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Portrait of a Man

Unknown, 17th century


This painting was made by a seventeenth-century artist who has yet to be identified, although Venturi traced him to the Florentine milieu. It was listed in the Borghese Collection for the first time in 1833.

The figure, who is portrayed in a three-quarter pose, might be identifiable as Michele di Lando, who entered the history books for his important role in the fourteenth-century Ciompi Revolt in Florence.

In all probability, the painting is part of a series along with four other portraits of illustrious men, which are also in storage.


Object details

Inventory
449
Location
Date
17th century
Classification
Period
Medium
oil on panel
Dimensions
cm 19 x 27
Provenance

Rome, Borghese Collection (cited for the first time in the Inventario Fidecommissario Borghese, 1833, p. 25). Purchased by the Italian State, 1902.


Commentary

It is unknown when this painting entered the Borghese Collection. It appears for the first time in the fideicommissary inventory of 1833, in which it is listed as displayed in the Sala delle Veneri (Hall of the Venuses) of Palazzo Borghese. The work was later moved to various places in that residence, until it was recorded by Adolfo Venturi (1893) in Room X of the villa.

It seems likely that this portrait and four others in the collection – Francesco Guicciardini (inv. 454), Pier Soderini (inv. 523), a Pope (inv. 447, probably Pius III), and Ludovico Castelvetro (inv. 448) – are part of a series of illustrious men. Besides having the same dimensions (with the exception of the one of Pier Soderini, which is slightly larger) and many stylistic similarities, these paintings were always listed together (with the exception of the one of Pier Soderini) in both the palazzo and the villa. The story of the latter portrait follows a different track. In 1833, it was, unlike the others, displayed in the Gabinetto of the palazzo and attributed to a painter from the school of Paolo Veronese (Piancastelli, 1891). Then, in 1893, Venturi traced it to the Florentine milieu and reported it in Room XI of the villa. Therefore, considering that the painter was from the same school as the one who might have made the other four portraits and the dimensions are very similar, it seems plausible that the portrait of Soderini might also be part of the series, even though it was never displayed with the others.

The artist who painted the portrait remains unknown. The artist is identified in the fideicommissary inventory of 1833 and by Venturi (1893) as a modest seventeenth-century painter from the Florentine school. He was clearly a very mediocre painter, who might have  painted all five portraits based on older and more prestigious models.

The sitter remained unknown for a long time. Indeed, in the catalogue of the Galleria Borghese’s paintings published in 1955, Paola Della Pergola prudently listed him as a ‘fifteenth-century personage’. The identification of the subject would have been almost impossible without knowledge of an extremely similar portrait that surfaced in an auction and is inscribed with the name of the sitter: Michele di Lando.

The latter was one of the leading figures of the Ciompi Revolt, which erupted in Florence between July and August 1378, and was subsequently elected Gonfalonier of Justice.

The iconographic model used by the painter remains uncertain. It is possible that when the artist made this painting he was thinking of one of the many copies of portraits belonging to Paolo Giovio and kept in his villa on Lake Como. To understand how widespread copies of his collection were, it is enough to consider that Cosimo I Medici, Ippolita Gonzaga (daughter of the viceroy of Sicily Ferrante I Gonzaga) and the archduke of Austria Ferdinando all sent their court painters to make copies of it (Minonzio, 2007)

It remains impossible to theorise about the provenance of this painting, since neither the inventories or the entails offer any clues. In all probability, the portrait was not commissioned by the Borghese family and was instead acquired later. We can justifiably imagine that it had previously belonged to a person of modest social standing, who might have purchased it for just a few scudi (which was, for that matter, very common) from a painter or workshop active in the seventeenth century.

Camilla Iacometti




Bibliography
  • G. Piancastelli, Catalogo dei quadri della Galleria Borghese, in Archivio Galleria Borghese, 1891, p. 89.
  • A. Venturi, Il Museo e la Galleria Borghese, Roma 1893, p. 208.
  • R. Longhi, Precisioni nelle gallerie italiane. La Galleria Borghese, Roma 1928, p. 221.
  • N. Rodolico, Michele di Lando, in Enciclopedia italiana, 1934.
  • P. Della Pergola, Galleria Borghese. I dipinti, 1, Roma 1955, p. 144, n. 260.
  • F. Minonzio, Il Museo di Giovio e la Galleria degli uomini illustri, in Testi, immagini e filologia nel XVI secolo, a cura di E. Carrara, S. Ginzburg, Pisa 2007, pp. 77-146.
  • P. Cavazzini, Il mercato delle copie nella Roma di primo Seicento, in La Copia. Storia del gusto e della conservazione, a cura di C. Mazzarelli, San Casciano 2010, pp. 257-270.
  • F. Ragone, Michele di Lando, in Dizionario biografico degli italiani, vol. 74, 2010.
  • N. Cannata, Giorgio Vasari, Paolo Giovio, Portrait Collections and the Rhetorics of Images, in Giorgio Vasari and the birth of the museum, a cura di A. Cecchi, M.W. Gahatan, Farnham 2014, pp. 67-79.