This flamboyant figure appears to the right of Porta's fresco of The Reconciliation of Pope Alexander III and the Emperor Frederick Barbarossa, painted in the Sala Regia at the Vatican in 1563-5, D. Mc Tavish, Giuseppe Porta, called il Salviati, London and New York, 1981, fig. 221. The commission for the decoration of the hall, intended for the reception of diplomatic missions, had been awarded by Pope Pius IV to Francesco Salviati, Giuseppe Porta's teacher, in 1560, through the offices of his patron Cardinal Farnese. Francesco worked slowly and irregularly, and by 1563 had only completed a small number of cartoons and preparatory drawings. In that year the Venetian Cardinal Amulio succeeded in transferring the commission to Giuseppe Porta.
Porta, by birth a Tuscan, was taken to Rome at an early age and in 1535 was apprenticed to the Florentine Francesco Salviati, from whom he later took his name. The pair left Rome in 1539 and travelled to Venice, where Porta settled on Francesco's departure in 1541. His early training in a Central Italian environment was modified through the remainder of his career by the spirit of his adopted city, a combination that is apparent in the present drawing. While the delicacy of the portrait and the use of coloured chalks are reminiscent of Barocci and the Zuccari, the strong pose and the feathered black chalk around the head suggest the draughtsmanship of Veronese and the Bassani. Porta's cosmopolitan style found expression in his frescoes for the façades of Venetian palazzi and ambitious paintings and ceiling decorations for churches and civic buildings. This experience was particularly relevant to the commission for The Reconciliation of Pope Alexander III and the Emperor Frederick Barbarossa. This encounter, which took place on the steps of the Basilica of Saint Mark in July 1177, assumed near-legendary status in the minds of the Venetians. In figures larger than life-size, Porta's fresco shows the Holy Roman Emperor kneeling in obeisance before the Pope, a reconciliation that was brought about under the auspices of Doge Ziani and which was was seen by his compatriots as the epitome of Venice's position as an arbiter between Rome, the Holy Roman Empire, and the great powers of the Mediterranean.
The precision of Porta's panorama of the Piazza and the distant view of San Giorgio Maggiore beyond suggests that he depended on preparatory sketches brought to Rome in 1563. Two compositional drawings are known, a fluent study at the Wadsworth Atheneum, Hartford (D. McTavish, op. cit., no. 9, fig. 222) and a more fully finished drawing at Chatsworth, in which the figure in the present work takes shape, M. Jaffé, The Devonshire Collection of Italian Drawings, Venetian and North Italian Schools, London, 1994, no. 830. A third study, in black and red chalk, for the group in the lower left corner of the fresco was formerly in the Collection of Michel Gaud, sold Sotheby's, Monaco, 20 June 1987, lot 72.
The delicacy and directness of the present drawing, together with the remarkable foreshortening of the figure's right arm, suggest that it is not only drawn from life but may be a portrait of one of Salviati's contemporaries. This suggestion is supported by the near contemporary evidence of Giovanni Baglione, who, in his Vite de'pittore, scultore et architetti... published in 1642, notes approvingly the 'belli ritratti ad naturale' (quoted in McTavish, op. cit., p. 278). While the head of Pope Alexander III can be shown to be a portrait of Pope Pius IV, and that of Doge Ziani a portrait of the reigning Doge Girolamo Priuli, further identification is difficult.