PROPERTY FROM A PRIVATE COLLECTION
In his celebrated Museo Optico of 1725 the biographer and painter Palomino recorded that Velázquez painted the Majordomo to Pope Innocent X, and it was Cruzada Villaamil in 1885 who first established the clear link between Palomino’s reference and the present work. As Maggiordomo to His Holiness Pope Innocent X, Cristoforo Segni was a high-ranking member of the clergy appointed by the Pope to oversee the apostolic palaces. Segni was one of the first members of the Pope’s entourage with whom Velázquez came into contact, for as recorded by Palomino, the artist stayed at Segni’s family house in Bologna in 1649 during his journey to Rome. Segni was also a patron of the sculptor Alessandro Algardi, from whom Velázquez had commissioned works on behalf of Philip IV, and as such the two had various matters in common.
Velázquez had come to Rome in May 1649, bearing paintings as gifts for Innocent X on the occasion of his Jubilee, which began on the 25 December 1649.1 This was his second visit to Italy, following an earlier trip in 1629-31. He reached Rome via Genoa, Milan, Venice and Florence, but once in the Eternal City his stay was interrupted only by visits to Naples and Gaeta in June-July 1649 and again in March 1650. He did not leave again for Madrid until 1651, but his work in Rome in that year was probably confined only to official business. There is no doubt that this short period represents the first unquestioned highpoint of his art, when his creativity and sheer technical virtuosity reached new peaks. The exact chronology of Velázquez’s Roman portraits is not known for certain, but they were presumably all painted in a very short period between his arrival in May 1649 and November 1650. If we are to believe his biographer Palomino, his first work was a portrait of his mulatto servant Juan de Pareja (New York, Metropolitan Museum, fig. 1). Perhaps, as Palomino suggests, this was intended as an exercise in portraiture from the life in a city where his work was almost unknown.2 In any event this magnificent likeness, with its astonishing intensity of expression and bravura yet restrained technique caused universal admiration when exhibited at the Pantheon in 1650. Whether from the success of this work or more likely from the access Velázquez had to the Papal court as a result of his position as painter to the King of Spain, it was soon followed by his portrait of Pope Innocent X himself (Rome, Galleria Doria Pamphilij, fig. 2). This was presumably Velázquez’s first ‘official’ commission in Rome, and may have been commissioned by the King himself. This exceptional masterpiece won universal admiration – even the Pontiff himself admitted that the piercing likeness was almost “too truthful”. Sir Joshua Reynolds writing over a century later would describe it as “one of the first portraits in the world” and its position as one of the greatest evocations of position and personality ever achieved remains as true to this day as it was then. Although its design was firmly in a tradition going back through Titian to Raphael, in particular the former’s Portrait of Pope Paul III of 1543 (Naples, Gallerie Nazionale, Capodimonte), its strength and immediacy is won by its remarkable chromatic brilliance, achieved by a subtle range of harmonised crimsons and reds, offset by a brilliant creamy white. Both portraits are said to have been mistaken in real life for their sitters, but while this is no doubt apocryphal, they clearly impressed his contemporaries sufficiently to win Velázquez admission both to the Accademia di San Lucca in January 1650 and subsequently the Congregazione dei Virtuosi in the Pantheon. To this day they remain without doubt among his very greatest works. If one were to add to them the celebrated Toilet of Venus (London, National Gallery, fig. 3), better known as the ‘Rokeby’ Venus after a later owner, which some critics also believe to have been painted while Velázquez was in Rome rather than just prior to his stay there, then it would be quite reasonable to claim these as the most remarkable and important years of the painter’s career.3 As it was, Velázquez had few if any rivals as a court portraitist in Rome at the time of the Papal jubilee. His greatest contemporaries in terms of portraiture were both sculptors – Gianlorenzo Bernini and Alessandro Algardi – and within a short while he enjoyed enormous respect and prestige and his assimilation into the artistic life of the city Rome was complete.
This portrait of Cristoforo Segni belongs to a small group of likenesses of sitters drawn from the ranks of the papal court that no doubt followed on from the success of the portrait of Innocent himself. These include those of the Pope’s adopted nephew Cardinal Camillo Astalli, known as Cardinal Pamphilij (New York, Hispanic Society of America, fig. 4) and Monsignor Camillo Massimi (National Trust, Bankes Collection, Kingston Lacy, fig. 5). Cardinal Astalli’s portrait can be dated to shortly after September 1650, when he was raised to the purple. Like Segni, the papal Chamberlain Massimi was a friend of the artist, and a man of considerable learning as well as a collector, who would eventually come to own no less than six works by Velázquez himself.4 The stylistic and compositional parallels between these works and that of the Pope are quite clear. The design of Segni’s portrait is clearly indebted, albeit in reverse, to that of Innocent X, with the sitter seated in a chair and holding a letter. In terms of colour and handling, and indeed character, the portrait comes closer to those of Cardinal Pamphilij and to that of Massimi in particular. Velázquez’s portrayal of the heads of these two far from handsome men is immediately striking. Their black birettas and blue camariere segreti are set off against a dull crimson chair adorned with gold braid, enlivened with the sharp contrast with the white of collar or sleeves. Their features are constructed with no outline or drawing, and through colour alone Velázquez creates the impression of keen and intelligent men, whose gaze is piercing yet still friendly. Though none of these works ever quite matched the sheer brilliance of Juan de Pareja or Innocent X, they remain eloquent testament to Velázquez’s newfound maturity and complete mastery of style.
Aside from his own workshop activities in Madrid, Velázquez is not known to have ever collaborated with another artist. Palomino named only Velázquez as the painter of Segni’s portrait, and the sitter holds in his right hand a letter indicating Velázquez’s authorship including a signature in the shadow of the sitter’s thumb. Squeezed below it, in a space not obviously intended for inscription and seemingly as an afterthought, Neri’s name is also inscribed. The genesis of the commission is not known, but leading scholars think it likely that the work was conceived entirely by Velázquez with the composition and figure of Segni mapped out by him. Velázquez is certainly responsible for the execution of the head of the Maggiordomo; the painterly modelling and characterful expression also strongly indicating that it was painted dal vivo. It seems possible that the portrait was left unfinished on Velázquez’s departure from Rome, requiring its completion by another artist (in this case one that had a close association with Velázquez), rather than having been planned from the start as a work by both painters. The first time that the names of the two painters are mentioned together is when they both attended a meeting of the congregation of the Virtuosi al Pantheon that took place on 9 March 1650. This was a society founded in Rome in the sixteenth century, whose artist members – the virtuosi – were painters, sculptors and architects. Their aim was to carry out charitable works and promote the fine arts to the glory of the faith. Velázquez is recorded as participating in the congregation’s meetings since 22 February of that year. Relatively little is known even about the life of Pietro Martire Neri. A pupil of Malosso in his native Cremona, he spent a period of nearly two decades in Mantua, where he came under the influence of Domenico Fetti (1589-1623), before finally leaving for Rome. He was possibly briefly in Rome around 1629 and is then documented there between 1647 and his death in 1661. Giuseppe Bresciani, in his La virtù ravvivata de Cremonesi insigni pittori, ingegneri &c… of 1665, is the first to document his association with the Spanish painter. The precise nature of his relationship and of his work with Velázquez is unclear.
The four painted portraits by Neri now known are all closely dependent upon Velázquez’s of Innocent X and certainly the present work echoes the overall mise-en-scène of the Doria Pamphilj painting, although the conventional pose does not necessarily confirm the primacy of one or the other. Copies of the latter by Neri survive in the collection of the Marquess of Bute at Mount Stuart House in Scotland5 and in the Escorial in Madrid, where the same figure is shown full-length with an attendant cleric (fig. 6).6 The prelate in the latter has tentatively been identified as Monsignor Pietro Vidoni (1610-1681) on the basis of an engraving after Neri of him as a Cardinal in 1660. Vidoni had been summoned to Rome by Innocent X in 1652 before being appointed papal nuncio in Poland, and this portrait may therefore date to this time as well as suggesting that Vidoni himself commissioned the copy. A third copy by Neri, signed and inscribed, was sold London, Christie’s, 9 December 1989, lot 119 (fig. 7). These copies remain the sole evidence we have of Neri’s relationship with Velázquez. The recent attribution of a Portrait of Velázquez in Paris, where the painter is shown with a palette and brush and wearing the robes of the Order of Santiago (to which Velázquez was appointed in 1659) and which is clearly dependent upon the latter’s self-portrait in his celebrated canvas of Las Meninas of 1656 (Madrid, Museo del Prado) seems to be in a looser style than in his signed works and must await further study.7
The precise extent of Velázquez’s involvement in this portrait has been the subject of debate among scholars over the years. Justi praised the quality of the head, while considering the remainder of the portrait to be by Neri, an assessment broadly supported by Mayer, who also accepted the signature as being that of Velázquez. Voss believed the work to be by Velázquez, in particular the head, the inscription and the overall composition, inspired by his celebrated portrait of Pope Innocent X. When exhibited at the Casón del Buen Retiro in 1960–61, the author of the exhibition catalogue suggested the painting was begun by Velázquez and retouched by Neri, who added his name at the bottom of the letter in the sitter’s hand. Harris, however, considered the work to be entirely by Neri: either the painting recorded by Palomino, or after a lost original by Velázquez (although it is unclear as to whether she saw it in the original). López-Rey took a broadly similar view, ascribing the painting in its entirety to Neri, and believing it to be a copy after a lost sketch by the master.
Following the inclusion of the painting in the exhibition at the Grand Palais, Paris, in 2015, the overwhelming consensus amongst scholars today, including Dr. William B. Jordan and Guillaume Kientz, is in support of the authorship by Velázquez and Neri, endorsing opinions previously expressed by Salvator Salort Pons and the late Alfonso Pérez Sánchez. Velázquez’s highly expressive and distinctive brushwork is clearly evident in the head of the sitter. It seems plausible he also painted the collar and some scholars have speculated whether, in addition, he may have painted at least part of the sleeves, while the rest of the costume, the hat, the hands, the chair and curtain7 were probably added or worked up by Neri. The distinctive and fluid rendering of the whites of the sleeves in the painting would certainly seem to reflect the influence of painters such as Domenico Fetti, with whom Neri seems to have been associated during his years in Mantua, and suggest that these parts were in all probability largely by him.
A note on the provenance
During the mid-nineteenth century the painting belonged to the distinguished collection of the Marqués de Salamanca (1811-1883) (fig. 8). A highly successful businessman and financier the Marqués became the Spanish Minister of Finance in 1847. A passionate collector and patron of the arts, he assembled one of the finest private collections of paintings in Spain, which he kept at his newly built mansion, the Palacio de Recoletos in Madrid (fig. 9). First opened to the public in 1858, the paintings collection was largely composed of works from the seventeenth century, principally drawn from the Spanish, Italian Dutch and Flemish schools. These included works by or attributed to Raphael, Reni, Correggio and Mantegna, among them the latter’s Saint Mark today in the Städel in Frankfurt-am-Main. Alongside the Velázquez, his notable Spanish works included Murillo’ series of the Prodigal Son (Dublin, National Gallery of Ireland) as well as Zurbarán’s Annunciation (1650, Philadelphia, Philadelphia Museum of Art), and no less than eight paintings by Goya, including the Bullfight of 1808-12 which he purchased directly from the artist’s son Javier (New York, Metropolitan Museum). The Dutch and Flemish pictures numbered works by or attributed to Pieter Brueghel the Elder, Van Dyck, Teniers and de Hooch, including Rubens’s Wrath of Achilles and Death of Achilles today in the Courtauld Institute in London. His collection of antiquities were housed in the Palacio de Vista Alegre which he acquired in 1859, and the collection of Roman sculpture and Greek and Etruscan objects was later bought en bloc by the Museo Arqueológico Nacional in Madrid. His paintings collection was largely dispersed at auction after he ran into financial difficulties in the 1860s. The Portrait of Cristoforo Segni was included in his first sale in Paris in 1867, when it remained unsold, but was subsequently acquired in his second auction at the Hôtel Drouot in 1875 by Luisa Gonzaléz. A nineteenth-century copy after the painting exists today in a French private collection;8 the copy includes the double signature and seems likely to have been executed at the time of the great Salamanca sales.
At the time of his 1924 monograph, August Mayer stated that this painting was in a Parisian private collection. Twelve years later the same author named the owner of the painting as the Duchesse de Dreyfus-Gonzales [sic]. The most likely identification for the Duchess would be Anne de Talleyrand Périgord, Duchess de Premio Real (1877-1945), the wife of Auguste Dreyfus's second son Edouard Dreyfus-Gonzalez, Duke of Premio Real (1846-1941). It is possible that the painting went unsold at the Dreyfus sale of 1889 and remained in the Dreyfus-Gonzalez collection until it is recorded there in the 1930s. It is not amongst the paintings sold from the Dreyfus-Gonzalez collection in Paris on the 8th June 1896. At the time of the Madrid exhibition of 1960/61 it was said that the lender had recently acquired the picture from the Duchess de Dreyfus-Gonzalez which may indicate that it remained in the possession of the family until that time, perhaps in the collection of the Duchesses sister Félicie de Talleyrand Perigord, Marquise de Villahermosa (1878-1981). López-Rey (see Literature) cites a specific date of the 3 March 1958 as the point of sale, but if this were an auction then no catalogue of it has yet been found.
1. There is no indication whether these included any of his own works.
2. An exception would be his Portrait of the Count Duke of Olivares painted in Madrid for Cardinal Barberini in 1624.
3. His own portrait, that of Donna Olimpia, and portraits of the Spanish King and Queen and the two Infantas, the last three probably acquired when he was Papal Nuncio in Madrid between 1654 and 1658.
4. J. Lopez-Rey, Velázquez. A catalogue raisonne of his Oeuvre, 1963, p. 274, no. 44, reproduced plate 363.
5. J. Lopez-Rey, 1963, p. 272, no. 445, plate 361.
6. Exhibited Paris 2015, no. 114, as with Galerie Canesso, Paris.
7. The curtain has suffered damage in the past, perhaps during an earlier campaign of restoration, and this area has now been partially reconstructed during recent restoration.
8. Salort Pons 2002, reproduced in colour on p. 373, plate 1.
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