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Baldassare Franceschini, il Volterrano (Volterra 1611-1690 Florence)
Property of a Private Collector
Baldassare Franceschini, il Volterrano (Volterra 1611-1690 Florence)

Portrait of the Marchese Altoviti as Hylas

Baldassare Franceschini, il Volterrano (Volterra 1611-1690 Florence)
Portrait of the Marchese Altoviti as Hylas
oil on canvas
38 x 30 ¼ in. (96 ½ x 77 cm.)
Painted for Francesco Parrocchiani.
Anonymous sale; Christie's, London, 9 December 2009, lot 118.
with Jean-Luc Baroni, London, 2011, no. 12, where acquired by the present owner.
F. Baldinucci, Notizie dei Professori del Disegno da Cimabue in qua, Florence, 1691, repub. 1847, V, p. 161.
G. Ewald, ‘Unknown Works by Baldassare Franceschini, Called Il Volterrano (1611-1689)’, The Burlington Magazine, CXV, no. 842, 1973, p. 283.

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Lot Essay

From a relatively early age, the precocious talents of Baldassare Franceschini were recognised by the discerning patrons of Florence, where the young artist had settled after his early training in Volterra. By his early twenties, Franceschini was working in the Sala degli Argenti of the Pitti Palace and by the late 1630s had been commission by Lorenzo de’Medici to complete a cycle of frescoes for the Loggia of the Villa Petraia depicting the history of the Medici family, a project he would eventually complete in 1648. Even while this project was still underway, Franceschini was sponsored in 1640 by the Marchese Filippo Niccolini to travel throughout the Peninsula, a trip which allowed him to experience for the first time the innovations of the painters of Parma, Ferrara, Bologna, Modena, Venice and Rome. The works he executed on his return to Florence reveal a new elegance and sophistication, displaying the clear influence of Michelangelo and Raphael as well as the golden light and soft sfumato of Correggio and the luminous coloration of Pietro da Cortona.

This striking portrait is an outstanding example of Franceschini’s consummate skill as a brilliant colorist and an inspired observer of the natural world. The conceit of a beautiful page dressed up in mythological attire was a popular one among Franceschini’s patrons. It is unsurprising, therefore, that the artist’s biographer Francesco Baldinucci (op. cit.) lists five such works, three of which depict Hylas, companion to Hercules. A member of the crew of the Argo in search of the legendary Golden Fleece, Hylas arrived with his companions to the island of Mysia, where he set forth, ‘pitcher of bronze in hand’, to seek a sacred fountain and gather water for the Argonauts. As evening fell, the nymphs of the stream began to dance and one, Cypris, seeing the youth approach, immediately fell in love with the ‘the rosy flush of his beauty and [his] sweet grace’. As Hylas knelt to fill his pitcher from the waters, she reached out and ‘plunged him into the midst of the eddy’, trapping him forever in an underwater cave to Hercules’ great dismay (Apollonius Rhodius, trans. R.C. Seaton, Argonautica, Harvard, 2009). Here, Hylas is shown carrying the ewer he hopes to fill, elaborately decorated with putti and classical ornamentation, as well as a shallow glass tazza he presumably intends to drink from, but which seems as much an opportunity for the artist to showcase his formidable skill in rendering the gleaming glass. A purple ribbon is twisted across the youth's bare chest to secure his voluminous blue cloak and a gentle light illuminates his soft skin, heightening the picture’s intimate sensuality.

One of the Hylas canvases recorded by Baldinucci is now in the Staatsgalerie, Stuttgart, and the second – an oval – may be identifiable with a picture that appeared on the art market in Milan in 2000. The third is certainly the present work, described as ‘per Francesco Parrocchiani figurò in un quadro a olio un Ila colla Tazza e col vaso d’oro: e per questo si servi dell’effigie al naturale del marchese Altoviti’ ['for Francesco Parrocchiani he made a painting in oil of Hylas with a glass and a golden vase, which he based on the likeness of the marquis Altoviti'] (loc. cit.). This description serves not only to identify the patron for which the canvas was painted but also the sitter, the young Marchese Altoviti, who was a page in the service of Cardinal Leopoldo de' Medici (1617-1675). The Cardinal was nephew to Franceschini’s first important patron, Lorenzo de’ Medici (1599-1648), and indeed the present work has been dated to the late 1640s on the basis of its similarity to the Villa Petraia frescoes and the artist’s links during that period with the Medici family.

A preparatory drawing for the present work (fig. 2) is now in the Uffizi, Florence.

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