Bartolomeo Passarotti was the pre-eminent religious and portrait painter of late sixteenth-century Bologna, where, aside from two trips to Rome, he remained throughout his life. His early Mannerist compositions are indebted to the Emilian masters Correggio and Parmigianino and to Pellegrino Tibaldi. Passarotti's artistic role in Bologna was established in 1560 through his alliance with the Compagnia delle Quattro Arti. That same year he opened a workshop that produced, among other genres, portraits of Roman cardinals and popes, enabling him to maintain professional ties with the Curia (see, for example, the Portrait of Pope Pius V, Walters Art Gallery, Baltimore; and the Portrait of Pope Gregory XIII, Museum der Stadt, Gotha).
In the following years a northern influence surfaced in Passarotti's paintings, particularly in a minute attention to detail. Passarotti may have come into contact with the Flemish painter, Marten de Vos, during one of his visits to Rome and Bartholomäus Spranger, who was documented in Parma around 1566. The northern idiom was entrenched in Bolognese soil in 1565 with the opening of Denys Calvaert's painting school and center for the distribution of northern prints. Passarotti would continue Calvaert's tradition in Bologna by opening a museum, showcasing his own collection of ancient statues, paintings, drawings and prints. Passarotti's son, Tiburzio, enlarged the museum after his father's death in 1592.
The present painting is typical of Passarotti's Mannerist tendencies in the genre of portraiture. The sitter, identified as a member of the Ballis family through the coat-of-arms and inscription on the upper right, unnaturally turns his head away from the viewer while his torso pivots in the opposite direction. His right hand rests on the hilt of a sword, an overt reference to the gentleman's status in Bolognese society, while his left hand gestures in the conventional manner of delivering a speech. Passarotti's careful articulation of the sitter's rich costume illustrates the prevailing influence of northern painting in his oeuvre. For a similar depiction of a member of Bologna's privileged class by the artist, see the Portrait of a Man with a Dog in the Musée des Beaux-Arts, Poitiers (fig. 1).
We are grateful to Professor Angela Ghirardi for confirming the attribution of the present work to Passarotti on the basis of a color transparency (written communication, 22 November 2004).