This previously unpublished portrait of Ferdinando II de' Medici has been convincingly attributed to Matteo Rosselli, the Florentine painter who trained under Gregorio Pagani and started working for the Medici family in 1608, on the occasion of the marriage of Cosimo II and Maria Maddalena of Austria. Subsequently, the commisssions awarded by the Grand Dukes grew in number and importance, and Rosselli ran a highly successful workshop with collaborators such as Giovanni da San Giovanni, Furini, Vignali, Lippi and Volterrano.
Rosselli painted frescoes, ephemeral decorations and canvases of various subjects and was very hightly esteemed in all genres, however, his portraits were apparently mocked by Giovanni da San Giovanni for the excessive sumptuousness in his rendering of clothing and ornaments (see F. Baldinucci, Battezzati Maestri, Lettera M, 1577-1588, ed. 1845-1847, pp. 249-50). The present composition is a superb example of Rosselli's sophisticated portrait style with close attention paid to the details of the fabrics and the costume. The ruff is exquisitely depicted, and the embroidery on the sumptuous clothing is very precise and intricate. These elements are quite different from the handling of the rest of the painting, which reveals a more loose and nervous brushtroke. Rosselli's Portrait of the Beatified Amedeo of Savoia (formerly with Heim Gallery, London; see G. Cantelli, Repertorio della pittura fiorentina del Seicento, Florence, 1983, no. 675, illustrated) is rendered in the same manner.
The present portrait of Ferdinando II can be dated to the second half of the 1620s, and shows many similarities with the full-length portrait by Justus Sustermans in the Palazzo Pitti, dated to 1627 (see K. Langedijk, The Portraits of the Medici, 1983, II, p. 778, no. 38,31). The format and the pose of the sitter are similar, as well as the objects surrounding him, such as the plumed hat, the plan of the fortress, and the partially lifted curtain. In the Sustermans portrait, Ferdinando is depicted in armour in contrast to the court dress which he wears in the present work. Arguably, Rosselli's portrait appears to depict a slightly younger man and may therefore be marginally earlier in date.
It is highly relevant that Ferdinando is depicted in this portrait wearing the badge of the Order of Santo Stefano. This order has been founded in 1561 by Cosimo I to commemorate his victory at the Battle of Marciano on 2nd August 1554. It was endorsed by Pope Pius IV who appointed Cosimo and his successors as Grand Masters of the Order in perpetuity to be taken up at the time of their succession as Grand Dukes of Tuscany. Ferdinando had succeeded both on Cosimo's II death in 1621, at the age of eleven. This portait, the first major image of the new young Grand Duke appears to have been painted to celebrate the end of the regency and to establish the sitter's credentials as ruler of Tuscany.
The son of Cosimo II and his wife, Maria Maddalena of Austria, Ferdinando II was born in Florence on 14 July 1610. His father's early death marked the start of a long regency. The regency was conservative in all aspects of governance but successive plague epidemics (1631-3) and economic depression in the linen and wool industries provoked a vigorous response from the young Grand Duke: a dole and a government-supported public works programme were established, the latter including construction of the Monte Reggi aqueduct and the installation of new public fountains. In addition the Palazzo Pitti was expanded from a 7 to a 23 bay façade, the Boboli Gardens were re-organized and an amphitheatre built.
At the Palazzo Pitti, Matteo Rosselli worked with Giovanni da San Giovanni, who was commissioned to fresco the public rooms of the summer apartments in his highly informal style. However, on Giovanni's death in 1636, the room he had partially completed was programmatically revised and turned over to younger Florentine artists: Francesco Furini, Cecco Bravo and Ottavio Vannini. The decoration of the public rooms on the piano nobile was given to the Rome-based Tuscan artist Pietro da Cortona and subsequently completed by his pupil Ciro Ferri. The work of these artists (1637-65) brought the Roman High Baroque to Florence and had a profound influence on Florentine art, notably that of Stefano della Bella and Baldassare Franceschini, both patronized by Ferdinando II; but several artists were unaffected by the intrusion of the Roman Baroque, notably the Grand Duke's portrait painter, Justus Sustermans, whose style was Rubensian, and Carlo Dolci, who continued to produce portraits and religious paintings in his painstakingly brilliant manner. The public works projects of 1630-40 and the War of Castro (1641-44) exhausted the grand-ducal treasury and curtailed other large-scale projects. Ferdinando died at Pisa on 24 May 1670.
This portrait was formerly part of the celebrated collection of the works of art largely formed by Hollingworth Magniac at Colworth Park, Bedfordshire, which was particularily rich in 16th Century portraiture. The collection included such works as Hieronymous Bosch's The Mocking of Christ (National Gallery, London), Juan Pantoja de La Cruz's Portrait of Don Diego Gómez de Sandoval y Rojas (Norton Simon Museum, Pasadena, California), Corneille de Lyon's Portrait of a Man (Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York) and Raphael's celebrated portrait of Lorenzo de' Medici (Ira Spanierman collection, New York).