church, but also Rome and the Papal States in Italy. Bindo Altoviti's influence grew steadily in the 1530s, reaching its pinnacle under Pope Paul III, when he controlled both the papal accounts, and the supply of grain to the city of Rome. As a banker, Bindo had remained politically neutral throughout complex changes in political leadership in Rome and Florence. However, at the end of his life he turned against Cosimo de' Medici, duke of Florence, and financed an army to re-establish republican rule there. This effort ended in defeat in 1554. Bindo was declared a rebel, and all his property in Tuscany was confiscated. He died in 1556, his ambition of removing the Medici from power frustrated.
Altoviti was a friend and patron of many important Renaissance artists, and surviving likenesses and commissions shed a great deal of light upon the personality and standing of this long overlooked patron of the arts. His patronage is immediately distinguished by the fact that he is probably the only Florentine citizen of whom we have four surviving likenesses, including the present painting, which date from different periods of his life. The earliest and the most famous of these is Raphael's portrait of the banker as a young man, painted around 1512 and today in the National Gallery of Art, Washington (fig. 1). Painted not long after Altoviti inherited control of his father's bank, and when he was a mere twenty years of age, Raphael depicts him as an idealized and graceful Florentine youth. Vasari also records a portrait painted by Francesco Salviati, painted in Rome around the time of the accession of Pope Clement VII in 1534, but this is now lost.1 Some fifteen years later, the next likeness is the celebrated bronze bust by Giovanni Cellini, made in 1549 and now in the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in Boston (fig. 2) and which depicts Altoviti at the age of fifty-eight.2 The present portrait by da Carpi, dates from around this time or shortly afterwards and was probably painted in Rome around 1549-1552. The last surviving portrait, painted around 1553-54 when the sitter was sixty two years old, is that by Jacopino del Conte and today in the Museum of Fine Arts, Montreal (fig. 3).3 Altoviti's patronage was also extended to the painter Giorgio Vasari (1511-1574), who painted frescoes in his Roman residences as well as an altarpiece for the family chapel in Florence. His collection included medals, manuscripts and drawings by such artists as Pirro Ligorio, Domenico Poggini, Francesco Salviati and Jacopo Sansovino. Collectively these works reveal much about Altoviti's tastes and his intellectual and religious beliefs.
The attribution of this portrait has been the subject of much scholarly discussion since it was first published by Mauro Natale in 1978. When it was first acquired by Jean de Sellon in the late 18th century, the painting was thought to be by Andrea del Sarto and to portray the famous sculptor Baccio Bandinelli. Natale was the first to identify the sitter as Altoviti, by comparison with the portrait by Jacopino which had then just been published by Federico Zeri, and suggested an attribution to Jan Stephan van Calcar to account for the combination of both Italian and northern elements (such as the beautifully detailed curtain) in the picture. Carlo Volpe was the first to propose an attribition to da Carpi, seeing the painting's strong Emilian accents as more in keeping with a Roman-Tuscan context than one of Ferrara or Parma. This argument has been supported by most later scholars, although more recently Ballarin and Pattanaro have put forward Francesco Salviati as the painting's author. The argument of Mason Rinaldi and Giampaolo that the portrait is the work of Girolamo Bedoli would seem to be excluded by the identity of the sitter. The unusual and expensive use of marble for the portrait would also tend to indicate an origin in Rome, where it was occasionally used for portraits.4 Stylistically, the expressive and rather loose brushwork fits well with Girolamo da Carpi's earlier work in this vein, such as his Portrait of a man in a fur robe in the Seattle Art Museum (fig. 4), which probably dates from the later 1540s, and in which a very similar handling of the texture of fur is displayed.5 As Natale points out, the device of the sitter's crossed hands used by Girolamo derives from Parmigianino's Portrait of a man called Malatesta Baglione in the Kunsthistorisches Museum in Vienna.
There is more than just stylistic evidence to support an attribution to Girolamo da Carpi. This portrait can undoubtedly be dated to his stay in Rome in the years 1549 – 1552, when he stayed at the court of Cardinal Ippolito d'Este. Here he participated in excavations for the Cardinal at Hadrian's Villa, part of which was owned by Altoviti, who had formed a notable collection of antique sculpture and who was also excavating the site. The artist also made two sketches of Altoviti's collection of ancient sculptures in the Palazzo Altoviti, today in the Rosenbach Museum and Library, Philadelphia.6 In addition both the Cardinal and Altoviti were opponents of the Medici and supporters of the French; Bindo lent the French king large sums for the War of Siena and was, of course, banker to the Papacy itself. The following year Girolamo da Carpi entered the service of the new Pope Julius III as the architect of the Belvedere in the Vatican. Such factors would undoubtedly have brought artist and patron together, and created the ideal circumstances for the commission for this portrait.
A dating of around 1549-50 is also supported by the age of Altoviti in this portrait, and the long nose, high forehead and beard of the fifty eight year old sitter can be closely compared to those in Cellini's famous bust. The way in which both Girolamo da Carpi and Cellini chose to portray Altoviti is of itself significant. Both show the banker in late middle age, at the height of powers, and as a mature contemplative individual. By contract with Cellini's famous bronze bust of Altoviti's great political rival, Duke Cosimo de' Medici, cast a few years earlier in 1545-8 (Bargello, Florence), with its unmistakable air of martial and public grandeur, the later bronze and Girolamo's portrait both depict him as a man of thoughtful erudition and intellect. The contrast between the two works implies a great deal about Altoviti's standing in Florentine and Roman society. That such a private, humanistic portrayal accorded with Altoviti's own sense of himself is attested to by the apocryphal story that he was so pleased with Cellini's bust that he hailed Michelangelo in the street to show it to him and actually overpaid the sculptor. Both painting and bust present a philosophical and intellectual image of Altoviti even at the moment he had decided to sacrifice personal gain to his republican ideals by taking a stand against Cosimo de' Medici.
Not the least remarkable aspect of this portrait is its unbroken descent in the same family collection since the late 18th century. It originally formed part of the celebrated collection of Old Master Paintings formed at the end of the 18th century by Jean de Sellon (1736-1810), and continued in the 19th century by his son Jean-Jacques de Sellon (1782-1839).7 They were kept in the family's house in Geneva and in their country residence, the Château d'Allaman outside the city. Alongside the collection of François Tronchin (1704-98), that of the De Sellon family must be considered among the most important of all Swiss collections of the 18th and early 19th centuries. It was Jean de Sellon who chiefly assembled the celebrated collection of pictures, mostly during an extended sojourn in Italy between 1789 and 1794. While his travels in Italy were no doubt connected with the family's banking and silk businesses, he also wished to avoid the riots in Geneva which followed the French Revolution. The portrait of Bindo Altoviti was probably purchased by him in Rome, where he stayed between 1790 and 1791. It was also in Rome that he most likely bought the Caravaggesque Madonna and Child which was sold in these Rooms 4 July 2007, lot 31. In the following year he was in Naples, where he probably acquired the notable Neapolitan pictures in his collection, and from 1792-94 he was in Florence, where he lived in the villa La Mattonaia. He must have collected at a prodigious rate since the catalogue started in 1795, just after his return to Geneva, records a selection of the best 215 paintings, of which 160 were Italian. In total the collection seems to have numbered an astonishing 578 works, divided by location, of which fully a quarter were Italian. Of these some 233 pictures were hung in the family's Geneva residence, while 189 hung in the rooms at the chateâu d'Allaman, with another 156 in store. Among the early Italian works were pictures attributed to Giotto, Starnina, Fra Angelico, Verrocchio and Giovanni Bellini, then Leonardo, Raphael and Correggio, but it was among the Seicento pictures in which the greatest concentration of quality lay. These included for example, another Neapolitan masterpiece, Andrea Vaccaro's Triumph of David, and Giovanni Domenico Cerrini's Saint Sebastian, both now in the Musée d'Art et d'Histoire in Geneva. After the death of Jean de Sellon, the collection was continued and enlarged by his son Jean-Jacques de Sellon, himself one of the most important jurists and thinkers in Swiss history.
1. A possible candidate is the painting by Salviati now in the collection of the Duke of Northumberland at Alnwick Castle (exhibited Boston and Florence, 2003-4, no. 12a, reproduced).
2. Exhibited Boston and Florence, 2003-2004, no. 20.
3. Inv. 2000.14. Exhibited Boston and Florence, 2003-2004, no. 18.
4. Costamanga, op. cit., cites one such, a portrait of Annibale Caro with Marco Grassi in New York.
5. A. Mezzetti, Girolamo da Ferrara detto da Carpi, Milan 1977, p. 102, no. 141, reproduced fig. 55.
6. Exhibited Boston and Florence, 2003-2004, cat. nos 1a and 2a, reproduced.
7. See M. Natale, Le goût et les collections d'art italien à Genève du XVIIIe au XXe siècle, Geneva 1980, pp. 66-68.
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