Giovanni di Taddeo di Agnolo Gaddi was born in Florence on 25th April 1493, the son of Taddeo di Agnolo Gaddi and Antonia di Bindo Altoviti. He was a descendant of the celebrated Florentine family of artists: the Duecento painter Gaddo Gaddi, his son Taddeo (a pupil of Giotto) and grandsons Agnolo and Giovanni, all of whom were successful painters in the 14th-century. During the Renaissance period the Gaddi family thrived as bankers, not just in Florence where their success was helped by their association with the powerful Medicis, but also in Rome.2 Not much is known about Giovanni as a young man except that he was close to Giuliano de’ Medici (1479-1516), Duke of Nemours, whose famous tomb in the Medici Chapel in the Church of San Lorenzo, Florence, was designed by Michelangelo. Vasari recounts how the two were both members of the Compagnia della Cazzuola; a society that put on theatrical plays and employed Andrea del Sarto, Giovan Francesco Rustici and Jacopo Sansovino to provide set designs. Giovanni Gaddi had a fine ecclesiastical career under Pope Clement VII (1478-1534), first becoming clerk and then dean of the Camera Apostolica; an administrative body responsible for the papal finances. His career advancement was probably aided by his association as a young man with Pope Clement’s first cousin, Giuliano de’ Medici.3 Gaddi had a fine collection of illuminated manuscripts and codices inherited from his grandfather and his library became a meeting-place for contemporary poets and literati. His house in Rome welcomed Florentine artists and scholars passing through the Eternal City: Benvenuto Cellini, Pietro Aretino and Jacopo Sansovino were among the visitors recorded there. Giovanni Gaddi was one of Sebastiano del Piombo’s close friends after the Sack of Rome in 1527 and Cellini says in his autobiography that he found Sebastiano in Gaddi’s company almost daily.4 Giovanni Gaddi died in Rome on 18th October 1542.
In this portrait Giovanni is shown as a boy aged perhaps between twelve and fifteen years and this would point to a date of execution sometime between 1505 and 1508. Giovanni’s dress and black cap are consistent with costumes worn in Florence in the middle of the first decade of the 16th century, as indeed is his shoulder-length hair.5 As the identifying inscription would suggest, this portrait of Giovanni Gaddi originally hung alongside other family portraits, presumably in the Gaddi family palazzo which was located between via del Melarancio and via del Giglio, a stone’s throw from the church of Santa Maria Novella. Although this painting is not specifically recorded in the Gaddi collections in the 16th century, a few portraits are described in very general terms in the posthumous inventory of Cavaliere Niccolò Gaddi’s possessions at Palazzo Gaddi, Florence, dated 14 June 1591.6 The portraits’ dimensions are given but their descriptions are generalised; none of the sitters are identified, nor are the paintings given any form of attribution. Amongst the portraits is listed ‘Un quadretto con cornice di noce alto 2/3 largo 1/2 b.o in circa dentrovi un ritratto di giovine’: although it is tempting to identify that work with the present portrait there is no evidence to suggest that they are one and the same and it seems strange that the sitter’s name – so evident in the inscription along the top – would not have been used to describe it in the inventory. If the painting was originally owned by Giovanni himself it is most likely to have been inherited by his nephew, the aforementioned Niccolò Gaddi who was an avid collector of paintings and sculpture, both antique and modern.7 Physical evidence on the painting itself would also suggest such a provenance for its inscription appears to be the same as that on four other 16th-century portraits of Gaddi family members, all painted on panels of identical size (61 by 43 cm.): three of these show Niccolò’s own children, Sinibaldo di Niccolò di Sinibaldo Gaddi (twice; as a baby and as a toddler; (the latter) fig. 1)8 and Emilia di Niccolò di Sinibaldo Gaddi (as a young girl; fig. 2),9 whilst the fourth depicts Giovanni’s father, Taddeo di Agnolo di Zanobi Gaddi (fig. 3).10 The three paintings of children are datable to the third quarter of the 16th century and have been plausibly attributed to Santi di Tito, an artist whom Niccolò is known to have employed to paint portraits of the Medici.11 The portrait of Taddeo appears earlier in date, however, and has been ascribed to Michele Tosini, Ridolfo Ghirlandaio’s pupil and frequent collaborator.12 Each of these portraits bears a similar inscription to that on Giovanni’s, in a distinctive trompe l’oeil sculpted style, that serves to identify the sitter. If the portraits of Taddeo and Giovanni were indeed painted in the early 16th century this would suggest that their inscriptions were added later, perhaps with the intention of homogenising the group. If, however, as has also been suggested, the portrait of Giovanni dates from slightly later in the century, painted in a manner that is inspired by earlier Renaissance models, the inscription might be contemporaneous with the picture.13
The portrait of Taddeo is the one that looks most like Giovanni's, in type as well as pose: the sitter is shown bust-length, facing left, wearing a simple black cap and fur-lined orange smock. The portrait of Giovanni is indubitably by a different artist and appears superior in its invention: although adhering to the constraints of painting a figure in head-and-shoulders against a blank background, the artist of this portrait shows far greater sophistication in his representation of the youthful Giovanni. By slightly shifting the boy’s torso and turning his head in the opposite direction, thus providing a subtle counter-movement, the portraitist has given Giovanni a much more life-like appearance - a stark contrast to the rather wooden bust-portrait of Taddeo from the same series. This motif of giving a sitter greater vitality through a subtle shift in pose is ultimately inspired by Raphael, as exemplified by the latter’s Portrait of a Young Man with an Apple or his Self-portrait, both in the Uffizi and datable to circa 1504-5.14
STYLISTIC INFLUENCES AND PAINTING TECHNIQUE
At the time this portrait was painted the city of Florence was an unrivalled artistic centre. The three most important artists of the Renaissance - Raphael, Leonardo and Michelangelo - were present in the city in 1505. Raphael is thought to have spent a considerable time in Florence, probably from around 1504 to 1508, and painted a number of portraits there: it is therefore extremely likely that his portraiture would have had a considerable influence on the works of other Florentine artists active in this genre. Also dating from around this time is the only surviving finished mature panel-painting by Michelangelo, The Doni Tondo (Uffizi), which was almost certainly commissioned by Agnolo Doni, to celebrate his marriage to Maddalena Strozzi in 1504. Raphael painted a pair of portraits of the newly-married couple a year or two later (Palazzo Pitti), to commemorate the same event. It is extremely probable that the Gaddi and Doni families knew each other personally and the author of the present portrait would have been familiar with both Michelangelo and Raphael’s works.15 Furthermore there is documentary evidence to prove that Giovanni Gaddi and Michelangelo actually knew each other personally. A letter dated Wednesday, 3rd January 1532, from the former to the latter has survived, suggesting that the two men frequented each other in Rome and the familiarity with which Giovanni addresses Michelangelo implies that they had known each other for some time.16 In his letter Giovanni states that he is mediating with Pope Clement VII on Michelangelo’s behalf. He relays the Pope’s request for Michelangelo to move from Florence to Rome but at the same time Giovanni advises him not to travel in the winter months.17 He concludes his letter offering him lodgings at his home ‘et col vostro fra’ Sebastiano [Sebastiano del Piombo] ci goderemo qui in santa pace’.18
A comparison with this painting and other securely attributable portraits by Ridolfo Ghirlandaio demonstrates that the present work’s traditional attribution is not entirely without merit. Its date of execution in the middle of the first decade of the 16th century fits quite well within Ridolfo’s known œuvre and an attribution to Ridolfo is further strengthened by the portrait’s association with that of Taddeo by his pupil, Michele Tosini (as discussed above). It can be most closely compared to Ridolfo’s Portrait of a Woman in Palazzo Pitti, Florence, which is dated 1509. In the Pitti painting the sitter is starkly lit, her three-dimensionality emphasised against a plain background, and although there are stylistic similarities between the two portraits the Pitti painting is much more Raphaelesque in conception and far less polished in execution. As discussed above, the portrait of Giovanni certainly owes something to Raphael in its design: the turn of the youth’s head adds extraordinary vitality to the sitter and is a motif ultimately inspired by Raphael. Giovanni’s finely-modelled flesh tones and delicate strands of hair also find echoes in contemporary portraits by Raphael; namely his aforementioned Portrait of a Young Man with an Apple in the Uffizi (c.1504) and his Portraits of Agnolo and Maddalena Doni in Palazzo Pitti (c.1506). The most extraordinary characteristic of this painting, however, is the plasticity with which Giovanni Gaddi is portrayed and this cannot be described in any way as ‘Raphaelesque’. This marmoreal quality to the figure, particularly in the flesh tones, is something one occasionally finds in Piero di Cosimo’s work but Piero’s idiosyncratic style is a far cry from the polish and restraint in the present portrait. The only artist at the beginning of the 16th century to achieve this kind of smooth three-dimensionality in painting was Michelangelo, in his Doni Tondo. It is therefore not inconceivable that the latter inspired the artist to paint Giovanni’s portrait in a similar manner.
The brushstrokes are extremely hard to distinguish on the painted surface, particularly in the flesh areas and in the background. It is unclear how these tones were so perfectly blended together and, in the case of Michelangelo’s Doni Tondo, it has been suggested that the artist may have used a soft dry blending brush.19 Technical examination of the Portrait of Giovanni Gaddi helps to shed further light on the artist’s practice. Infra-red reflectography shows no evidence of any underdrawing: this is unusual but by no means unique in Florentine Renaissance painting. Neither Raphael’s Portrait of Maddalena Doni nor Michelangelo’s Doni Tondo have any underdrawing, nor are there any visible traces of a design having been transferred through pouncing or incision.20 It is far more likely that the artist produced a compositional drawing on paper and then copied the design directly onto the panel using a brush. The presence of only minor pentimenti would further suggest that the portrait had been clearly planned out before the painting itself was begun: the line of Giovanni’s shoulders was slightly altered, as was his neckline which originally lay a centimetre or two lower down, but the design is otherwise unchanged (see fig. 4). Although there is no visible underdrawing the infra-reds do reveal faintly-brushed outlines tracing the position of Giovanni’s nose; similar to the ‘acquerella d’inchiostro’ technique which has been found in Andrea del Sarto’s work.21 The scumbling effect on the shadowed side of Giovanni’s face and along the outline of his chin is a result of lighter pigments being pulled over darker ones: this leads to a highly-contrasted undermodelling which gives the form its plasticity.
From the infra-reds one can see that the Portrait of Giovanni Gaddi was painted in a number of different campaigns. The figure’s head, torso and background were most likely blocked in initially. The white sleeves and under-tunic were fluidly painted, broadly at first, and the brushstrokes are still visible to the naked eye. The red costume (executed in red lake) was most likely painted on top of the white, whilst the brush - still loaded with some red paint - seems to have been dragged along the sleeve lower right. In a second moment the artist refined the smock’s neckline and raised the shoulders slightly (the background is visible through the latter indicating that it was painted first). It is probable that Giovanni’s head and the background were blocked in at the same time since there are visible ‘reserves’ in the background; running along the youth’s hair on the right and around the silhouette of his cap upper left (see figs. 5 and 6). The head was undermodelled using the scumbling technique referred to above and only once that paint was dry were the final layers applied to the flesh tones. The loose strands of hair were almost certainly painted at the very end, in order to make the figure stand out against the plain background.
Although the portrait’s early provenance cannot be documented, it is likely to have been painted for Giovanni Gaddi or for his immediate family and most probably remained in the family’s possession, in the collection of Giovanni’s nephew Niccolò in the later 16th century (see discussion above). After his death Niccolò’s collection was for the most part transferred to the Villa di Camerata (or ‘Villa Fontallera’), located on the outskirts of Florence in the hills near San Domenico in Fiesole. The villa had been owned by the Gaddis since at least 1427 and it remained in their ownership until the mid-19th century. In his will of 1558 Niccolò’s father Sinibaldo had stipulated that, in the event of extinction of the male line, all his possessions should pass to Camillo, the first son of his eldest daughter Maddalena (who had married Jacopo Pitti). This indeed came about in 1607 when the inheritance passed to the Pitti-Gaddi family. The portrait of Giovanni is thought to have remained in possession of the Gaddi/Pitti-Gaddi family until it was acquired by the well-known art dealer Elia Volpi (1858-1920), along with other Gaddi portraits. Volpi certainly owned Domenico di Michelino’s Triple portrait of Taddeo, Gaddo and Agnolo Gaddi, donated by him to the Uffizi Gallery in 1905. Furthermore when the portrait of Giovanni Gaddi was in Paris in around 1920 it was reputed to have come from Volpi in Florence, though there is no concrete evidence of this.22
1. Raimond van Marle is most famous for the publication of his nineteen-volume The Development of the Italian Schools of Painting (The Hague, 1923-38): it seems entirely reasonable that Dutch collectors of the 1920s would have turned to him for advice or attribution on Italian Renaissance paintings.
2. The extent of the Gaddis’ wealth and influence is attested to by the fact that during the 1527 Sack of Rome the banco Gaddi subsidised the pope by giving a considerable sum (approximately 40,000 scudi) which led, in exchange, to Giovanni Gaddi’s brother Niccolò being appointed cardinal.
3. Giulio de’ Medici (later Pope Clement VII) was the illegitimate son of Giuliano de’ Medici (1453-1478) and thus the nephew of Lorenzo the Magnificent, the Duke of Nemours’ father.
4. See M. Hirst, Sebastiano del Piombo, Oxford 1981, p. 110, footnote 87.
5. Compare, for example, Raphael’s cap and hairstyle in his Self-portrait in the Uffizi, Florence, dating from circa 1505 (reproduced in colour by J. Meyer zur Capellen, Raphael. A Critical Catalogue of His Paintings. Vol. I. The Beginnings in Umbria and Florence ca. 1500-1508, Landshut 2001, p. 95, plate 43).
6. An 18th-century(?) transcription of the original inventory recording the possessions of Niccolò Gaddi at the time of his death in 1591 is in the Archivio di Stato, Florence, and was published by Cristina Acidini Luchinat, “Niccolò Gaddi collezionista e dilettante del Cinquecento”, in Paragone, nos. 359-361, January - March 1980, pp. 153-75, especially p. 162.
7. He owned antique statues and vases, 2,700 medals, 9 clocks, 1,400 books and manuscripts, around 40 musical instruments and at the time of his death Niccolò’s collection comprised of some 200 paintings.
8. The portrait of Sinibaldo as a baby was formerly attributed to Santi di Tito but was considered by Zeri to be by an anonymous Florentine artist working in the second half of the 16th century (location unknown; Fondazione Zeri Fototeca n. 37479). The portrait of Sinibaldo as a toddler was also attributed to Santi di Tito when it was with Colnaghi, London, in 1978, and sold, London, Christie’s, 11 December 1987, lot 124 (see fig. 1 here).
9. The portrait of Emilia as a little girl was attributed to Santi di Tito when it was with Colnaghi, London, in 1978, and sold, London, Christie’s, 11 December 1987, lot 123 (see fig. 2 here). A full-length portrait of Emilia, also by Santi di Tito, was offered in these Rooms on 6 July 2011, lot 6 (where erroneously identified as Lucrezia).
10. Formerly in a private collection, Arezzo, and subsequently on the art market in Rome, 1985 (Fondazione Zeri Fototeca n. 34563).
11. In 1586-90 Niccolò commissioned contemporary Florentine artists – Giovan Battista Paggi, Giambattista Naldini, Santi di Tito and Girolamo Macchietti – to paint portraits of the Medici for the Uffizi.
12. Michele di Jacopo Tosini is better known as ‘Michele di Ridolfo’: Vasari tells us that Michele took his master’s name because Ridolfo loved him like a father.
13. The trompe l’oeil sculpted style of the inscription - as well as the abbreviation of Agnolo to ‘Agn’ with a small triangle afterwards - point to the inscription on the portraits of Taddeo, Giovanni and Sinibaldo as a toddler being by one and the same hand. The inscription on the portraits of Sinibaldo as a baby and Emilia would appear to have been done together, in a slightly different style: the letters are written in block capitals, without the trompe l’oeil sculpted effect, and any abbreviations are shown as superscript capitals.
14. See J. Meyer zur Capellen, op. cit., pp. 284-90, cat. nos. 42 and 43, both reproduced.
15. Agnolo Doni was born in 1474 into a Florentine family of dyers and would have been a near-contemporary of Giovanni Gaddi’s father Taddeo. He was a wealthy citizen who almost certainly knew the Gaddis through banking, if not through personal connections.
16. G. Poggi, eds. P. Barocchi & R. Ristori, Il Carteggio di Michelangelo, vol. III, Florence 1973, pp. 367-68.
17. Pope Clement VII urged Michelangelo to return to Rome to paint The Last Judgement in the Sistine Chapel, a work he only completed in 1534-36 after his definitive move to Rome and Pope Clement’s death.
18. Poggi, Barocchi & Ristori, op. cit., p. 367.
19. J. Dunkerton, “Michelangelo as a Painter on Panel. VII. The Painting Technique of the Entombment”, in M. Hirst & J. Dunkerton, Making & Meaning. The Young Michelangelo. The Artist in Rome 1496-1501, exhibition catalogue, London, National Gallery, 19 October 1994 - 15 January 1995, p. 116. Such brushes were known to have been in use by the 17th century. See also Il Tondo Doni di Michelangelo e il suo restauro, exhibition catalogue, Florence, Galleria degli Uffizi (Sala della Niobe), 7 December 1985, p. 58.
20. For the Raphael see Meyer zur Capellen, ibid., p. 297, and for the Michelangelo see Il Tondo Doni (op. cit.), p. 57.
21. See D. Bertani et al., “Andrea del Sarto in riflettografia”, in Andrea del Sarto 1486-1530. Dipinti e disegni a Firenze, exhibition catalogue, Florence, Palazzo Pitti, 8 November 1986 - 1 March 1987, pp. 341 ff.
22. It is tempting to link the present portrait with a ‘ritratto di uomo giovine’ in Volpi’s collection, attributed by him to Ridolfo Ghirlandaio, but this has been convincingly identified with Giuliano Bugiardini’s Portrait of Leonardo de’ Ginori in the National Gallery of Art, Washington (see R. Ferrazza, Palazzo Davanzati e le Collezioni di Elia Volpi, Florence 1994, p. 94).
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