SEBASTIANO MARSILI | PORTRAIT OF ALESSANDRA DI VIERI DE’ MEDICI (B. 1549) AT AGE 32 WITH HER SON OTTAVIANO (B. 1577), THREE-QUARTER LENGTH
Active in Florence in the second half of the 16th Century
PORTRAIT OF ALESSANDRA DI VIERI DE’ MEDICI (B. 1549) AT AGE 32 WITH HER SON OTTAVIANO (B. 1577), THREE-QUARTER LENGTH
inscribed on the reverse: ALESANDRA / DI VERI DE MEDICI, DI ANNI XXXII LANNO / MDLXXXI / fatto per mano di Bastiano / Marsilij
oil on panel
32¼ by 23⅞ in.; 82 by 60.6 cm.
The panel is stable and consists of a single board with two horizontal battens on the reverse. The painting presents a strong image with some of the details like the sheer veil and costume jewels well preserved. Some stable craquelure is visible here and there, like at center by the chest and neck of the sitter, and scattered in the background. Minor abrasions with associated loss are on the top edge as a result of framing. The top left corner appears to have an area of loss. Inspection under UV reveals a dirty surface with some minor retouching to address the craquelure. The varnish fluoresces differently in center left and bottom right quadrant. Offered in a giltwood frame with some decorations on the liner.
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Anonymous sale, Vienna, Dorotheum, 17 April 2013, lot 633, for €201,600.
This captivating painting, which was recently added to Sebastiano Marsili's oeuvre, is one of the few, if not the only known portrait of Alessandra de' Medici, the daughter of Attilio de' Medici. The identities of both the sitter and the artist are indicated by an inscription on the back of this panel.
Autograph paintings by Marsili are very rare. Aside from this portrait, Marsili is known to have contributed to the wall decorations of the Studiolo of Francesco I in the Palazzo Vecchio, Florence1 and to the illustrations of Raffaello Gualterotti's book commemorating the marriage between Francesco I de’ Medici and Bianca Cappello.2 His participation in these illustrations is recorded through an inscription that shares a similar Roman-style font to the one used to present Alessandra's name and age in this panel, making it likely that this work was inscribed by Marsili himself.3
During Marsili's time in the Studiolo of Francesco I, he collaborated with Alessandro Allori (1535 - 1607), whose influence on Marsili can be seen here. Stylistic similarities can be drawn between the present work and Allori's portraits depicting Bianca Cappello (both the one in the Dallas Museum of Art and another in the Galleria Palatina ed Appartamenti Reali at the Palazzo Pitti, Florence).4 In all three paintings, the sitters are shown with the same up-do hairstyle, accessorized by a veil that cascades from behind. Furthermore, Allori's portrait in the Palazzo Pitti and this one both include a dark red carnation tucked into the sitter's elegantly bejeweled bodice.
The carnation in Alessandra's bodice is a symbol of her love and devotion to her husband, Vieri (Veri) di Niccolò di Tanai de’ Medici (1527 - circa 1600), the Provveditore Generale delle Fabbriche for the Medici. She is portrayed here with one of their sons, probably Ottaviano, who was born on 22 March 1577. Since the only record of a surviving offspring is between Vieri and his second wife, Alessandra probably died shortly after this commemorative portrait was made.
When this painting sold in 2013 (see Provenance), both Professor Elizabeth Pilliod and Professor Mina Gregori endorsed independently the attribution to Sebastiano Marsili.
1. For the Studiolo of Francesco I in the Museo di Palazzo Vecchio, Florence, Sebastiano Marsili painted Atalanta and Hippomenes. Oil on panel, 117 by 67 cm., inv. no. 6337 - 1890.
2. R. Gualterotti, Feste nelle nozze del serenissimo don Francesco Medici gran dvca di Toscana; et della sereniss. sua consorte la sig. Bianca Cappello, Florence 1579.
3. Ibid., plate at the right of p. 12.
4. Oil on canvas, 128.42 by 100.48 cm., inv. no. 1987.11.; Oil on canvas, 66 by 51 cm., inv. no. 2317 / 1890.