Lorenzo di Credi trained in Andrea del Verrocchio’s Florentine studio alongside many of the leading painters of his generation, including Leonardo da Vinci, Perugino, Botticelli and Domenico Ghirlandaio. Lorenzo must have distinguished himself in these early years, for when Verrocchio was called to Venice to execute the monumental equestrian bronze statue of the condottiere Bartolomeo Colleoni and, shortly thereafter, when Leonardo departed for Milan, Lorenzo took over as head of the workshop. It therefore fell to Lorenzo to complete Verrocchio’s numerous unfinished commissions, a task at which he excelled; Verrocchio would eventually name Lorenzo his heir and executor of his will. In his role as master of the workshop, Lorenzo thrived as a celebrated painter of private devotional panels and portraits of affluent Florentines.
The distinguished gentleman in the present portrait gazes confidently out toward the viewer with wispy, graying hair and a wise countenance. His black tunic and biretta, styled according to the early 16th-century fashion, suggest that he was a man of means and sophistication. Curiously, he holds a ceramic bowl in his hands, an unusual feature in Renaissance portraiture whose meaning here is unclear. Following a pictorial convention inspired by Northern European painters from the previous generation such as Dieric Bouts and Hans Memling, the sitter is portrayed in a sober interior with a window placed above his proper right shoulder revealing a verdant landscape. His hands rest on the edge of the picture plane, an illusionistic device more commonly found in Northern portraiture than in Italian paintings of this time, the latter of which more commonly include a painted ledge or parapet in the foreground. Though the features of the landscape are not specific enough to establish a precise location, the blue-toned mountains that rise up in the distance are foreign to Tuscany and once again reflect Lorenzo’s awareness of Northern European art.
Bernhard Degenhart dated the present portrait to the c. 1501 based on comparisons to Credi's modernization of the altarpiece at San Domenico, Fiesole (painted c. 1424-1425 by Fra Angelico), noting that the distinctive handling of the trees in the landscape of the Stillman portrait reflects renewed contact with Leonardo da Vinci at this moment in Lorenzo’s career (1931, loc. cit.). Notably, the composition is strikingly similar to one of the most controversial paintings formerly given to Lorenzo di Credi, the Portrait of a man in the Uffizi, Florence (1890 no. 1482), which in the 19th century was believed to be a portrait by Lorenzo of his master, Andrea del Verrocchio, but today is believed by many to have been painted by Raphael (see K. Christiansen and S. Weppelmann, eds., The Renaissance Portrait from Donatello to Bellini, exhibition catalogue, 2011, p. 152, no. 39). According to Richard Offner, who first proposed that the Uffizi portrait was by Raphael and depicted the artist Perugino, the Stillman portrait (unquestionably by Lorenzo di Credi) provides the key to sorting out the attribution, since though the two works are “genetically related to each other”, they are stylistically distinct, having been conceived with entirely different tonalities and approaches to space (op. cit., pp. 250-53).
In 1966, Gigetta Dalli Regoli suggested that the sitter in the present portrait is Girolamo Benivieni (1453-1542), the humanist poet and close friend to the nobleman and philosopher Giovanni Pico della Mirandola. Benivieni was one of the first members of Lorenzo de’ Medici's intimate circle to become a devoted follower of the Dominican preacher Fra Savonarola. In addition to translating Savonarola’s writings from Latin to the vulgate, he composed songs to accompany the infamous Bonfires of the Vanities. Dalli Regoli’s identification was based on a comparison with two paintings attributed to Ridolfo del Ghirlandaio in the National Gallery, London, and the Somerset collection, respectively. If this identification is correct, the present painting would be the one recorded by Giorgio Vasari in his 1568 Life of Lorenzo di Credi, “Ritrasse anco Girolamo Benivieni, uomo dottissimo e suo molto amico (He also painted a portrait of Girolamo Benivieni, a very learned man and his close friend)”.