Agostino Pallavicini, a member of the Genoese branch of the Pallavicini family and the future doge of Genoa, sits enveloped by the sumptuous, flowing red robes worn in his role as ambassador to the pope. The wide expanse of fabric, spectacularly rendered, seems to have a life of its own and almost threatens to take over the painting. The luxurious swirl of cloth, its brilliant sheen, and the way it glimmers and reflects light display Anthony van Dyck's virtuosity as a painter. The family coat of arms seen on the drapery behind the sitter at the left, along with other documented portraits, firmly establishes Pallavicini's identity.
In 1621, Van Dyck left Antwerp and traveled to Italy, where he stayed for five years, viewing large private collections of Italian paintings and painting various portraits. This was one of the first paintings he made in Italy, painted in 1621 to commemorate the sitter's service as an ambassador to the newly elected Pope Gregory XV.