Bernardino de' Conti was one of the leading portrait painters in Milan at the end of the fifteenth and beginning of the sixteenth centuries, and numbered many of the city's most prominent families among his patrons. This painting is one of a group of portraits showing sitters at three-quarter length against distinctive striped backgrounds, some of which have associations with the noble Milanese family of Trivulzio. These include a portrait of the famous condottiere
Gian Giacomo Trivulzio, still in the family collection, which is inscribed with the identity of the sitter, and which can be dated to 1518. A second Portrait of a Gentleman
, which is in the Detroit Institute of Arts and can perhaps be dated to 1520 from its inscription, has also been attributed to Bernardino. That painting was first recorded in the collections of Princess Mathilde Bonaparte (1820–1904), the niece of Napoleon, where it was traditionally (?) described as 'Prince Trivulzio', but there is no other support for this identification other than the similarity of style with the portrait of Gian Giacomo Trivulzio. Because of its similar dimensions, it has been claimed that the present portrait is a pendant to that in Detroit, but it was not included in the Bonaparte sale in Paris in 1904, and this must therefore remain conjectural. A better candidate would be the last portrait in the group, another Portrait of a Gentleman
sold Florence, Pandolfini, 16 May 2017, lot 66. This is also on panel of a very similar size (108 x 77.5 cm.) and shares the same inscription and symbols along the lower edge of the picture as the present lot. The distinctive heraldic stripes in the background here and their recurrence in each of these latter three portraits may well indicate a common family origin or commission.
However, although there is no doubt that Bernardino had maintained strong connections with the Trivulzio family ever since he painted the portrait of Castellano Trivulzio
in 1505 (New York, Brooklyn Art Museum), the colours here are not theirs.1
We are grateful to Dottoressa Maria Teresia Fiorio for her help with the cataloguing of this lot.
1 Trutty-Coohill 1982, p. 136, suggested that they are the colours of the French royal family, for whom both Gian Giacomo Trivulzio and his natural son Camillo fought during the Italian wars. Passoni 2013 accepts neither this nor the Trivulzio association, and doubts the attribution to Bernardino of the three portraits with this feature.