Antoine de Favray occupies a unique place in the history of art as an academically-trained French painter intimately connected with the Island of Malta. Born near Paris in 1706, he is known to have been a private pupil of Jean-François de Troy in Rome by 1738. De Troy, the highly respected and long-serving director of the Académie de France in Rome, was doubtless instrumental in de Favray's admission to the Académie as an official student in 1739. De Favray's works were exhibited in Paris, and although his connection with France remained strong throughout his life, in 1744 he left Rome for Malta, where he would spend the rest of his life. Indeed, the only significant interruption in his Maltese career seems to have been in the years 1761 to 1771, during which he lived in Constantinople, under the patronage of the French Ambassador, Charles Gravier, comte de Vergennes. In his Maltese years de Favray specialised in scenes of island life and portraits of the Maltese elite, including several of Emmanuel de Rohan-Polduc, Grand Master of the Order of the Knights of Malta, and of other officials in the Order.
The present picture is among the most polished of his works to appear on the market. The gesture of the sitter's right hand recalls that of a figure in The Lesson (Valletta, National Museum of Fine Arts), while the direct gaze and considered lighting of the face merits comparison with A Musician (Valletta, National Museum of Fine Arts) and Veneranda Abela with a grandson (Malta, private collection; see S. Degiorgio and E. Fiorentino, Antoine Favray (1706-1798): A French Artist in Rome, Malta and Constantinople, 2004, fig. 2.83).
The elegantly-attired sitter in the present picture addresses the viewer with an expression of striking candour and self-assurance. The Maltese connection is reinforced by the plan under his left hand, which shows the urban centre of Valletta with its seige walls. The domed church behind him has been traditionally identified as that of Sainte-Geneviève in Paris, but bears more resemblance to the Basilica of Saint Peter in Rome, and may represent a neoclassical church of a design derived from Saint Peter's. These attributes, and the way the sitter's gestures establish a link between the church and the town plan, suggest that he is either an architect, an engineer or another figure connected to the urban development of Valletta. It has been suggested that painting may reflect original designs for the Church of the Assumption in Mosta by Giorgio Grognet de Vasse (1774-1862), or alternatively that the sitter may be the Roman-trained architect Giuseppe Bonnici (1707-1779). We are grateful to Antoine Xuereb and Conrad Thake for their help with this note.