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. 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 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.
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