In this double portrait, a fashionably dressed young man examines the architectural plans of a church. An older man wearing simpler dress appears from behind and seems to surprise his younger companion. He reaches for the young man’s measuring compass as if he intends to demonstrate a lesson or correct an error. Under the table a dog accompanies the two men.
Gentlemen in sixteenth-century Italy considered architecture an essential component of their education. This portrait likely represents the duke of Parma Ottavio Farnese and his military architect Francesco De Marchi. The two men were especially close during the Siege of Parma in 1551–52, and the dog symbolizes their loyalty. The painting is the first signed and dated work of the Florentine Maso da San Friano.