Lot 6
  • 6

SEBASTIANO LUCIANI, CALLED SEBASTIANO DEL PIOMBO | Portrait of a man in armour, said to be Ippolito de' Medici

1,000,000 - 1,500,000 GBP
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  • Follower of Sebastiano Luciani del Piombo
  • Portrait of a man in armour, said to be Ippolito de' Medici
  • oil on slate
  • 47.5 x 36 cm.; 18 7/8  x 14 1/8  in.


Count Giuseppe Canera di Salasco, Villa Franceschini Pasini Canera di Salasco di Arcugnano, Vicenza, Italy;  His deceased sale, Milan, Finarte, 25 February 1986, lot 103 (as Venetian School, 17th century, Portrait of a Warrior);

Where acquired by the present owner.


A. Ballarin, 'Un nuovo ritratto su lavagna di Sebastiano del Piombo', in Nuovi Studi, Rivista di arte antica e moderna, vol. 21, 2015, pp. 71–80, reproduced in colour pls XV, XVI, and XVII and figs 108–09, 114, 121, 124, 130 and 132–33 (as depicting Cardinal Ippolito de' Medici); A. Cerasuolo, 'Osservazioni sulla tecnica di Sebastiano del Piombo', in Nuovi Studi, 21, 2015, pp. 81–86; 

P. Baker-Bates, ''Uno nuovo modo di colorire in pietra': Technical Experimentation in the Art of Sebastiano del Piombo', in P. Baker-Bates and E. M. Calvillo (eds), Almost Eternal: Painting on Stone and Material Innovation in Early Modern Europe, Art and Material Culture in Medieval and Renaissance Europe, vol. 10, April 2018, pp. 53, and 64, reproduced p. 54, fig. 1.4 (incorrectly listed by the publisher as attributed to Sebastiano);

P. Baker-Bates, 'Technical Experimentation in the Art of Sebastiano del Piombo: Further Thoughts', forthcoming (as by Sebastiano del Piombo). 


The following condition report is provided by Simon Folkes who is an external specialist and not an employee of Sotheby's: Sebastiano del Piombo Portrait of a man, said to be Ippolito de'Medici. Oil on slate. 47.5 x 36 cm. 18 7/8 x 14 1/8 in. Support The painting is on a single piece of lightly polished slate with a rough surface on the reverse. With the exception of a feint diagonal line running up from the lower left side across the face between the nose and the mouth and into the background on the right, the surface is completely flat and undamaged. Paint layers The condition of the paint layers is generally very good although a little thin in places. The artist has prepared the slate surface with a warm pale orange-red ground colour, clearly visible at the lower left side, before painting in the grey background colour across the whole painting. The portrait has then been applied over the grey background and this colour can be seen bleeding through the hair, face and beard where the upper layers have been thinned, probably during previous cleaning cycles. These areas of thinness have largely been left alone during the most recent restoration but there are a scattering of small retouchings across the painting which can most clearly be seen under UV light. These can be found in the hair, beard and in the neck directly below the beard as well as in the background at the upper left corner. A longer and broader line of earlier overpaint runs up from the sitter's ear along the hair line to the point where it reaches the top of his visible forehead. Otherwise the painting is in a remarkably good state of preservation. Varnish coating The painting has an even and transparent coat of varnish with traces of an earlier coat in the crown of the hair which fluoresces slightly when examined under UV.
"This lot is offered for sale subject to Sotheby's Conditions of Business, which are available on request and printed in Sotheby's sale catalogues. The independent reports contained in this document are provided for prospective bidders' information only and without warranty by Sotheby's or the Seller."

Catalogue Note

Painted on slate in the first half of the 1530s, this portrait by Sebastiano del Piombo is an extremely rare addition to his corpus of works. Sebastiano was one of the foremost figures of the Italian High Renaissance: he was a pupil of Giorgione, an ally of Michelangelo, and a rival to Raphael. The picture is also one of the very first paintings on slate, since Sebastiano was the pioneer in the use of this novel and unusual support. The artist’s Venetian formation in the ambit of Giovanni Bellini and Giorgione imbued him with a sense of colour which he was to blend seamlessly with more classical elements that he later encountered in Rome. He had moved there in 1511 in the retinue of the Sienese banker Agostino Chigi and it was in the Città Eterna that he came into contact with Raphael and Michelangelo, forming a very close friendship with the latter and on numerous occasions making use of his drawings and cartoons for his own painted works. After Raphael’s death in 1520, Sebastiano was the most celebrated painter in Rome, employed by both the aristocracy and successive popes. He excelled in particular in portraiture, a field in which Giorgio Vasari specifically described him as having no equal. The portrait reworks Sebastiano's earlier masterpiece (fig. 1) from 1510–12 at the Wadsworth Atheneum, Hartford.1 Shown half-length, a bearded man in armour gazes directly at the viewer, handsome, confident and powerful. It is one of the best portraits of the Italian High Renaissance and helped establish Sebastiano's reputation. The early history of the Wadsworth picture is not known, so we cannot know whether Sebastiano had direct access to it while working on the subsequent slate or whether, more likely, he made use of an earlier drawing. Painted some twenty years after the Wadsworth portrait, the present work on slate shows how Sebastiano's style had evolved. The design now zooms into the head and shoulders alone and, in keeping with the aesthetic mood of the 1530s, a more mannered approach to the execution is evidenced by the elongated neck and the intensity of expression. Another example of Sebastiano reworking an earlier portrait was recently found in the Doria Pamphilj collection: in the case of the latter, Sebastiano's 1525 three-quarter-length portrait of the Genoese Admiral Andrea Doria, housed in the same collection, was used as the prototype on which the later slate was based and slightly altered in mood, just as in the present work.2 A further example of the artist taking a detail of an earlier portrait and reworking it on slate is the unfinished portrait of Clement VII, in Naples, which reproduces just the head of the half-length portrait on canvas of the same sitter at the the Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna.3

Sebastiano painted on a wide range of supports during his long career, including canvas and panel and in the medium of fresco. Among his most famous works are the frescoes at San Pietro in Montorio in Rome, as well as those painted for Santa Maria della Pace, Rome, and now at Alnwick Castle.4 Arguably his most important contribution to the field, however, was the introduction of stone as a support.5 The earliest mention of Sebastiano's use of stone dates to 8 June 1530 in a letter from Vittore Soranzo, the Venetian papal secretary, to Pietro Bembo, the future cardinal:

'You should know that our little Sebastiano the Venetian has found the secret with which to paint in oils on marble in the most beautiful fashion which will make his paintings little less than eternal. As soon as the colours are dry these unite with the marble as if they were turned to stone; every test has been tried and it has proved durable.'

Sebastiano took to his new support with gusto: an inventory of the contents of the artist's studio after his death lists no fewer than 37 paintings on various types of stone. The Nativity, from circa 1530, in Santa Maria del Popolo, Rome, is painted on peperino, a local Roman stone, while the Ubedà Pietà, from 1534–39, is painted on slate, which would have come from further afield in Liguria.6 Several other religious works from the 1530s are painted on slate, including various treatments of Christ carrying the Cross and the Madonna del Velo in Naples.7 Other examples of portraits on slate survive, including one of the Florentine politician Baccio Valori at the Palazzo Pitti (fig. 2), two of Pope Clement VII, as well as the unfinished double portrait of Pope Paul III and a nephew, in Parma.8 The portrait of Valori in Florence shows a similar economy of detail to the present work. The directness of the expression and the personality of the sitter are the focus, with the clothing – or in the case of the present work, the armour – just elements to contextualise the wealth or status of the sitter. The flashes of detail seen in the fold of Valori's sleeve are in the present work echoed in the light reflected in the armour. 

The sitter is undoubtedly the same man as the one seen in the portrait formerly in the Piasecka Johnson collection in Philadelphia.9 Professor Alessandro Ballarin has recently proposed that he should be identified as Cardinal Ippolito de' Medici, the nephew of Pope Leo X and cousin of Pope Clement VII. He was to become papal legate as well as Vice-Chancellor of the Holy Roman Curia, perhaps the most lucrative post in all the curia. Between 1524–27 he ruled Florence on behalf of his cousin Giulio, when in 1523 the latter was elected Pope Clement VII. Ballarin specifically compares the likeness of the sitter with Titian's Portrait of Ippolito de' Medici in Hungarian costume from 1532 at the Pitti, Florence, as well as the double portrait of Monsignor Mario Bracci and Ippolito de' Medici by Girolamo da Carpi, at the National Gallery, London.10 The present sitter certainly shares similarities with the depictions of Ippolito, though perhaps the hair, the cheek bones and the jawlines do not entirely match.

The attribution has also been endorsed by Keith Christiansen and David Ekserdjian.

1 C. Strinati (ed.), Sebastiano del Piombo, 1485–1547, exh. cat., Rome 2008, pp. 148–49, cat. no. 23, reproduced in colour.

2 A.G. De Marchi, Collezione Doria Pamphilj, Catalogo generale dei dipinti, Cinisello Balsamo 2016, pp. 341–42, cat. nos FC671 and FC791, both reproduced in colour.
3 For the slate head, see Ballarin 2015, plate 117.
4 Strinati in Rome 2008, pp. 248–52, cat. no. 65, reproduced.
5 For a fuller discussion of Sebastiano's pioneering work on stone, see P. Baker-Bates in M. Wivel (ed.), Michelangelo & Sebastiano, exh. cat., London 2017, pp. 80–85.
6 Strinati in Rome 2008, pp. 226–29, cat. no. 55, reproduced in colour, and pp. 240–41, cat. no. 61, reproduced in colour.
7 For the three versions of Christ carrying the Cross see Strinati in Rome 2008, pp. 236–37, cat. no. 59, reproduced; pp. 238–39, cat. no. 60, reproduced; and pp. 244–45, cat. no. 63, reproduced.
8 Ballarin 2015, plate 111.
9 Strinati in Rome 2008, pp. 198–99, cat. no. 42, reproduced in colour, and Ballarin 2015, pl. 125.
10 Ballarin 2015, plates 119 and 120.