We are grateful to Professor Richard Cocke for confirming the attribution of this hitherto unknown picture by Pier Francesco Mola after inspection of the original. He dates this 'beautiful work' to circa 1650, and relates it to The Barbary Pirate (Musée du Louvre) and St. Barnabus Preaching (San Carlo al Corso, Rome).
Although born in Coldrerio, near Lugano, Mola moved to Rome with his family at a young age. With the exception of two extended periods from 1633-40 and 1641-7, which he spent travelling in northern Italy, he remained based in Rome for the rest of his life. Mola's mature style was a sophisticated synthesis of 17th-century Roman gran maniera painting with the colour of Venetian art and the high quality draughtsmanship found in the work of the Bolognese masters, such a Guercino. Indeed the latter may have provided the inspiration for the present portrait of a standard bearer in such works as Mars of circa 1628 (The National Trust, Tatton Park, Knutsford, Cheshire; see L. Salerno, I Dipinti del Guercino, Rome, 1988, no. 123, pp. 216-7), for which several preparatory drawings and copies exist, and another Mars of circa 1629 (Apsley House, London; ibid., no. 130, pp. 224-5).
As Professor Cocke has remarked, the present work appears to be closely related to The Barbary Pirate, of 1650, Mola's only signed and dated picture (Musée du Louvre; see R. Cocke, Pier Francesco Mola, Oxford, 1972, no. 36, p. 53, pl. 45). Both pictures depict a bearded man, standing in roughly the same pose, with each figure gazing intently at something outside the canvas to the right. Another similarity is that in both cases Mola gives the sitter a prop, adding a sense of drama and action to the portraits: the Barbary pirate brandishes a bow and arrow, while the soldier in the present work holds a standard over his right shoulder, which wraps itself around him, enveloping the lower part of the painting. Mola depicted martial figures rarely in his work, yet a drawing exists of the head of a soldier wearing a helmet (private collection, see fig. 1). Probably drawn from life, this sketch may represent a preliminary idea for the present work.