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Portrait of a gentleman, bust-length, viewed in profile

Portrait of a gentleman, bust-length, viewed in profile
tempera on panel
18 ½ x 12 in. (46.2 x 30.4 cm.)
David Bernhard Hausmann (1784-1874), Hanover, by 1831 (inv. no. 92), as Giovanni Antonio Boltraffio (included in his collection inventory of 1831 and his collection label on the reverse of the panel), and by whom sold to,
George V (1819-1878), King of Hanover, 2nd Duke of Brunswick-Lüneburg, Duke of Cumberland and Teviotdale, by 1857, as Boltraffio (included in his 1857 inventory and his royal cypher on the reverse), and presumably by descent to his son,
(Probably) Ernst August (1845-1923), Crown Prince of Hanover, 3rd Duke of Cumberland and Teviotdale, and by whom presumably put on deposit with the following,
Provinzialmuseum, Hanover, by 1898 (inv. no. 45), as Boltraffio and later as Giovanni Ambrogio de Predis, and possibly by descent to his son,
(Possibly) Ernst August Christian Georg (1887-1953), Duke of Brunswick.
with Matthiesen Gallery, Berlin, 17 April 1926, and by whom consigned to the below,
with Paul Cassirer, Berlin, until 14 December 1927, when returned to Matthiesen Gallery, Berlin.
Friedrich 'Fritz' Thyssen (1873-1951), probably before 1931, and from whom confiscated by the Nazis in 1939.
Wallraf-Richartz Museum, Cologne, inv. no. 173 (label on the reverse), 1940, but stored for safekeeping at the Castle Gaibach, where recovered by the Monuments, Fine Arts and Archives Section, and by whom transferred to, Munich Central Collecting Point (Munich No. 20069), 20 February 1946, as ‘Ambrosio de Predis’.
Restituted to Fritz Thyssen, 26 November 1955, thence by descent within the family to the present owner.
B. Hausmann, Verzeichniss der Hausmann'schen Gemählde-Sammlung in Hannover, Brunswick, 1831, p. 48, no. 92, as Marco d'Oggiono and identifying the sitter as Ludovico Sforza.
G. Jäncke, Verzeichniss der von Seiner Majestät dem Könige angekauften Hausmann'schen Gemälde-Sammlung in Hannover, Hanover, 1857, p. 13, no. 92, as Giovanni Antonio Boltraffio and identifying the sitter as Ludovico Sforza.
G. Parthey, Verzeichniss der in Deutschland Vorhandenen Oelbilder Verstorbener Maler Aller Schulen in Alphabetischer Folge Zusammengestellt, I, Berlin, 1863, p. 141, no. 6, as Boltraffo, identifying the sitter as Ludovico Sforza and erroneously listed as still in the Hausmann collection.
W. von Bode, Die Grossherzogliche Gema¨lde-Galerie zu Oldenburg, Vienna, 1888, p. 24, as Boltraffio.
Burlington Fine Arts Club, Pictures by masters of the Milanese and allied schools of Lombardy, London, 1898, p. L.
G. Pauli, 'Ausstellung von Gemälden der Lombardischen Schule im Burlington Fine Arts Club, London April-Juni 1898', Zeitschrift für bildende Kunst, XXXIV, 1898, p. 109, fig. 2.
W. von Bode, 'Ein Bildnis der Zweiten Gemahlin Kaiser Maximilians, Bianca Maria Sforza, von Ambrogio de Predis', Jahrbuch der Königlich Preussischen Kunstsammlungen, X, 1889, p. 77.
(Probably) H. Köhler, Katalog der zum Ressort der Königlichen Verwaltungs-Kommission gehörigen Sammlung von Gemälden, Skulpturen und Alterthümern im Provinzial-Museumsgebäude an der Prinzenstrasse, Hanover, 1891, no. 45.
R. von Bennigsenstr, Katalog der zur Fideikommiss-Galerie des Gesamthauses Braunschweig und Lüneburg gehörigen Sammlung von Gemälden und Skulpturen im Provinzial-Museum zu Hannover, Hanover, 1905, p. 17, 30, no. 33, as Giovanni Antonio Boltraffio and identifying the sitter as Ludovico Sforza.
B. Berenson, North Italian Painters of the Renaissance, London, 1907, p. 161.
W. Suida, Leonardo und sein Kreis, Munich, 1929.
B. Berenson, Italian Pictures of the Renaissance: Central and North Italian Schools, I, London, 1968, p. 108.
W. Suida, Leonardo e i Leonardeschi, M.T. Fiorio, ed., Vicenza, 2001, pp. 216, 284, note 12 and pp. 421, 515, fig. 177.
A. Ballarin, Leonardo a Milano: Problemi di Leonardismo Milanese tra quattrocento e cinquecento; Giovanni Antonio Boltraffio prima della pala Casio, Verona, 2010, I, p. 23; II, pp. 1298, 1381, no. 82, fig. 82.

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Lot Essay

Born to a family of artists, the Lombard Giovanni Ambrogio de Predis was celebrated among his peers as a skilled portrait painter and was awarded the position of Court Painter to the Milanese Duke Ludovico Maria Sforza (1452-1508). It is little wonder then that an old, likely eighteenth-century, inscription on the reverse of the present panel identifies the sitter as the Duke himself. Ludovico, known as ‘il Moro,’ entrusted Ambrogio to produce favorable portraits that were sent to courts across Europe to represent the Sforza family. When the Holy Roman Emperor, Maximillian I agreed to form an alliance with the Sforza through his marriage to Ludovico’s niece, Bianca Maria (fig. 1), it was from Ambrogio that he requested a faithful portrait of his future wife. Following her marriage to Maximillian I in 1494, Bianca Maria was accompanied by Ambrogio to Innsbruck and he worked there in her service for several years before returning to Milan. The painter’s most prestigious commission came not from Ludovico, however, but from the Confraternity of the Immaculate Conception, who enlisted the artist in 1483 to assist Leonardo da Vinci in the production of an altarpiece for the church of San Francesco Grande, Milan. The altarpiece, comprising both painted and sculptural elements, included Leonardo’s celebrated Madonna of the Rock, whose side panels, which remain intact, are thought to be wholly or in part by Ambrogio (National Gallery, London, inv. no. NG1093).

A profile portrait of Emperor Maximillian I, today in the Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna (fig. 2), is the only signed and dated work by Ambrogio to survive and it is around this painting that his body of work has been reconstructed. The dearth of signed paintings has naturally led to scholarly dispute surrounding the painter’s style and the works attributed to him. For much of the last century, this painting was known only through a black-and-white photograph and the scant information provided by Bernard Berenson and Wilhelm Suida. Its striking resemblance to the Vienna portrait, however, leaves little doubt as to its authorship. The face, which is remarkably preserved, is immaculately drawn and the flesh beautifully modeled, with highlights catching the ridge of the sitter’s upper lip, the curve of his nostril and the edge of each line beside his mouth. The artist employs the same, characteristic flash of white from the iris to the corner of the eye, soft highlighting of the eyelids and reflected light beneath the chin, emphasizing its gentle curve.

The earliest known mention of this portrait is in 1831, when it was included in the inventory of Bernhard Hausmann as by Marco d’Oggiono and his label is still visible on the reverse of the panel (loc. cit.). A merchant and politician, Hausmann amassed an impressive collection of paintings, watercolors and prints, including Velázquez’s possible self-portrait, today in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York (fig. 3). Like the Met Museum’s Velázquez, this Ambrogio portrait was then sold to George V, King of Hanover and is included in the royal inventory of 1857. King George V’s cypher – the letters GR surmounted by a crown and with a small v beneath – can be seen painted in red on the reverse of the panel. By 1898, the painting had been correctly attributed to Giovanni Ambrogio de Predis and, though not itself included, was compared to works by the artist in the exhibition of Lombard painting held that year at the Burlington Fine Arts Club, London (loc. cit). The portrait was by this time in the Provinzialmuseum, though – much like the Met Museum’s Velázquez – may only have been loaned to the museum from the Hanover collection and descended to the dukes of Brunswick. The panel was one of two portraits given to Ambrogio present in the Provinzialmuseum at the end of the nineteenth-century, both having belonged to George V, the other being a Profile portrait of a young man in a red hat (inv. no. 44) listed by Berenson as with Matthiesen in 1946. The present painting was also with the dealer Matthiesen in 1927 (who consigned it briefly that same year with Cassirer) but was then acquired, most likely before 1931, by Friedrich 'Fritz' Thyssen (1873-1951). When Thyssen’s collection was confiscated by the Nazis in 1939, this portrait was listed as on deposit at the Wallraf-Richartz-Museum, Cologne but – along with those paintings considered most valuable – was stored for safekeeping at the Castle Gaibach. It was here that it was recovered by the ‘Monuments Men’ and in 1955 was restituted to Fritz Thyssen, in whose family it has remained since.

We are grateful to Keith Christiansen for endorsing the attribution based on firsthand inspection.

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