Anonymous sale ('Property from a European Private Collection'), London, Sotheby's, 17 December 1998, lot 57;
There purchased by the present owner.
A native of Modena, Nicolò dell'Abate (called Nicolò da Modena), is perhaps best known for painting decorative schemes of mythological subjects as palazzo decoration: his first commission was to fresco the façade of the Beccherie (Slaughterhouse) in Modena along with Alberto Fontana, and it is there that he proudly signed the painting of San Gimignano Between Two Angels. Around 1540 he is known to have frescoed scenes from Virgil's Aeneid in the study of the castello of the Boiardo family at Scandiano, near Modena, now much damaged but still there in part. It is also at this time that dell'Abate absorbed both the influence of Dosso Dossi, an artist favored by the influential Alfonso I d'Este, and of Parmigianino, whose elegant and fluid forms had a great impact on dell'Abate's developing mannerist style: 'Parve che niuno potesse sottrarsi all'incanto di quel serpeggiar di linee, di quell'ondeggiare di corpi smilzi e snelli' (A. Venturi, Storia dell'Arte Italiana, vol. IX, Part VI, Milan 1933, pp. 585-6). Dell'Abate's trip to Bologna in 1547 also brought him into contact with the works of Francesco Salviati, Giorgio Vasari and, most importantly, Parmigianino. The next five years in that city would prove to be crucial in developing dell'Abate's art and would lead to his appointment as Francesco Primaticcio's assistant, thus taking him to Henri II's château at Fontainbleau, where he would become one of the most significant 'imported' artists of the school of painting established there.
An active member of the French court at Fontainbleau, dell'Abate was also involved in numerous portrait commissions both before and after he arrived there, and it is in this genre, excluding his frescoes, that the artist truly excels. His portrait style takes its inspiration from Parmigianino's sinuous lines, to which he adds a delicate and harmonious palette. Compare his Portrait of a Young Man in the Kunsthistorisches Musuem, Vienna (inv. no. 6114), where the elegance of the figure, immaculatley dressed and also wearing a plumed hat, is offset by the curious juxtaposition of a parrot in the foreground. In this portrait, the simplicity of the design sets off the protagonist against a dark background, the soft colors of his doublet and sleeves playing gently in the foreground, and the freely painted plume in his hat and helmet adding softness to the otherwise austere outlines of the figure.
In a letter to the owners of the picture when last sold (see Provenance), Professor Federico Zeri confirmed the attribution to dell'Abate, and suggested a date of execution around 1550, before Nicolò's arrival in France in 1552.
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