This imposing picture is the only known group portrait by Bernardo Strozzi. Mary Newcome Schleier identified the male sitter as the Genoese poet Agostino di Tomaso Franzone (1573-1658). A member of an illustrious famiglia nuova, he became a senator in 1652, but is best known for his book Nobilta di Genovà, published in 1636 with 36 prints after designs by Luciano Borzone (L. Grillo, 'Agostino Franzone', Giornale degli Studiosi di lettere, scienze, arti e mestieri, II, 1870, pp. 249-51). The print in this publication with the portrait of Franzone at the age of sixty-three, shows the same physiognomy and a man of more or less the same age as in this portrait. Dr. Newcome Schleier dates the present picture to circa 1630-1, probably just before Bernardo's departure to Venice, and when Franzone was in his mid-fifties.
There is little mention of Franzone as a servant of the Republic probably because he dedicated most of his time to his writings on genealogy, social and political history. This erudite interest is attested to by Genoa's seventeenth-century biographer, Raffaele Soprani, who writes that Franzone 'superò tutti nel brio, et energia del favellare, e si dimostrò sempre pronto a discorrere sopra di qualsivoglia materia'. However, most of his writings were never printed. Amongst them was the Aristo, dialogo del governo antico della città di Genova e della nobiltà di essa (1623-1641). He also wrote a history of Venice, Venetia, cioè sua origine, vescovi, patriarchi et nobiltà di quella Republica, in 1638. Research for which might well have taken him to Venice, where Bernardo Strozzi had moved in 1631.
No other portrait by Bernardo Strozzi of a Genoese poet or musician is known. However, more documentation exists on the artist's acquaintance with musical and literary society when he arrived in Venice. There, despite his clerical commitments, he soon became part of the city's artistic circle. This is illustrated not only by his portrait of Claudio Monteverdi (private collection), but also by that of another well known Venetian poet, Giulio Strozzi (1635; Ashmolean Museum, Oxford), who was a formative figure in the shaping of the new Dramma per musica; the similarity of their surnames being a pure coincidence. Furthermore, David and Ellen Rosand indentified the portrait of A musician in Dresden as that of the poet's illegitimate daughter, Barbara (D. and E. Rosand, 'Barbara di Santa Sofia and Il Prete Genovese: On the identity of a Portrait by Bernardo Strozzi, The Art Bulletin, LXIII, no. 2, June 1981, pp. 249-58, fig. 1).
The account by Strozzi's first biographer, Raffaello Soprani (1674; who had written with enthusiasm about Franzoni), of his endeavours not to return to the Capuchin monastery after the death of his mother was discarded in the twentieth century as romantic. However, his intellectual and artistic interests may have contributed to his wish to become a lay friar. As the Rosands pointed out, Andrea Fossa, a visitor to the Augustian monastery of San Teodoro in Genoa to whom Strozzi had written a petition in 1630 in order that he be accepted into the monastery, might have become Abbot General of the Order. He was a learned and powerful man, and had obtained degrees at the University of Padua in theology, philosophy and law. He was a writer and friend of poets, and a member of the most important intellectual society in Venice, the Accademia degli Incogniti, and more specifically a member of the Accademia degli Unisoni (loc. cit).
We are grateful to Dr. Mary Newcome Schleier for confirming the attribution on the basis of a transparency and for her assistance in the cataloguing of this lot.
Rodolphe Kann began collecting in 1880, with the purchase of the first of 11 paintings by Rembrandt; during the next 20 years he built an important collection of Old Master paintings, which he purchased, following his own judgement, in Paris and London. His preference was for picturesque, high-quality, well-preserved works in the Grand style, including Vermeer's Girl Asleep at a Table and Rembrandt's Aristotle Contemplating a Bust of Homer (both Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York). Kann's collection was displayed in his house on the Avenue d'Iéna in Paris; two large rooms with skylights displayed the seventeenth-century paintings, while the fifteenth- and sixteenth-century works, including Ghirlandaio's Giovanna Tornabuoni (Museo Thyssen-Bornemisza, Madrid), were shown in a central salon. Doors on the second floor connected the house to the adjoining one belonging to Kann's brother, Maurice Kann, also an important collector; by opening them, a single large gallery was created. After Rodolphe Kann's death his collection, which had been inherited by his two sons, was sold en bloc in August 1907 for almost £900,000 to Duveen Brothers, who opened the Kann house in Paris to important clients. These included the American collectors Benjamin Altman, J. Pierpont Morgan and John G. Johnson; it was through them that many of Kann's paintings entered the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York and other public collections in the United States.