Sotheby’s, New York, 28 May 1999, lot 44;
Corsini Maison d’Art Antiquaria, Montecarlo
Milan, Koelliker private collection
Ascoli Piceno, Polo di Sant'Agostino, From Tiziano to De Chirico. The search for identity, April – July
2004, n. 6;
Naples, Museo di Capodimonte, Tiziano and court portraiture, from Raphael to the Carracci, March- June 2006, n. C$
B. Savina, in From Tiziano to De Chirico. The search for identity, catalogue exhibition, curated by V. Sgarbi, Milan 2004, p. 231; M. Santucci in, Tiziano and court portraiture, from Raphael to the Carracci, Naples 2006, p. 183
The portrait, which is considerably larger than the Cremonese standards of Sofonisba Anguissola, became part of Luigi Koelliker’s Milanese collection in 2000, following the purchase by Corsini Maison d'Art Antiquaria at the Sotheby's New York auction dated May 28, 1999 (lot 44, as "attributed to Sofonisba Anguissola").
The inscription on the armchair's back, ANNO AETATI (S) / XXVII / MD / LVIII confirms that this work was produced when the artist was still in Cremona, one year before leaving for Spain, where she later became a lady at the court of Isabella of Valois, the young Bride of Philip II; we also know that the character portrayed, certainly a man of social prestige due to his refined attire, is twenty-seven years old.
In this period, specifically in portraiture, Cremona boasts some of the most significant personalities in the context of northern Italian figurative painting. It is a true blossoming of this subject, which is practised at the highest levels by the city’s painters in their various workshops.
In this context, Sofonisba Anguissola's name soon gains an international reputation: in Cremona she closely follows the teachings of her masters, Bernardino Campi and Bernardino Gatti, and can provide exquisite evidence of her skills, such as in the delightful Nivaa Family Portrait, the Match Poznań chess, and portraits that almost seem to go beyond the physical surface of the subject, such as the Canonico Lateranense from Brescia, all works following the path of the Sojaro, her second master.
The gentleman, portrayed in three-quarters on the canvas, is magnificently dressed in a black velvet jacket, adorned with golden buttons, revealing red satin sleeves with small puffs, and short trousers over the long stockings, following the Spanish fashion then diffused in Lombardy; from the ruff, also embroidered in red, hang the strings tied up in the centre of the blouse. With his right hand the Gentleman holds a black cap, embroidered in gold and decorated with a gem, while his left hand is tucked in the strap holding the sword. Great attention is given to the depiction of the sumptuous clothing, lace, jewellery and diadem, almost contrasting with the mild blush on the cheeks.
Sofonisba also masters the execution of velvet and red satin and the nuances of the back wall, producing suggestive bright reflections. Compared to the infinite sequence of self-portraits or to the portraits of the various sisters created during that period, our character is part of a male repertoire to which the painter retains a less penetrating and somewhat lifeless characterization, preferring to rely on the official portrait tradition, nevertheless leaving some room for irony.
The painting shows all the characteristics of style, palette, technique and execution typical of Sofonisba Anguissola. The physiognomy of the subject also confirms the attribution to the Cremonese artist with absolute certainty: for a comparison, see the painting with Lucia playing the spinet at Althorp (fig. 1) dating back to 1557, the self-portrait at the easel of Lancut (Figure 2) and the Portrait of Massimiliano Stampa, Marquis of Soncino already in Cook's collection in Richmond, always from the same period.
The comparison with the works that end the Cremonese period shows the same controlled colour ratio - except in this case, with the bright red of the sleeves and pants - the taste for fringes, laces, cuffs, a sort of idiosyncrasy for prospective rigor .