Master Paintings

Master Paintings

View full screen - View 1 of Lot 10. Portrait of a young lady holding a small book.

Property from a West Coast Private Collector

Roman artist working in the ambit of Caravaggio, circa 1590-1610

Portrait of a young lady holding a small book

Auction Closed

May 25, 03:13 PM GMT


60,000 - 80,000 USD

Lot Details


Property from a West Coast Private Collector

Roman artist working in the ambit of Caravaggio, circa 1590-1610

Portrait of a Young Lady Holding a Small Book

oil on canvas

canvas: 18 by 22⅜ in.; 45.7 by 56.8 cm.

framed: 29⅜ by 34⅜ in.; 74.6 by 87.3 cm.

Florence art market;

There acquired by Charles Henfrey (1818-1891), Villa Clara, Lake Como, 1860 (according to a label on the verso);

Possibly by inheritance to his brother, George Henfrey (1823-1916), Tregey, Wales;

With Arthur Tooth & Sons Ltd., London;

With Frank Partridge & Sons Ltd., London;

From whom acquired by a private collector;

By whom anonymously sold ("The Property of a Lady"), London, Sotheby's, 21 June 1961, lot 16 (as J. Sustermans);

There acquired by J. Paul Getty (1892-1976), Sutton Place, Guildford;

By whom bequeathed to the J. Paul Getty Museum, Malibu (71.PA.13, Florentine School, 17th Century);

By whom deaccessioned and sold, Los Angeles, Sotheby Parke Bernet, 6 November 1978, lot 4 (as Florentine School, circa 1600);

There acquired by the present owner.

B. Frederickson, Catalogue of the Paintings in the J. Paul Getty Museum, Malibu 1972, vol. 1, p. 42, cat. no. 44 (as Florentine School, ca. 1600);

F. Moro, forthcoming article in Filo d'Arianna, Raccolta di studi di storia dell'arte 1, no. 2 (as Orazio Gentileschi).


This alluring and attractive portrait was probably painted by an artist working in Rome around the turn of the sixteenth century in the orbit of the young Caravaggio. As is not uncommon for portraits produced in Italy at this time, the elegant painting (which has been published only once) cannot yet be securely attributed to a specific artist. However, the work’s quality—particularly evident in the facial modeling and precision of expression—is undeniable.

The work’s refined beauty and the sitter’s lavish gold-embroidered dress, white ruff, and pearl accessories certainly owe a debt to Florentine court portraiture. Yet the woman’s penetrating gaze, rendered with psychological intensity, possesses greater affinities with paintings produced by artists working in Rome around 1600. The face’s naturalistic treatment, achieved through subtle gradations of light and shade, speaks to Caravaggio’s influence on the portrait’s creator.

Portraits produced at this date remain difficult to attribute with certainty and this work was long connected with Justus Sustermans. Both Franco Moro and Yuri Primarosa independently suggested that the painting shows stylistic affinities with a very young Orazio Gentileschi, active in Rome already at the end of the sixteenth century. Other names that have been associated with the portrait include Giovanni Baglione, Ottavio Leoni, and Scipione Pulzone. The difference in handling between the sitter’s refined visage and sumptuous attire, in fact, suggests the painting may have been a collaborative endeavor.

The portrait’s provenance is also noteworthy. Its first known owner was Sir Charles Henfrey, a British engineer and Old Master paintings enthusiast; his collection included Moretto da Brescia’s Portrait of Court Fortunato Martinengo (London, National Gallery, inv. no. NG 299), among other works now in museums. The Scottish-born Henfrey lived in India (founding the Eastern Bengal Railway Company) and later in Italy (establishing the Victoria Mining Company), where he entertained members of the European and British elite in his neo-gothic home, Villa Clara (now Villa Branca) on Lago Maggiore in Baveno. Indeed, Queen Victoria and her daughter Beatrice visited for a month in the spring of 1879. As a token of gratitude for Henfrey’s hospitality, Victoria gave him a still life that she painted.1 Following Henfrey’s death in 1891, the painting passed through the hands of several London dealers. The oil tycoon and discerning collector, J. Paul Getty, acquired it at Sotheby’s, London, in 1961. Ten years later, he bequeathed it to his eponymous museum; thereafter it was purchased by the current owner.

1 Sold Salisbury, Woolley & Wallis, 11-12 August 2021, lot 777.