P.8 Portrait of a Young Man

P.8 Portrait of a Young Man

c. 1520

Washington, D.C., National Gallery of Art, no. 1611.

Panel, poplar, 88.7 x 67.9.


Fig.P.8b head
Fig.P.8d x-radiograph
Fig.P.8e x-radiograph, turned
Fig.P.8f x-radiograph with portrait

The condition of the picture appears good except in the darkest passages of the drapery where the surface has become very granular and cracked. As seen in an x-ray of the lower part of the portrait, there is a loss of paint at the elbow and smaller one near the edge of the cloak, stretched across the man’s body. At the lower right the paint has become so dark that the character of the folds is illegible as well as the form of the sitter’s left arm.  But there are no signs of extensive repainting here. The shadows of the face, especially at the right, have a grainy texture indicating slight damage and perhaps some re-touching.  The upper lip at the right and the part between the lips also at the right seem repainted.

The picture was cleaned and restored in dry color and tempera by M. Modestini in Italy in 1948. It was cleaned at the National Gallery in 1992, mainly to removed discolored varnish. It was then that missing glazes were noted that would have made the background a deeper green (see below David Allen Brown’s report to Béguin in 1994).

As revealed by an x-radiograph made in 1988–89 part of the portrait was painted over the head and shoulder of a young woman seen in profile facing left. This head appears upside down in the area of the sitter’s right hand.  From a cross-section of the area flesh tones made of lead white, red lake, and vermillion, would seem to indicate that the head was fully painted and not just sketched (see Béguin, below). For a discussion of this profile head and the possibility that the panel was first used for an altarpiece of late 1514 or 1515 of which the Angel Playing a Lute in the Uffizi (P.4) was also a part (see L.11).1

The figure is dressed in dark gray garments and hat, and a white shirt. He wears a ring with a red stone. His hair is dark brown. There are green tones in the face most apparent along the left, illuminated, side of the nose. The background is olive green.

PROVENANCE: Beechwood (near Boxmoor), Sir T. Sebright, in the nineteenth century (see Waagen, 1857 below). Beechwood and London, Sir Giles Sebright; sold London, Christie’s, July 2, 1937, no. 128, as Andrea del Sarto (Freedberg, 1963, II, 219, 237, 242, and McKillop, 1974, 217). Rome, Ventura; Florence, Contini Bonacossi; New York, Kress Collection, 1950; National Gallery of Art, 1951 (see Shapley below).  Franklin, 1994, 221, states that according to the Contini Bonacossi records the portrait was once owned by the Pazzi family of Florence.


Waagen, 1857, 329, as Andrea del Sarto? but indicative rather of Franciabigio.

Longhi, 1951, 61, Fig. 30 (1976, 101, Pl. 84), first published it as Rosso’s of around the time of the Dei Altarpiece of 1522, or a little before (Longhi’s attribution to Rosso appears on the back of a photograph in the museum dated 20 March 1950).

William E. Suida, Paintings and Sculpture from the Kress Collection, Acquired by the Samuel H. Kress Foundation 1945–1951, National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C., 1951, 130, no. 55, 131, Fig., as Rosso and related to the Dei Altarpiece and to the Marriage of the Virgin, and dated around 1522 or 1523.

Hartt, 1952, 65, as Rosso; he compares it to the portrait attributed to Rosso in Berlin and to his portrait in Naples.

Briganti, 1953, 51, as Rosso.

Baldini, in Mostra del Pontormo, 1956, 129, no. 161, Pl. CII, as Rosso.

Oertel, 1956, 218, as Rosso.

Sanminiatelli, 1956, 241, as Rosso and datable in 1523.

Shearman, 1957, II, 215, n. 7, suggests that it is not by Rosso.

Accepted as Rosso’s by Barocchi, 1958, 237, and related to the Dei Altarpiece. She reports that Herbert Keutner, in a lecture at the Kunsthistorisches Institut in Florence, attributed the portrait to Sogliani on the basis of an entry in a Riccardi inventory of 1612.

Keutner, 1959, 141–144, 152 and n. 9, Figs. 3, 5, as Sogliani’s portrait of Francesco dell’Ajolle listed in a Riccardi inventory of 1612.

Malojoli, 1959, text with Pl. VII, as Rosso.

Paintings and Sculpture from the Samuel H. Kress Collection, Washington, D.C., 1959, 106.

Berenson, 1963, 195, as Rosso, with question.

Carroll, 1964, (1976), I, Bk. I, 69–70, Bk. II, 118–122, P. 12, III, Fig. 20, as Rosso, ca. 1520.

Borea, 1965, Pl. XIV, as Rosso around the time of the Dei Altarpiece.

Fredericksen and Zeri, 1972, 179, 647, as Rosso.

Fern Rusk Shapley, Paintings from the Samuel H. Kress Collection, Italian Schools, XVI–XVIII Century, London and New York, 1973, 9–10, K1735, Fig. 15, as Rosso, compared with his portraits in Liverpool and Naples, and datable possibly a little later than the former.  Shapley suggests that the picture is a self-portrait.  This suggestion is mentioned in the anonymous review of Shapley’s catalogue in The Times Literary Supplement, August 17, 1973, 944.

Luciano Bellosi, in Primato del disegno, 1980, 42, as Rosso.

Kolch, 1983, 75, as done in 1522–1523.

Wilmes, 1985, 146, 150–152, Fig. 32, implied a date c. 1520 and before the Liverpool portrait.

Carroll, 1987, 52–53, n. 7, under no.1, as not a self-portrait.

Franklin, “Portrait,” 1989, 839, 840, 841, Fig. 45 (detail), as Rosso.

Ciardi and Mugnaini, 1991, 100–101, no.17, with Fig. 116, as Rosso, apparently done in the early 1520s.

Franklin, 1994, 138, 210, 212, 214, 216, 221–224, 226, Color Pls. 167 and 176, by Rosso, and as done in Florence in the mid-1520s around the time of the Moses, but also as later than the Liverpool portrait and apparently done in Rome, the dating supported by the hairstyle and costume, the placement of the hand on the hip as possibly derived from Raphael’s portrait of Lorenzo de’Medici.

Costamagna, 1994, 72, 107, n. 2 under Cat. 5, 120, n. 1 under Cat. 16, 317, under A103, as Rosso, done around 1519, more majestic than Rosso’s portrait in England and derived from Raphael’s half-length Lorenzo, Duke of Urbino which was in Florence since 1518.

Valle, 1994, 60, Fig. 18, 61, as Rosso.

Béguin, in Empoli e Volterra, 1996 (1994), 92–94, 97–98, ns. 20–29, Figs. 100–101, recalls the Roman portraits of Raphael and Sebastiano, including Raphael’s Lorenzo de’Medici that Rosso need not have been in Rome to see but would have known in Florence. Not a self-portrait, as suggested by Shapley. A monumental, artistocratic, “State Portrait”, invented by Raphael, without rapport with the “bourgeois” aspect of Florentine portraits. A first examination with an infra-red camera revealed no drawing on the panel, but a later x-radiograph revealed a female profile indicating that Rosso has re-used a panel on which he had painted before. She commented that the garment and hands of the sitter were painted to hide this head. A cross-section showed the pigments of  flesh tones: lead white, red lake, and vermillion, as reported to Béguin by David Allen Brown on 18 August 1994 (97, n. 24), “so that the head was fully painted and not just sketched.” The female profile Béguin compared to the head of St. Apollonia in Rosso’s Sposalizio of 1523. As a fragment, the Washington portrait is like the Angel Playing a Lute in the Uffizi, where the attribute of St. Catherine could correspond to the profile in Washington. Was the Washington profile head part of the picture that included the Angel Playing a Lute? “Cette hypothesis n’est pas absolument infirmeé par le style.” The profile head is also a witness to Rosso’s admiration of Michelangelo’s teste divine.

Although Shearman in 1957 did not recognize the portrait as Rosso’s, and Keutner shortly thereafter attributed it to Sogliani, an attribution that was justly criticized by Shapley, the portrait in Washington has elsewhere found general acceptance as a work by Rosso with question of this attribution later expressed only in Berenson’s list published in 1963.  The conception of the portrait is very much like that of Rosso’s signed portrait in Liverpool (P.16) with the figure largely filling the area of the panel, the body turned to the right, the sitter’s right shoulder projecting forward, and both hands in front of the body.  And yet, the size of the forms in the Washington portrait and its fluid execution place it closer to the portrait of early 1519 in London (P.6).  The definition of the hands in the latter portrait, with their angular forms and pointed fingers, is very much like that of the hands in the picture in Washington.  In the Liverpool portrait the hands are very similar, but the grandness of that portrait seems to indicate that it is somewhat later in date.

Compared with the portrait in England the one in Washington is executed with far more control, especially in the painting of the face.  Here the fine brushstrokes curve to indicate the turn of the surface of the forms in a manner like that of the network of engraved lines in some sixteenth century prints.  By contrast the Liverpool portrait, where the surface of the face seems best preserved, has more the character of enamel.  The handling of the Washington portrait suggests a moment for its execution somewhere between that of the portrait of 1519 and that of the portrait in Liverpool, and most resembles the better preserved passages of Rosso’s Holy Family of around 1519 in Baltimore (Fig.P.7a).

Like the Holy Family the Washington portrait reveals the influence of Pontormo’s art, and specifically of his art around 1519 as represented by his St. John the Evangelist and St. Michael in Empoli.2 However, in the clarity of Rosso’s use of the terms of Pontormo’s style the portrait seems a more mature work than the Baltimore painting.  Within Rosso’s oeuvre his drawing of a Standing Nude Woman in the Uffizi (D.5) shows him nearest to Pontormo’s art of around 1519. The shapes and the precise manner in which forms are modeled in this drawing are almost exactly as in the Washington portrait.  Both of these works approach the more abstract manner of the Volterra Deposition of 1521 (Fig.P.9a) but do not seem quite yet to have arrived at it.  Therefore a date around 1520 seems indicated for the drawing and for the portrait in Washington.

Keutner’s identification of the sitter as Francesco dell’Ajolle is not acceptable as there is no evidence that the painting once showed the figure holding a large musical instrument that was part of the image of this musician in the portrait listed in the Riccardi inventory of 1612.3 As Keutner points out, and as Shapley repeats, x-rays of the portrait do not support this hypothesis.  The sitter appears simply to be holding a fold of the drapery of his garment.  Furthermore, the physiognomy of the sitter does not closely resemble that of Ajolle as he appears in Sarto’s Procession of the Magi of 1511 although Keutner chooses to see them as similar.  Keutner does not attempt to attribute the portrait to Sogliani on the basis of stylistic comparisons with works certainly by that artist, and such comparisons do not confirm his attribution.4

Shapley supports her own suggestion that the picture is a self-portrait by stating that “the sitter’s features may well have developed in about twenty years into those reproduced by Vasari in his woodcut vignette of Rosso [in the 1568 edition of the Lives]” (Fig.Rosso, Vasari Lives).  She adds that the “large, imposing figure, ruddy complexion, and rich costume [of the portrait] are in keeping also with Vasari’s description of Rosso’s appearance and luxuriant manner of living.”  This may be true of the portrait but the luxury she refers to is related, so far as we know, only to Rosso’s life in France, although it is possible that he may also have dressed well in Italy, especially for his own portrait. The only detail of Rosso’s appearance that Vasari mentions and that would be required in a youthful portrait of him is his red hair. Vasari writes of his “pelo rosso, conforme al nome.”5 In the Washington portrait the sitter’s hair is brown.  Whether or not it is slightly reddish is unclear, or if it is reddish whether it is sufficiently so for the sitter in early sixteenth century Florence to be nicknamed Rosso.

The woodcut in Vasari’s Lives (Fig.Rosso, Vasari Lives) would seem to show Rosso older than he was when he left Italy in 1530 at the age of thirty-six.  It would seem then that the source of the image would have to have been a drawing sent from France from which Vasari would have made the model that was used in Venice.6 The detail of the woodcut that most resembles what appears in the Washington portrait is the somewhat flattened nose with the nostril on a diagonal and the flange quite round.  Perhaps the slightly protruding brow is also like that in the painting.  The large moustaches suggest that beneath them may be the high upper lip of the figure in Washington.

What is, however, entirely missing from the painting are those moustaches as well as the abundant beard of the woodcut portrait. Unfortunately, we do not know if Rosso had a beard around the age of twenty-six when the portrait was painted.  Vasari states that when the young Rosso painted the now lost coat-of-arms of Cardinal Lorenzo Pucci at SS. Annunziata (L.8) he was “ancor sbarbato.”  This was in October and November of 1513 when the artist was just over nineteen and a half years old.  What Vasari’s phrase would seem to mean is that at this time Rosso did not yet have to shave thus emphasizing his youth.  But the use of the phrase would have been even more telling if thereafter Rosso remained unshaven and was always bearded as an adult.  Although beards were not common in Florence when Rosso was a young man, another contemporary artist, Pontormo, seems always to have had one.  The possibility that the Washington picture is a self-portrait may depend on whether or not Rosso had a beard around 1520 when he was twenty-six years old.7

It should be noted that all portraits meant to represent Rosso and identified as such by inscription or context are ultimately derived from the one in Vasari’s Lives.  As no other independently verifiable representation of him exists it is not possible to evaluate the accuracy of the one published twenty-eight years after Rosso’s death.  One would like to know where Vasari got his image of the mature Rosso at this time.  Just before Rosso left for France Vasari met him and so had direct knowledge of what he looked like.  He may even have known an Italian portrait of him.  However, it is also possible that Vasari did not actually have a portrait of the older Rosso but invented it himself out of the appearance of the younger man whom he then made to appear older and supplied with moustaches and a long beard that he had heard Rosso acquired in France.  By such a method the unbearded young man in the Washington portrait could have become the older artist that one sees in the much later woodcut.8 However, although the woodcut portrait is the only one that seems surely to represent Rosso there is a head in the Borgo Sansepolcro Pietà that may be a self-portrait.  It was pointed out by Darragon (1983, 43–44) and is the head slightly tilted back just to the left of the cross about a fourth of the way down from the top of the picture.  This figure has a red moustache and a red beard although the length of the beard cannot be seen.  The “pelo rosso” of this head and its appearance in this altarpiece strongly suggests that it is a self-portrait.  However, even this conclusion from a picture executed in 1527–1528 does not necessarily prove that Rosso had a beard seven or eight years earlier. Consequently, we cannot know to what extent the portrait in Washington can even be entertained as a possible self-portrait.  I am inclined to believe that Rosso had a beard already as a young man and that his hair was redder than in the Washington portrait which I would thus think is not a self-portrait.9

1I wish to thank David Alan Brown for kindly sending me a print the x-radiograph of part of the portrait showing the female head in profile (upside down in relation to the portrait) that was discovered.

2 Rearick, 1964, I, 161–162, II, Figs. 98–99.

3 Costamagna, 1994, 120, n. 1, under Cat. 16, thought that the inventory of 1612 identified the portrait as of Francesco dell’Aiolle, but this was Keutner’s suggestion.

4 It should be pointed out that another (unidentified) portrait is attributed to Rosso in the Riccardi inventory of 1612 (see L.14C). Consequently, it might be wondered, if the Washington picture is the portrait of Francesco dell’Ajolle attributed to Sogliani why not only was its sitter wrongly identified but also the artist who painted it when another portrait in the same collection was actually attributed to Rosso in that same inventory (unless, of course, that, too, was wrongly attributed).

5 Vasari, 1568, II, 210; Vasari-Milanesi, V, 1881, 167.  Shapley use of the phrase “ruddy complexion” seems to indicate that this is her translation of Vasari’s “pelo rosso” as it was also Mrs. Foster’s in her translation of Vasari’s “Life” of Rosso (London, III, 1891, 317).  But the Italian phrase does mean “red hair” and so it appears in Gaston de Vere’s translation of Vasari’s Lives (London, V, 1913, 198).  So, too, Baldinucci thought it to mean in the seventeenth century when he identified a self-portrait by Rosso because the sitter had a red beard (see L.14B, and n. 5 below).  It might be relevant to indicate that Rosso was fond of giving his figures red hair, especially the figure of Christ, but more important for the issue under consideration here also the figure of his namesake St. John the Baptist, as in the S. Maria Nuova Altarpiece of 1518 (Fig.P.5a). Berti (1983, 52) actually suggests that this lightly bearded youthful saint is a self-portrait.  It seems fair to think that Rosso gave these figures red hair to make a personal identification with them.

6 See Charles Davis, in Giorgio Vasari, 1981, 254–255.

7 Wolfram Prinz, “Vasari’s Sammlung von Künstlerbildnissen,” Mitteilungen des Kunsthistorischen Institutes in Florenz, Supplement to Vol. XII, 1966, 126, mentions that Baldinucci in 1685 identified an early self-portrait of Rosso owned by the Ginori in Florence (L.14B) by comparing it with the portrait in Vasari’s Lives.  This painted portrait showed a young man, about thirty years old, according to Baldinucci, with an untrimmed flaming red beard.  Unfortunately this picture is not known today and consequently Baldinucci’s identification cannot be evaluated.  But if Baldinucci was correct then it is unlikely that the unbearded sitter in the Washington portrait is also Rosso.  It should be mentioned that the Portrait of a Young Man in Berlin (RP.2) that has been attributed to Rosso has been thought to be a self-portrait, but this picture seems not to be by him.  Licia Ragghianti (1971, 51–52, 63, n. 21, and Ragghianti Collobi, 1974, I, 118) thought that a drawing in the Louvre, Inv. 1594 (Fig.Paris, 1594), is a portrait of Rosso by an assistant of his in France and that it may have served as the model for the portrait in Vasari’s Lives.  But this drawing is not a portrait at all and most probably represents God-the-Father.  Costamagna, 1994, 119–120, no. 16, 120, Color Fig., thought that Pontormo’s Portrait of a Young Man in the Uffizi, that shows the unbearded sitter holding a book of music, may be a portrait of Rosso.  His argument turns on Vasari’s reference to Rosso as a musician, to the resemblance of the head of the sitter to that in the woodcut in Vasari’s Lives, to the red hair that might by dyed to relate it to the name of his supposed father, Fra Jacopo de’Rossi, and to the red of the back of the chair and of the cover of the book, unexpected at this time and seen as not innocent additions.  This rather extravagant defense does not persuade me to recognize Rosso here, nor did it convince Béguin, who slipped to call it Pontormo’s “autoportrait de Rosso” (in Empoli e Volterra, 1996[1994], 93, 97, n.21: “Cette hypothèse ne nous paraît pas fondée.”).

8 There is an eighteenth century black chalk drawing of Rosso in the Uffizi (4069F; 14.6 x 11.3) attributed to G. B. Cecchi that is rightly noted there as copied from the one published by Vasari.  It is also noted that this drawing served the printmakers Benedetto Eredi and Colombini for the portrait of Rosso in the Elogi dei pittori scultori e architetti of 1769–1775.  An impression of this etching, inscribed with Rosso’s name and with Colombini’s, is in the Albertina (Vol. It.II.21, p.62 top).  In both the drawing and the print Rosso is shown half-length, facing left, and holding a drawing instrument in his right hand.  There is also an anonymous etching of Rosso, inscribed with his name, in the Albertina (Vol. It.II.21, p.62 bottom).  It, too, is related to the portrait in Vasari’s Lives. Nicolas de Larmessin’s half-length portrait of Rosso, inscribed with his name, shows him facing right and holding four paint brushes (Kusenberg, 1931, Pl. I).  Once more it is a variation of Vasari’s portrait.  Vasari himself used his portrait of Rosso again as the central portrait above his own in the Sala delle Arti e degli Artisti of his own house in Florence, frescoed between 1569 and 1574 (See Alessandro Cecchi in Giorgio Vasari, 1981, 41–42, Fig. 112; Detlef Heikamp, “A Florence la maison de Vasari,” L’Oeil, 135, 1966, 2–9, 42, Figs. 5–6; and Jacobs, 1984, 400, Fig. 2, 402, Fig. 6, 403).  Vasari seems also to have used this portrait in his Madonna del Rosario of 1569–1570 in S. Maria Novella in Florence (see Carroll, 1967, 304, Fig. 9) that is related to Rosso’s Madonna della Misericordia drawing in the Louvre (D.34) that Vasari owned.  The monk at the right kissing the hand of the Virgin points with his left hand holding a rosary to a bearded man who very much resembles Vasari’s image of Rosso.  However, this figure’s hair and beard are white, not red, suggesting that Vasari thought that this was Rosso’s appearance at the end of his life.  Unfortunately I do not know the color of Rosso’s hair in the fresco in Vasari’s house but from a black and white photograph it and the beard although not entirely white seem to have a lot of white in them.  The appearance of Rosso’s portrait in these works, the special role it has in both, and the grandness of the image of Rosso that Vasari depicts, here and in the Lives, seem to acknowledge Vasari’s special veneration of this artist who was so helpful to him as a young man in Arezzo.

9 There is one other portrait of Rosso—a self-portrait—that is not derived from the portrait in Vasari’s Lives.  At the far lower left of the fresco of the Royal Elephant in the Gallery of Francis I (Fig.P.22, VI N c) there is a red-headed mature man with a long red beard.  The specialness of his appearance suggests that he is a portrait and the redness of his hair and beard, accentuated by his green garment, strongly point to this identification.  This is a traditional identification the early records of which, however, I have not been able to find (see Panofsky, 1958, 170, n. 52, and Pierrette Destanque in Alleau, 1957, 217–218).  The appearance of the figure in the fresco can easily be reconciled with that of the portrait in Vasari’s Lives.  The three-quarter view in the fresco is like that of the Washington portrait.  The proportions of both heads are similar but it is not possible to tell if the features really correspond.  In the fresco the artist would probably be between 38 and 40 years old.  The figure to the left of the red-bearded man has been traditionally identified as Primaticcio (see Panofsky above, which, however, is not the first record of this identification).  It may resemble this artist but before he went bald as he appears in Vasari’s Lives (1568, III, 767; see also Dimier, 1900, 88–89).  The self-portrait drawing in the Albertina (Dimier, 1900, 88–89, 450–451, no. 143, and Dimier, 1928, Pl. I) shows him less bald.  It could be the same person as the figure in the fresco which, if of Primaticcio, would show him at 28 to 30 years of age.  Both of the heads in the painting appear in copies of a lost drawing for this fresco (D.53) and in Fantuzzi’s etching of this scene (E.64).  If Vasari while searching for an image of Rosso in the 1560s had heard that the fresco contained his portrait and that it also appeared in Fantuzzi’s etching of that scene he might have used this print for the information he needed to invent his own portrait of Rosso.  For this print does show, and much clearer than the drawings, the long beard and long moustaches, and perhaps also the short hair, that are found in the woodcut portrait.

In addition to the head in the Sansepolcro Pietà, Darragon (1983, 31, n. 23) recognizes Rosso’s portrait in Raffaellino del Colle’s Deposition in the Pinacoteca Communale of Città di Castello (Venturi, IX, 5, 1932, 615, Fig. 344) and in the head of Argus in Caraglio’s Mercury in a Niche designed by Rosso (E.38). Both are bearded figures but their relation to Rosso is dubious.  As stated above Berti thinks the head of St. John the Baptist in the S. Maria Nuova Altarpiece is a self-portrait, but it does not look especially like an individualized head.  He also thinks (1983, 58–59) that the next to the last apostle in the Assumption at SS. Annunziata may represent Rosso but it does not seem quite possible to reconcile the appearance of this unbearded young man with that of the young saint in the altarpiece of 1518.  Furthermore this apostle has not red but blond hair.