The portrait was commissioned by Gian Giacomo’s mother, Rosa Trivulzio. The young man is seated with his legs crossed, in an elegant, easy pose. His searching gaze is turned directly on the viewer.
The painting was long dated to about 1846-1848, as suggested by his clothes, which would have been unfashionable by 1850. Today it is believed to have been painted in 1851, the year it was exhibited at the Brera Academy. Clearly the future founder of the Museum, now an adult and having inherited the family fortune, chose to appear in a black suit, serious and elegant, as appropriate for an official portrait.
In the mid-nineteenth century Francesco Hayez was the most admired portrait painter among the grand bourgeoisie and aristocracy of Milan, who loved his rigorous painting with its deep psychological insight and of the characters.