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Portrait of Fernando Alvarez de Toledo, duke of Alba

Veneto school

First documented in connection with the Borghese Collection in a note dating to 1859, this panel was executed by an anonymous artist, perhaps belonging to the Veneto school, in the 1540s. It depicts Fernando Álvarez de Toledo, Duke of Alba. He is shown here in military dress with the characteristic insignia of the Order of the Golden Fleece, the prestigious knightly fraternity created by Philip the Good, Duke of Burgundy. The badge is composed of a ribbon and pendant in the form of a sheepskin, which alludes to the golden fleece stolen by the Argonauts in Colchis.

Object details

mid-16th century
oil on panel
cm 48 x 39

19th-century frame with laurel fillets, 67 x 57 x 7 cm


(?) Rome, Borghese Collection, 1859 (Stefani 2000); purchased through Export Office, 1982.

Conservation and Diagnostic
  • 2007-08 Giantomassi & Zari s.n.c.;
  • 2013 Vega Santodonato.


The history and provenance of this panel are unknown. Our first information about it dates only to 1982, when the Ministry of Cultural Affairs purchased it through the Export Office for Artistic Objects and Antiquities in Rome (C. Stefani in Galleria Borghese 2000). Nonetheless, as some critics have proposed (Stefani, 2000), it is likely that the work in question corresponds to a painting mentioned in the Note on paintings listed outside the Galleria Borghese, 31 December 1859. This hypothesis is supported by the presence of two red wax seals with the Borghese coat of arms and an old inventory number – ‘54’ – on the back of the panel. These details suggest that the work had long formed part of the Borghese Collection, entering it at an unknown date, perhaps as the result of an institutional donation.

The subject of the portrait is undoubtedly Fernando Álvarez de Toledo (1507-1582), Duke of Alba. He is shown here in military garb and wearing the prestigious insignia of the Order of the Golden Fleece, with its emblematic pendant in the form of a sheepskin. Confirmation of the identity of the subject is provided by the Portrait of the Duke of Alba by Antonis Mor, held in New York (c.1549, Gallery of Hispanic Society), from which the work in question seems to derive.

By contrast, we know nothing about the painter, who may have belonged to the Veneto school and been active in the 1540s (Herrmann Fiore 2006), the period in which this portrait was perhaps executed.

Antonio Iommelli

  • C. Stefani, in P. Moreno, C. Stefani, Galleria Borghese, Milano 2000, p. 276;
  • K. Herrmann Fiore, Galleria Borghese Roma scopre un tesoro. Dalla pinacoteca ai depositi un museo che non ha più segreti, San Giuliano Milanese 2006, p. 185.