The gentleman wears a padded doublet over a white shirt with a ruffled collar that is embroidered with an intricate knot pattern. The doublet is elaborately embellished with guards – vertical bands of velvet ribbon sewn onto the fabric. He is wrapped in a cloak that is lined with what is likely to be Siberian fox; the fur is rendered with exceptional care and is very finely preserved. Jane Bridgeman, a dress and textile historian, has pointed out analogies with the clothing depicted in the Portrait of Prospero Alessandri by Giovanni Battista Moroni (c. 1521/24–1579/80), dated to about 1560 (Princely Collections of Liectenstein, Vaduz and Vienna).1 On the basis of the style of dress, the portrait cannot have been painted before 1560. The portrait’s striking realism is enhanced by the lighting, which casts the sitter’s shadow onto a plain background, adding to the illusion of depth.
Opinion over the attribution is divided. There is a lack of consensus over where this portrait was painted, with some scholars seeing it as northern European and others as North Italian. One possibility is that the sitter himself may not be Italian, although he wears Italian dress.2 Another suggestion is that this may be an instance of a work by a painter – perhaps from Eastern Europe – familiar with the style of Anthonis Mor (c. 1516/21–1576/77). A more convincing artistic context for this painting may be found in Lombardy. On the basis of a photograph, Simone Facchinetti has proposed a compelling analogy with a comparable portrait of a bearded man in the Borromeo Collection on the Isola Bella, Lago Maggiore, a work that is datable to the third quarter of the sixteenth century and attributed to an anonymous Lombard artist in a recent publication on the collection.3 The two portraits resemble one another both in the manner in which the head is painted – particularly in the way the hair is built up with separate strokes – and in the detailed rendering of fabric. Simone Facchinetti went on to suggest as a working hypothesis a possible attribution to the Brescian artist Francesco Ricchino (c. 1518–1573), a painter who trained under Moretto (c. 1492/95–1554) and later in the mid-sixteenth century worked in Germany, notably in Dresden, where he was influenced by northern examples; this intriguing idea needs further investigation, not least because what is known of Ricchino’s work as a portraitist (albeit of later date) differs stylistically.4 For Mauro Natale the closest reference point is the work of Moroni of about 1560–70. Albeit that the analogy with the Borromeo portrait is strong, in his opinion the spatial conception of the present work – with shadows projected onto the background – differs from the arrangement of the sitter in the Borromeo painting against a neutral background and accords more with painting in Bergamo and Brescia in about 1560.5 Describing it as very beautiful, Marco Tanzi has recently proposed an attribution to the Cremonese painter Bernardino Campi (1522–1591), on the basis of a series of analogies with other portraits and his characteristic way of painting. In particular, he compares this with a Portrait of a young man, bust-length, which sold at Christie’s, New York, on 28 January 2015, lot 130.6 Following recent first-hand inspection, Keith Christiansen, noting the particularity of the surface concluded that in his opinion the most likely candidate was Cremonese. We are grateful to them all for their opinions.
1. GE 2149; oil on canvas, 104.6 x 83.5 cm. See S. Facchinetti in Giovanni Battista Moroni, exh. cat., Royal Academy of Arts, London 2014, no. 18, reproduced in colour on p. 68.
2. At the collar's corner there appears to be an initial ‘W’, which may indicate the sitter's initial. If this were so, it would suggest that the sitter is not Italian. This would not, of course, preclude a foreigner choosing to wear Italian fashion and sitting for an Italian painter.
3. P. Plebani in A. Morandotti and M. Natale (eds), Collezione Borromeo: La Galleria dei Quadri dell’Isola Bella, Cinisello Balsamo, Milan 2011, p. 190, no. 37, reproduced in colour on p. 191. Written communication, 20 May 2017.
4. Written communication, 22 May 2017.
5. Written communication, 23 May 2017.
6. Portrait of a young man, bust-length: oil on canvas, 62.5 x 46 cm. Written communication, 22 May 2017. As for the Borromeo portrait, in his opinion it is by Antonio Campi and has published it as such before.
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