Jacopo Ligozzi was from a Veronese family of painters and designers of armour, tapestries and other decorative arts, and probably received his early training in the studio of his father Francesco Ermanno Ligozzi. The family had almost certainly prospered through the patronage of the Imperial court at Innsbruck, Vienna and later Prague, but little can be securely be dated to the early part of Ligozzi's career. The present bodycolor is significant as one of the artist's very few dated works.
Ligozzi was in Florence in 1576, and in the following year was appointed Court Artist by the Grand Duke Francesco I de'Medici (1541-1587), an appointment confirmed by the latter's successor Grand Duke Ferdinando I (1549-1609). Admiration for his skills as a miniaturist, scientific draughtsman and designer of decorative projects was such that he received a pension equal to that of the sculptor Giambologna. In the Grand Duke's service Ligozzi produced designs for pietra dura, glass, metalwork and festival decorations as well as precise scientific drawings such as the famous album of studies of Natural History specimens made in conjunction with the Bolognese naturalist Ulisse Aldrovandi (Florence, Uffizi; L. Tongiorgi Tomasi, I ritratti di piante di Jacopo Ligozzi, Pisa, 1993) and the album of figures including Ottoman Turks, of which four were sold at Sotheby's, New York, 25 January 2007, lots 48-51, first published by A. Forlani, 'Jacopo Ligozzi nel gran Seraglio', FMR, March 1982, pp. 72-103.
The broad range of Ligozzi's work for the Grand Ducal court places him in a parallel position to contemporary polymaths such as Spranger, Hoefnagel and Fröschl working at the court of the Holy Roman Emperor Rudolf II in Prague. Indeed, like Ligozzi Fröschl worked for Aldrovandi and was court painter in Florence in 1597-1604. The present miniature has a strongly Northern feel, both in the technical similarities with artists such as Hoefnagel and in the iconographical and psychological power which descend from images such as Dürer's Ecce Homo engravings and woodcuts of 1509 and 1511 and the paintings of Hans Baldung Grien among other sources. Its scale and finish suggest that it was commissioned as a private devotional work, perhaps inspired by a larger work in the Grand Duke's collection, although no source is known. Echoes of the composition can however be found in Ligozzi's later painting of the subject in the collection of Stonyhurst College (L. Conigliello, Jacopo Ligozzi, Le Vedute del Sacro Monte della Verna, Poppi, 1992, pl. 55) and Raphael Sadeler I's print of the subject probably made when the latter was in Northern Italy in the 1590s (Hollstein XXII, 26).
The date on the miniature is significant as it fixes a moment in Ligozzi's artistic development, three years into his work for Grand Duke Ferdinando I. After this point he began to move away from the multifarious court projects of his earlier career and turned towards large scale paintings, often of religious subjects, clearly informed by knowledge of his compatriot Paolo Veronese.
Three other oval miniatures by Ligozzi are known, an Ecce Homo and a Christ carrying the Cross, formerly with Jaime Eguiguren, Buenos Aires, in 2004, and the Study of a bearded saint, bust-length, sold at Christie's, London, 11 December 1979, lot 9.