A middle-aged man is reading in a popular Savonorola, or X-shaped folding chair with curved arms. His fashionable black doublet, or outer jacket, blankets the entirety of his bulky frame. Underneath he wears a patterned white shirt with ruffled cuffs and a flamboyant collar with large, dangling tassels. Behind him an anonymous figure, perhaps a domestic servant, exits the room carrying a white platter.

The artist and subject of this admirable portrait are frustratingly difficult to determine. The sitter’s identity has been improbably proposed as Christopher Columbus and more convincingly as Giovan Battista Castaldi, a military officer for the Holy Roman Empire. Traditionally ascribed to Parmigianino, this optimistic attribution can be discarded in favor of another Emilian painter familiar with the master’s style—perhaps Girolamo da Carpi or Michelangelo Anselmi.


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