The present work, a probable replica after the original by Cesare Aretusi in the Pinacoteca Nazionale, Parma, depicts Ranuccio I Farnese in half-length and suited in armor (see Pittura Bolognese del 500, Bologna, 1986, II, p. 720, illustrated). He is youthful in appearance, with a neatly trimmed beard and moustache, and a level, intelligent gaze that meets the viewer's own. His right hand is planted securely on his hip while his left rests casually on the polished helmet sitting on the ledge by his side, suggesting that he removed it just moments earlier.
Ranuccio Farnese was Roman by birth and devoted his life to the Church: he became Prior of the Knights of Malta and Archbishop of Naples, and was made a cardinal in 1545. His elder brother Alessandro Farnese became a cardinal as well, and Alessandro's artistic patronage is often confused with, or even eclipses, that of Ranuccio. We do, however, know Ranuccio to have commissioned works by such prestigious painters as Titian, Giorgio Vasari, and Francesco Salviati. The celebrated portrait of the young Ranuccio, painted by Titian, is in the National Gallery of Art, Washington DC.
Cesare Aretusi began his career painting in the late cinquecento tradition of Orazio Samachini. He was a successful portraitist (see, for instance, the portraits of Paolo Ricci and Pomponio Torelli, both Galleria Nazionale, Parma) and worked for, among others, Alfonso II d'Este, Duke of Ferrara.