A young man is depicted holding a letter which he is delivering to an unseen interlocutor, whom we assume is in front of a table, as revealed by X-ray analysis. The canvas has been lined and repainted, and the poor quality of the foot of the painting is obvious, since it has been re-done. A more careful study – with the help of side lighting – allows for appreciation of the greater body of underlying material beneath the layer of repainting in the whole of the upper part of the painting. The face, hands and rim of the hat are bathed strongly in light, and the rest of the figure is artificially cut off by the repainting.
The messenger’s cordial attitude, bowing respectfully and raising his hat in his hand, can be associated by those who look closely enough with that of Spinola in the Rendición de Breda (The Surrender of Breda), which is frequent in other encounters, such as that of El Cardenal‑Infante con el Emperador después de Nordlingen (The Cardinal-Infante with the Emperor after Nordlingen) by Rubens. Similar compositions can be recalled in the Retrato de grupo de Paulo III y sus sobrinos (Group portrait of Pope Paul III with his Nephews) in the Capodimonte Gallery. The Spanish painter had been in the Vatican, and was familiar with this picture. The composition is similar to that of the Godo galés y San Martín y San Benito bendiciendo el pan (The Welsh Goth and St. Martín and St. Benedict Blessing the Bread), and the face is repeated in the Assumption and St. Dominic. It is a face triangular in shape, with a small nose and contrasting light and shade on the forehead and cheekbones. The hat in hand was a motif greatly used by Ricci, as seen in the canvases of St. Benedict and St. Martin and the portrait of Redin.
Apart from the aforementioned defacing, the preservation of the other covered areas is excellent. Repainting was deliberate, with the intention of hiding the mutilation done in line with currently tastes. Restoration to reinstate the parts hidden by this unjustifiable repainting would be advisable.