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Sebastiano del Piombo Venice 1485/86-1547 Rome
PROPERTY FROM THE COLLECTION OF PRINCESS ELIZABETH OF YUGOSLAVIA
Sebastiano del Piombo Venice 1485/86-1547 Rome

Portrait of a man, traditionally identifed as Federico Gonzaga, Duke of Mantua (1500-1540), half-length, in a black coat

Details
Sebastiano del Piombo Venice 1485/86-1547 Rome
Portrait of a man, traditionally identifed as Federico Gonzaga, Duke of Mantua (1500-1540), half-length, in a black coat
oil on canvas
28¼ x 20¾ in. 71.8 x 52.7 cm.
Provenance
Lord Lambton, Earl of Durham, from whom purchased by the Prince and Princess Paul of Yugoslavia in 1932, and by descent to the present owner.
Literature
M. Lucco, L'Opera Completa di Sebastiano del Piombo, Rizzoli, 1980, p. 141, no. 241, illustrated p. 142.

Lot Essay

Despite a traditional attribution to Titian, the wide-open eyes, the sitter's direct gaze and the sculptural articulation of the face suggest instead the hand of his Venetian contemporary, Sebastiano del Piombo. Bernard Berenson was the first to propose this attribution as recorded in notes kept at the Getty Provenance Index. This attribution was then followed by Mauro Lucca and more recently has been endorsed by Professor David Rosand who writes, 'the physiognomic features that seem to me to confirm the attribution to Sebastiano are the wide open eyes and the tensely articulated nostrils'. Rosand further suggests a dating 'to an early phase of [Sebastiano's] career in Rome' (written communication, 8 December 2001).

Sebastiano's origins were Venetian and the understated 'romantic' mood of this portrait recalls the portraiture of his teacher Giorgione and his contemporary Titian. However, it was in Rome, as Michelangelo's ally and Raphael's rival, that Del Piombo matured as an artist. Sebastiano seems to have left Venice for Rome in 1511 in the entourage of the Sienese banker Agostino Chigi. Befriended by Michelangelo, he secured the patronage of important Florentine figures, notably the highly cultivated Pierfrancesco Borgherini whose chapel in S. Pietro in Montorio Del Piombo decorated, and Cardinal Giulio de'Medici, for whom he painted the Raising of Lazarus (National Gallery, London).

At the same time, Sebastiano developed into a portraitist of the first rank. It was his great historical misfortune that posterity attributed a number of his masterpieces in the genre to Raphael. An example is the Uffizi Portrait of a young woman, which within fifty years of Sebastiano's death was given to his rival, and when Turner painted Raphael and La Fornarina they are seen seated on a terrace above Piazza San Pietro with Sebastiano's Uffizi portrait at the young artist's feet. Both Isabella d'Este, mother of the sitter of this portrait, and Michelangelo praised the Venetian's portraiture, important examples of which include the portraits of Aretino, Andrea Doria, Pope Clement VII and a humanist identified as Marcantonio Flaminio in the National Gallery of Art, Washington (fig. 1). Del Piombo's earlier portraits show the lingering influence of Giorgione but in his mature Roman works he develops a boldness of scale and an intensity of presence which are uniquely his own. This portrait would appear to be painted relatively early in his stay in Rome, before he had developed the monumentality that characterizes his portraiture in the 1520s and thereafter.

Federico Gonzaga's features are well known from the great masterpiece by Titian (Prado, Madrid) painted in about 1523. Titian's manner is warmer and his modeling softer than in this portrait, which perhaps accounts for the more chiseled features of this sitter. Federico Gonzaga was the son of Francesco II Gonzaga and the celebrated Renaissance Lady Isabella d'Este, and brother of Eleanora Gonzaga della Rovere, Duchess of Urbino. He lived in Rome (1510-1513) as a child and a hostage of Julius II who housed him in the Belvedere Palace. He grew up to be a highly cultured Renaissance courtier who succeeded to the Marquisate in 1519. He was elevated to Duke in 1530 by Charles V. It was Federico who called Giulio Romano to Mantua where the artist was to produce one of the great monuments of the High Renaissance, Palazzo del Te.

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