Sebastiano del PiomboSebastiano Luciano, known as del Piombo because of his appointment as piombatore papale (keeper of the papal seal). It is deduced from Vasari’s statement that Sebastiano was 62 years old when he died that he was born in about 1485. According to Vasari, he received his first training under the elderly Giovanni Bellini. He was then an apprentice or associate of Giorgione – or at least was greatly influenced by his style. Michiel (1525) says that he finished one of Giorgione’s pictures (usually identified with the Three Philosophers in Vienna).
He left Venice for Rome in 1511 on the invitation of the immensely wealthy Sienese banker Agostino Chigi. On arrival, he painted frescoes in the Villa Farnesina and entered Raphael’s circle. Raphael’s influence is particularly evident in Sebastiano’s superb portraits of his early Roman years, while Sebastiano’s rich Venetian colour in turn influenced Raphael somewhat. Later (probably in 1515) Sebastiano became attached to Michelangelo, who provided compositional drawings for his paintings (including the famous Pietà for Viterbo, the wall paintings of the Borgherini Chapel in San Pietro in Montorio, and the gigantic altarpiece, now in London, of the Raising of Lazarus) and was godfather to Sebastiano’s son (born in 1520).
After Raphael’s death in 1520, Sebastiano became the leading painter in Rome. He gradually lost his Venetian style, adopting more monumental forms and a cooler range of colour. He sought refuge in Orvieto, Mantua and Venice in 1528-29, after the Sack of Rome. But he soon returned to Rome, and in 1531 Clement VII appointed him piombatore – a lucrative sinecure paying a stipend of some eight hundred scudi, in addition to an income he already received as canon of the church at Torcello. Thereafter, he became very lazy and addicted to the pleasures of the table according to Vasari. His friendship with Michelangelo seems to have ended in the mid-1530s, after Michelangelo had asked him to prepare the altar wall of the Sistine Chapel for the painting of the Last Judgement. When Michelangelo discovered that Sebastiano, who had invented a technique for mural painting in oil, had prepared the wall for this medium rather than traditional fresco, he was furious and had Sebastiano’s preparation torn down.
Sebastiano’s late religious works were mainly for Spanish patrons, and tend to be more personal and emotional; often painted on marble or slate, they have a greyish tone. They influenced later Spanish artists, such as Francisco Ribalta. Sebastiano died in June 1547; he was buried in Santa Maria del Popolo, but in 1561 his remains were transferred to the Accademia di San Luca in Rome.
Alnwick Castle (Northumberland).
Visitation. Fragments of a large mural.
One fragment (140 x 185) represents the Meeting of the Virgin Mary and St Elizabeth; another (139 x 90) the figure of St Zacharias and the head of a servant; and a third (139 x 113) three female figures, one holding a basket. The fragments are from a wall painting in the choir of Santa Maria della Pace at Rome. The painting was not in true fresco, but executed in oil on dry plaster. It was commissioned by the papal chamberlain Filippo Sergardi, executor of Agostino Chigi’s estate, and left unfinished by Sebastiano at his death. It was removed before 1614 when the interior of the church was remodelled in the Baroque style. The three fragments were sold in 1618 by the Abbot of Santa Maria della Pace to Cardinal Orazio Lancellotti, and were acquired by Cardinal Fesch in 1803, when he was renting the Palazzo Lancellotti at Rome. Fesch's vast collection was dispersed in 1845, and the fragments passed to Alnwick in 1855 from the Davenport Bromley collection. There are old copies of the complete composition at Alnwick and in the Borghese Gallery, Rome. There is also a sixteenth-century print by Hieronymus Cock.
Portrait of Francesco Arsilli. Wood, 85 x 69.
The inscription along the top gives the sitter’s name and his age as fifty-two. As Arsilli – Sebastiano’s friend and doctor – was born in about 1470, the portrait presumably dates from about 1522. Arsilli points to the words Lapis Philosopalis (Philosophers’ Stone) on the page of the open book (referring to the hypothetical substance sought by alchemists that was supposed to turn base metal into gold). Sebastiano’s signature appears lower down. The picture was bequeathed to the Pinacoteca in 1977 by the Conti Augusti Arsilli di Senigallia, the sitter’s descendants. It is very damaged (particularly along the panel’s central vertical join).
Portrait of Pietro Aretino. Canvas, 155 x 110.
Now sadly ruined, the portrait was praised by Vasari, who says that the paper held by Aretino bore the name of Clement VII and that the masks below symbolise Virtue and Vice. The Latin motto inscribed in the bottom left corner ('In utrumque paratus', meaning 'Ready for anything') is from Virgil (Aeneid: II, 61). The portrait was painted in Rome and given by Aretino to his native city of Arezzo by the summer of 1526. Sebastiano is also likely to have designed Marcantonio Raimondi's engraved portrait of Pietro Aretino (though the name of Giulio Romano has also been proposed).
Austin. Blanton Museum of Art, University of Texas.
Head of a Man. Wood, 37 x 26.
This small panel, representing a youngish bearded man against a dark green background, is a fragment cut from a larger composition, possibly a three-quarter length portrait. It may be close in date to the Cardinal Bandinello Sauli and Three Companions of 1516 in Washington. Once in the hands of the art historian George Martin Richter in London, it was later part of the Suida-Manning collection (almost 250 paintings acquired by the art historian Wilhelm Suida, his daughter Bertina and her husband Robert Manning), which was bought en bloc by the Blanton Museum in 1998.
Barcelona. Museo del Arte de Cataluna.
Portrait of a Lady (Vittoria Colonna?). Wood, 96 x 73.
The picture (which is said to have been used for target practice during the Spanish Civil War) is damaged and heavily restored. On the right-hand page of the open book was a sonnet by Vittoria Colonna (now illegible), and the picture is sometimes assumed to be the portrait mentioned by Vasari of the poetess – the spiritual but not very beautiful Marchesa of Pescara. However, the sitter bears limited resemblance to portrait medals of Vittoria Colonna, and Hirst (1981) tentatively suggested that she might be rather Giulia Gonzaga, who was also painted by Sebastiano according to Vasari. The portrait was previously in private collections in Paris (Sapiatra), Vienna (Schwarz) and Berlin (Huldschinsky), and was bequeathed to the Barcelona Museum with the Cambo collection. There is a variant of the portrait, probably done from the same drawing, at Harewood House.
Portrait of a Lady (‘Dorothea’). Wood, 78 x 61.
The sitter – richly dressed in a gold-edged violet gown under a red velvet cloak trimmed in lynx – holds a basket of flowers and quinces in her left hand and gestures towards her heart with her right hand. The portrait dates from Sebastiano’s early years in Rome, and is possibly the ‘woman in Roman costume’ seen by Vasari in the house of Lucca Torrigiani. It is very similar in style to a portrait of a lady, dated 1512, in the Uffizi. Like the Uffizi portrait, it was at one time attributed to Raphael and called the Fornarina. It was described as such when engraved by Thomas Chambers in 1765, when it belonged to the Duke of Marlborough. It has also been called Dorothea (‘St Dorothy’) because of the basket of flowers. It remained at Blenheim Palace until 1885, when it was bought by Bode for the Berlin Museum. It has been suggested that the sitter could be Francesca Ordeaschi, the Venetian mistress (and eventually wife) of Sebastiano's patron Agostino Chigi. The portrait inspired a short story, La Veneziana (1924), by Vladimir Nabokov.
Ceres. Canvas (transferred from panel), 75 x 55.
The nude, seated in profile on the edge of a fountain or well, is identified as Ceres by the ears of corn she is holding. This rather damaged painting has only been recorded in print since 1934. There were attributions to Giovanni Cariani, Giorgione and Girolamo da Treviso before Sebastiano’s authorship was proposed in 1955 (by Pallucchini). Dated towards the end of his early, Venetian period (about 1510-11). From the Friedeberg collection, Berlin. Acquired in 1956.
Budapest. Fine Arts Museum.
Christ carrying the Cross. Marble, 157 x 118.
Perhaps the picture by Sebastiano of this subject mentioned by Vasari. This was painted for the ‘Patriarch of Aquilea’ (probably Giovanni Grimani, who was later accused of heresy because of his Lutheran sympathies) shortly after Sebastiano’s appointment to the Piombo in 1531. The picture – large and on marble – may have been an altarpiece. Formerly in the collection of Count Gyula Andrássy at Budapest, it entered the museum in 1951. There are other versions in Madrid (with Simon of Cyrene and a soldier), St Petersburg, and the Borghese Gallery, Rome (with Mary behind Christ).
Portrait of a Man. Wood, 115 x 94.
The portrait is first recorded in 1808 in the collection of Antonio Scarpa, a professor of medicine at Parma, and was later with Scarpa’s descendents at Motta di Livenza as a portrait of ‘Tadaldeo’ by Raphael. It was bought as such by the Budapest museum in 1895 for the huge price of 135,000 lire, although Crowe and Cavalcaselle (1871) had already recognised it as a work of Sebastiano. A comparatively early date of around 1514-15 is usually proposed.
Portrait of a Young Woman. Wood, 53 x 43.
It is uncertain whether the picture represents an actual young woman or an idealised beauty. If the latter, the pointing gesture with the right hand and sidelong glance could be intended to suggest a seductive invitation or enticement. Usually considered a very early work by Sebastiano, dating from his Venetian period. The attribution was never accepted by Bernard Berenson, who gave the portrait consistently to Bernardo Licinio in his 1894-1957 Lists. It has been suggested recently (by Simone Facchinetti in Intorno ai Santacroce (2010)) that the portrait could be an early work of Giovanni Cariani. Bequeathed in 1905 by Georg Rath, who had acquired it in 1869 from the Hussian collection in Vienna.
Burgos. Cathedral. Chapel of the Presentation.
Holy Family with Two Angels. Wood, 249 x 167.
This majestic and richly coloured altarpiece, beautifully restored in 1993-95, hangs in the large Capilla de la Presentación in the south nave aisle. Undocumented, it was ascribed to Michelangelo in old guidebooks. It was presumably commissioned by the chapel’s founder, Gonzalo Diéz de Lerma, canon of the cathedral, who had spent many years in Rome. Permission was granted to build the chapel in 1519, the tomb (by Felipe de Vigarni) was commissioned in 1524, and Lerma died in 1527. Sebastiano’s monumental Virgin and Child – the Child standing naked like an infant Hercules – are related in composition to Jacopo Sansovino’s roughly contemporary marble Madonna del Parto in the church of Sant’Agostino at Rome, but it is unclear whether the sculpture influenced the picture or vice versa.
Cambridge. Fitzwilliam Museum.
Adoration of Shepherds. Canvas (transferred from panel), 124 x 161.
Nothing is known is known of the early history of the painting, which was bought in 1800 by Viscount Fitzwilliam at a sale in London of pictures from the Orléans collection. The traditional attribution was to Giorgione, which was first rejected in 1871 (by Crowe and Cavalcaselle in their History of Painting in North Italy). The attribution to Sebastiano del Piombo was first made in 1913 (by Lionello Venturi in his Giorgione e Il Giorgionismo). Alternative attributions were proposed to Beccaruzzi (Berenson) and to Pordenone (Adolfo Venturi), but the Sebastiano attribution is now universal. The picture is generally considered an early work, painted either at the end of Sebastiano's Venetian period (around 1510-11) or shortly after his move to Rome (around 1511-12). It is gravely damaged. Originally on panel, it was transferred to canvas when in the Orléans collection and transferred again, to a fresh canvas, in 1929-30. Much of the original paint has been lost through flaking. A major restoration was completed In 2016, when the picture was returned to public display for the first time in seventy years. There is an old copy in the Louvre, which was used as a guide during the recent restoration.
Virgin and Child. Wood, 66 in dia.
An early Roman work (about 1513-17?). The pose of the Virgin, shown in profile reaching out her arms, is like that of Michelangelo's Cumaean Sibyl in the Sistine Chapel, while the pose of the twisting, muscular Child resembles that of one of the putti in the Creation of Adam. He holds a goldfinch, symbol of his future Passion. Bought by Philip Pouncey, the art historian, at Christie’s in 1949, and acquired for the museum from his widow in 1997 at a price of £1.6 million.
Chicago. Art Institute.
Christ carrying the Cross. Wood, 118 x 92.
Another version of the picture at the Prado, Madrid. There are also later variants (without the figures of Simon of Cyrene and the helmeted soldier) at Budapest and St Petersburg. First recorded only in 1956, when it was in the possession of the Ochoa-Herrera family at Jaén in Andalucia. Auctioned in 2015 at Madrid and acquired by the Art Institute the following year from Colnaghi.
Detroit. Institute of Arts.
Triple Portrait. Canvas, 84 x 69.
This intriguing portrait group has been variously ascribed to Titian, Giorgione, Palma Vecchio, Sebastiano and Cariani (the last attribution receiving most support in the late nineteenth century and early twentieth century). An old inscription on the back gives the names of Titian, Giorgione and Sebastiano, and it has been suggested that the painting could be a collaboration of all three artists – Titian being responsible for the woman on the left, Giorgione for the man in the centre and Sebastiano for the woman on the right. It was presented under this joint authorship at the 2008 Sebastiano exhibition at Rome and Berlin. First recorded in the seventeenth century in the collection of Nicholas Sohier of Amsterdam, and later owned by William III of Orange and by the Grand Duke of Oldenburg. Acquired by the Detroit Institute in 1926.
Dublin. National Gallery of Ireland.
Portrait of Cardinal Antonio del Monte (?). Canvas, 88 x 69.
A little monkey sits on the left of the parapet. The identification of the sitter is based on a resemblance to his portrait in the fresco of Gregory IX approving the Decretals in the Stanza della Segnatura of the Vatican and on an engraving of 1757-58 inscribed with his name. Antonio Ciocchi del Monte (1462-1533), previously a jurist, auditor of the Apostolic Chamber and Archbishop of Siponto, was created a cardinal in 1511 at the age of fifty. The Dublin portrait was probably painted a few years later, shortly after Sebastiano’s arrival in Rome. It has been identified with a portrait of the cardinal that was included in a lottery of Niccolò Renieri’s collection at Venice in December 1666. It later belonged to Cardinal Fesch in Rome, and entered the Dublin Gallery with the Lane bequest in 1918. It is in poor condition, the flesh paint especially abraded.
Portrait of a Lady (‘Fornarina’). Wood, 68 x 54.
The picture was recorded in 1589 in the Tribuna of the Uffizi as a portrait by Raphael. It was ascribed to Giorgione in inventories of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, but the earlier attribution was revived in the nineteenth century, when the young woman was identified as La Fornarina, Raphael’s mistress. Later in the century, Crowe and Cavalcaselle and Morelli identified the portrait as the work of Sebastiano. Dated 1512, it belongs to Sebastiano’s first years in Rome, when he was strongly under the influence of Raphael. It is one of the best-preserved pictures by Sebastiano.
Death of Adonis. Canvas, 189 x 295.
Adonis, gored by the wild boar he was hunting, lies dead. The blood trickling from the foot of Venus colours the roses red. In the distance is a hazy view of Venice: the Piazzetta as seen from the lagoon. (The campanile of St Mark’s is shown without its spire, which was added in 1514.) The picture was unattributed in the inventory of Cardinal Leopold de’ Medici’s collection, and for most of the nineteenth century it was given to Moretto. It was Crowe and Cavalcaselle (1871) who first identified the hand of Sebastiano. The picture is now recognised as a masterpiece of Sebastiano’s early Roman period (about 1511-12), which retains the warm colouring of his Venetian works but also reflects the influence of Michelangelo in the bulky forms of the figures. It was probably painted for Agostino Chigi and may originally have hung in the Villa Farnesina. (It has been identified with a large picture of ‘mostly nude and beautiful women’ recorded in an inventory of the villa drawn up in 1520, the year of Chigi’s death.) Damaged in 1993 by the car bomb near the Uffizi: the canvas was slashed by flying glass and, in spite of careful restoration, a horizontal cut is still faintly visible.
Portrait of a Young Man (‘The Sick Man’). Canvas, 81 x 60.
The portrait is inscribed with the date (1514) and the young man’s age (22). It was described in a 1721 inventory as L’uomo Malato (‘The Sick Man’) by Titian. It was also once ascribed to Leonardo da Vinci. It was first exhibited as a Sebastiano in 1896. The attribution has subsequently shifted between Sebastiano and Titian, with the Uffizi currently favouring Titian.
Martyrdom of St Agatha. Wood, 127 x 178.
The cruel consul Quintiano, who ordered the torture, is seen in profile on the extreme left. This gruesome picture was commissioned by Cardinal Ercole Rangone to celebrate his appointment as cardinal deacon of the church of Sant’Agatha at Rome on 1 July 1517. We know from a letter of 26 December 1519 from Sebastiano to Michelangelo that it was finished by that date. It is signed and dated 1520 on the parapet on the right-hand corner (on which rests a large knife, instrument of the saint’s martyrdom). It was seen by Vasari in Guidobaldo della Rovere’s palazzo at Pesaro, and entered the Medici collections in 1631 with the paintings inherited from the last Duke of Urbino by Vittoria della Rovere, who married Grand Duke Ferdinando II. There is a highly finished, full-length preparatory study for the figure of St Agatha in the Louvre.
Portrait of Baccio Valori. Slate, 80 x 66.
Usually identified as the portrait of Baccio Valori which Vasari describes as ‘beautiful beyond belief’. The sitter, heavily bearded and wearing a black cap, seems to fit Benedetto Varchi’s description of Valori as a ‘man naturally restless, prodigious and rapacious’. The portrait was probably painted shortly after 1531, when Pope Clement removed Valori from power in Florence and appointed him President of the Romagna. Valori was executed for treason after the defeat of the anti-Medicean party under Filippo Strozzi at Montemurlo in 1537. By 1553 the portrait was in Cosimo I’s Guardaroba in the Palazzo Vecchio.
Fort Worth. Kimbell Art Museum.
Head of a Woman. Wood, 25 in dia.
This little roundel probably represents an ideal of female beauty, rather than either an actual young woman or a mythological or allegorical character. It may date from the early 1530s. It was acquired by Lord Alford in 1849 with an attribution to Andrea del Sarto. He gave it to Countess Cowper in 1850, and it remained with her descendants until 1972, when it was sold at Christie’s for $138,000. Acquired by the Kimbell Museum in 1985.
Harewood House (near Leeds).
Portrait of a Lady as Artemisia (Vittoria Colonna?). Canvas, 80 x 60.
A version of the portrait at Barcelona, in which the sitter (Vittoria Colonna?) is given a cup, an attribute of Artemisia. Artemisia was an exemplar of noble widowhood, and the portrait may have been commissioned after the death of Vittoria Colonna’s young husband (Ferrante d’Avalos, Marchese of Pescara) from wounds sustained at the Battle of Pavia in 1525. Ariosto compared the widowed Vittoria with Artemisia in Orlando Furioso. First recorded in the mid-nineteenth century in the collection of Lord Elgin at Broomhall, Fife.
Hartford. Wadsworth Atheneum.
Portrait of a Man in Armour (Rodomonte Gonzaga?). Canvas, 88 x 67.
The man, dressed in the armour of the heavy cavalry and grasping a weapon (battle-axe or war-hammer?) in his left hand, turns to give the viewer a challenging look. The head of a page or servant, laid in but subsequently covered up, is just visible on the left. Possibly the portrait referred to by Vasari of ‘a captain in armour, I know not who, which is in the possession of Giulio del Nobili at Florence’. The sitter has recently been identified as Rodomonte Gonzaga, on the strength of a copy (of the head only) in the Capodimonte, which is described in an old inventory as ‘the head of Rodomonte Gonzaga by the hand of Daniele [da Volterra], copy after Fra Bastiano’. Luigi Gonzaga (1500-32), known as Rodomonte because of his great strength, was the brother of Giulia Gonzaga, who also sat to Sebastiano. If Rodomonte were the sitter, the portrait would have to date from the 1520s, whereas most critics have placed it stylistically in Sebastiano’s early Roman period (around 1511-15). By the early eighteenth century the picture was in the collection of the 1st Duke of Chandos. Later in the collection of Sir Giles Sebright at Beechwood Park (St Albans), it was sold at Christie’s in 1937. Acquired by the Wadsworth Atheneum in 1960 from Kleinberger & Co. of New York for $35,000.
Houston. Museum of Fine Arts.
Portrait of Anton Francesco degli Albizzi. Canvas (transferred), 135 x 95.
Anton Francesco degli Albizzi (1486-1537) was a Florentine politician, described by Benedetto Varchi as a ‘noble and bold man of haughty and restless disposition’. He supported the Florentine Republic in 1527-30 and joined the exiled anti-Medicean forces (the fuorusciti) defeated at Montemurlo in 1537. He was tortured and beheaded for treason in the courtyard of the Bargello. This splendid three-quarter length portrait – mentioned in correspondence between Sebastiano and Michelangelo and noted by Vasari (who praises the rendering of the velvet and satin in Albizzi’s costume) – was painted in Rome in about 1525. It remained with the Albizzi family until the seventeenth century, when it passed to the Falconieri. It was acquired by 1804 by Thomas Lister Parker of Broxholme (who believed the artist to be Michelangelo and the sitter Lorenzo de’ Medici), and then passed through a succession of English private collections (including those of Robert Heathcote, Earl of Aberdeen, the Earl of Liverpool, Viscount Oxenbridge and Robert Benson). It crossed the Atlantic in 1927 when it was acquired by Duveen’s, New York, and was bought by the Kress Foundation in 1957. Sebastiano’s authorship was recognised in the early nineteenth century (by the painter Henry Fuseli), but the sitter was not correctly identified until 1944 (by Pallucchini).
Kingston Lacy (Dorset).
The Judgement of Solomon. Canvas, 208 x 315.
The famous Old Testament story of the Judgement of Solomon is told in I KIngs 3: 16-28. Sebastiano's imposing unfinished picture shows the climactic moment when King Solomon, throned in judgement, orders the disputed baby to be divided in two. The naked man raising his right arm is the executioner; neither his sword nor the baby has been painted in. His pose was probably inspired by some classical statue. The baby's true mother is probably the woman on the right – offering her child to her rival, shown pointing on the left, in order to save it. The picture has probably been cut down by some 40-50 cm on the left, but it is still one of the largest canvases in all Venetian painting. It is undocumented. It might have been commissioned by Andrea di Nicolo Loredan, who was elected president of the Consiglio dei Dieci in 1506 and therefore a likely patron for a work on the theme of justice. Ridolfi (1648) saw it in the Palazzo Loredan (then Grimani Calergi and now Vendramin Calergi, the winter home of the Casino). He described it as a work of Giorgione; and it still enjoyed this attribution when it was acquired, on the advice of Byron, by William Bankes in about 1820. Berenson, in 1903, was the first to attribute it to Sebastiano; although he later changed his mind, the attribution is now fully accepted. After extensive restoration to remove nineteenth-century repainting, the picture was exhibited in public for the first time at the Royal Academy’s Genius of Venice exhibition in 1983. Titian’s Flight into Egypt in the Hermitage (which is similar in size and hung in the same palazzo) may have been intended as a pendant.
London. National Gallery.
Judith (or Salome). Wood, 55 x 45.
Probably an idealised portrait rather than a devotional picture. Traditionally called Salome (the daughter of Herodias, who danced for King Herod so he would grant her mother's request for the head of John the Baptist), but perhaps more likely to represent Judith (the Old Testament heroine who beheaded the Assyrian general Holofernes). A work of Sebastiano’s early, Venetian period, dated 1510 (bottom right). Bequeathed to the National Gallery by George Salting in 1910. The casetta frame is not original but is contemporary with the picture.
The Raising of Lazarus. Canvas (transferred), 381 x 289.
Lazarus removes his grave clothes; his sister Mary Magdalene falls at Christ’s feet; his other sister Martha recoils from the smell and the women behind her hold their noses. In the background is a view of the Tiber and Roman ruins. This great altarpiece was commissioned in 1516 by Cardinal Giulio de’ Medici (later Clement VII) to send to his cathedral at Narbonne (where there were relics of Lazarus). It was painted in direct competition with Raphael’s Transfiguration (now in the Vatican Gallery), which was also commissioned by Cardinal Giulio for Narbonne Cathedral. Michelangelo assisted Sebastiano with compositional drawings according to Vasari, and there are studies in red chalk attributed to him in the British Museum for the figures of Lazarus and the two attendants. Michelangelo subsequently re-used the design for Lazarus for the figure, reclining on a terrestrial globe, in his Il Sogno (‘The Dream’) of about 1533. (The presentational drawing is in the Courtauld Institute Galleries, but there are numerous drawn, engraved and painted copies.) The altarpiece was finished by 1 May 1519, and was probably sent from Rome to Narbonne the following year. It was removed from the chapter house early in the eighteenth century by the Regent Philippe, Duc d’Orléans, and was bought at the Orléans sale in London in 1798 for 3,500 guineas by John Julius Angerstein, a marine insurance underwriter at Lloyd's. Angerstein’s collection of thirty-eight pictures was purchased by the Treasury in 1824 and formed the nucleus of the new National Gallery. The picture is considerably damaged. Much of the damage was probably done when it was transferred from panel to canvas in Paris in 1771. Numerous small paint losses, scattered across the whole surface, are concealed by retouching. To prevent further flaking, the painting was remounted in 1966 onto a synthetic panel. The picture has darkened as the paint layers, applied over grey-brown priming, have thinned, and some pigments have discoloured badly with age. The greens of the grass and foliage have turned dark brown, and Christ's red robe has faded to pink. A fragment of the original frame survives in Narbonne Cathedral, which has an eighteenth-century copy of the Lazarus by Carle van Loo.
Madonna and Child with St Joseph, the Baptist and a Donor. Wood, 98 x 107.
In the left background, the adult Baptist points towards the Christ Child. On the right, Joseph slumbers on his bench. Berenson (1938) suggested that the donor – kneeling under the Virgin’s protective arm – might be Pierfrancesco Borgherini. He connected the picture with a letter of 1 March 1517 by Leonardo Sellajo to Michelangelo, which reports Sebastiano as saying that he would like a cartoon by Michelangelo from which to paint a picture for Borgherini. It seems that Borgherini had rejected a picture that Andrea del Sarto had sent him in Rome, and he wanted Sebastiano to paint a replacement. The case for identifiying the National Gallery Holy Family with the Borgherini commission is strengthened by the recent discovery that the picture is inscribed with the date 1517. First certainly recorded in 1780 in the collection of Carlo Cambiaso at Genoa. Bought by the National Gallery from the Earl of Northbrook in 1895.
A Lady as St Agatha. Canvas, 92 x 75.
The attributes of St Agatha – the martyr’s palm, the pincers and the breasts in the dish – are later additions, and the picture was originally a portrait. The letter ‘F’ before the signature (bottom right) shows that it was painted after 1531, when Sebastiano was appointed to the office of the Piombo. It is not one of his better portraits, and the execution is sometimes ascribed to his workshop or a close collaborator. Bequeathed by Holwell Carr in 1831.
London. National Gallery (on long-term loan since 2007-8).
Portrait of a Lady (possibly Giulia Gonzaga). Wood, 117 x 96.
The noble lady, portrayed three-quarter length draped in a magnificent ermine-lined satin cloak, holds pieces of cloth with the Latin motto: ‘These are the snares of Venus, beware’. The portrait has been thought to represent Giulia Gonzaga, widow of Vespasiano Colonna and Countess of Fondi, who was famed for her beauty and intellect. That Sebastiano painted her portrait is known both from correspondence between the painter and Michelangelo and from Vasari, who recounts that ‘when Cardinal Ippolito [de’ Medici] fell in love with the lady Giulia, he sent Sebastiano with four swift horses to her home for the purpose of taking her portrait’. However, the Giulia Gonzaga portrait was painted in June-July 1532, whereas the current portrait has usually been dated somewhat later (about 1540?) on grounds of style and costume. From the collection of the Earl of Radnor at Longford Castle, near Salisbury. It was acquired by the family in 1791 (as a portrait of Raphael’s Fornarina).
London. British Museum.
Clement VII and Charles V in Conference. Black chalk and wash on tinted paper, 31 x 46.
This remarkable drawing was presumably made between November 1529 and February 1530, when the pope and emperor-to-be spent months in intimate conversation at Bologna's Palazzo Pubblico. Clement VII appears to be dictating terms – the opposite of the actual position. Behind the curtain in the centre background, a monstrance is placed between the papal tiara and the imperial crown. The drawing seems likely to have been made with a painting in mind, but there is no record of any painting by Sebastiano of this subject. The drawing bears the monogram of the Hungarian prince Nikolaus III Esterházy, and it was almost certainly one of many valuable works stolen from his collection in 1855 by a dishonest librarian. Acquired for the British Museum in 1955 for $550 from the Madison Avenue bookdealer Lucien Goldschmidt.
Los Angeles. J. P. Getty Museum.
Portrait of Pope Clement VII. Slate, 106 x 88.
The bearded Pope Clement, attired in his white and crimson robes, is seated almost in profile, holding a letter. Probably the portrait of Clement VII mentioned in a letter of 22 July 1531 from Sebastiano to Michelangelo. Sebastiano had already completed a portrait of the Pope on canvas, and Clement – very pleased with it – ordered another version, painted on stone. The first version, on canvas, is possibly the picture in the Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna. The Getty picture was sensationally discovered by the antiques dealer Philip ‘Buffy’ Parker, who picked it up, in a very grimy state, for just £180 at an auction in Chester. A few years later in 1992, after cleaning, it was bought by the Getty Museum for a reputed £6.5 million.
Descent into Limbo. Canvas, 226 x 114.
The subject (traditionally called the Harrowing of Hell) is from the apocryphal Gospel of Nicodemus (or Acts of Pilate). Christ, holding the banner of the Resurrection, stands at the edge of Limbo, where the Just of the Old Testament awaited Redemption. The man following Christ and carrying the cross is probably the Good Thief Dismas. The penitent Adam and Eve kneel in the foreground. A broken pillar symbolises the destruction of the Gates of Hell. A picture of this subject was the left wing of a triptych by Sebastiano recorded in the Spanish royal collection from the seventeenth century. The central part of this triptych, a Deposition dated 1516, is now in the Hermitage at St Petersburg. The right wing, representing the Appearance of Christ to the Apostles after the Resurrection, is lost. It has sometimes been suggested that the Prado picture is an excellent old copy. (The name of the sixteenth-century Spanish artist El Mudo (Juan Fernández de Navarrette) was once inscribed on the back.) Transferred to the Prado from the monastery of the Escorial.
Christ carrying the Cross. Canvas, 121 x 100.
Behind the half-length figure of Christ, bending forward under the weight of the cross, are Simon of Cyrene and a helmeted soldier. Against a fiery sunset, a procession leaves Jerusalem to make its way to Calvary. This superb picture, restored in 1994-95, was probably a Spanish commission. Recent research suggests that it was in Spain, in the collection of the ambassador Jerónimo Vich y Valterra, as early as 1521. It was acquired by Philip IV in 1645 from Jerónimo Vich's great grandson in settlement of debts, and sent to the Escorial in 1656. Transferred to the Prado in 1839. Another version, which had come to light fairly recently in a private collection at Andalucia, was acquired by the Chicago Art Institute in 2016.
Christ carrying the Cross. Slate, 43 x 32.
A miniature near-replica of the previous picture. Considered by Hirst (1981) to be a Spanish copy; but accepted as an autograph late work in the catalogue to the 2008 Sebastiano exhibition in Rome and Berlin. Recorded in the Aranjuez Palace in 1818 and transferred to the Prado by 1857. Cut down on the right.
Pietà. Slate, 120 x 107.
From the funerary chapel of Francesco de los Cobos in the church of San Salvador at Ubeda in Andalusia. Cobos was commander of Castille and chancellor to Charles V. He was given the picture by Ferrante Gonzaga, son of the Duke of Mantua, who was working for Spanish interests in Italy and anxious to win his favour. The picture was commissioned before December 1533 but it was at least six years before it was delivered. It is possibly the last product of Sebastiano’s partnership with Michelangelo. Two studies by Michelangelo for the figure of the dead Christ are preserved in the Louvre and Casa Buonarotti (Florence). Painted on slate, the picture was too heavy and fragile to be carried by mule, and it was transported from Rome by boat to its remote destination in southern Spain. The picture was mutilated by a republican soldier during the Spanish civil war but well repaired. Between 1940 and 1988 it was kept in the Casa de Pilatos at Seville. It was then taken to the Prado for restoration and has since remained on deposit at the museum.
Madrid. Thyssen-Bornemisza Collection.
Cardinal Carondolet and His Secretary. Canvas, 113 x 87.
Cardinal Ferry Carondolet (1473-1528), Archdeacon of Besançon, was the son of the famous Jean Carondolet, Chancellor to the Emperor Maximilian. His name appears on the letter in his right hand, and above the door of the loggia is his motto Nosce Opportunitatem. This magnificent portrait must have been painted between June 1511, when Ferry Carondolet arrived in Rome as Imperial Ambassador to the Papal Court, and May 1513, when he returned to the Netherlands. Like many of Sebastiano’s early portraits, it was traditionally ascribed to Raphael. It bore this attribution in the seventeenth century when it was presented by the Dutch government to the Earl of Arlington, Lord Chamberlain of England. It was inherited by the Earl’s daughter, the Duchess of Grafton, and remained in the Duke of Grafton’s collection at Euston Hall in Suffolk until just before the Second World War. Acquired by Baron Heinrich Thyssen-Bornemisza at Agnew’s in 1937.
Portrait of Pope Clement VII. Canvas, 145 x 100.
Giulio de' Medici, illegitimate son of Giuliano de' Medici and cousin of Leo X, was elected Pope Clement VII in November 1523. Following the pattern for papal portraits established by Raphael's Julius II, he is shown three-quarter length, seated in an armchair, with his arms resting on the arms of the chair. He wears the usual papal regalia – camauro (skull cap) and crimson velvet mozzetta (cape) over a white linen rochet (surplice) – and holds a folded letter in his right hand (rather than the handkerchief held by Julius II). Sebastiano's portrait has become the most reproduced image of Clement VII. It must have been painted before the Sack of Rome in May 1527, after which Clement grew a beard as a mark of penitence, and it is possibly the portrait of the Pope by Sebastiano mentioned in a letter of 2 June 1526 from Leonardo Sellajo to Michelangelo. Described as a portrait of Alexander VI in the 1680 inventory of Farnese pictures at the Palazzo del Giardino in Parma. It retained this title until Crowe and Cavalcaselle (1871) wrongly identified it as the portrait of Adrian VI mentioned by Vasari. The true identity of the sitter was only established in the early twentieth century.
Head of Pope Clement VII. Slate, 50 x 34.
This profile study, painted in oil on slate, must date after 1527, as the Pope has a pointed beard, which he grew after the Sack of Rome. Left in the artist’s studio at his death. Like the famous portrait of Clement VII seated, it was acquired by Fulvio Orsini, the Farnese’s librarian and keeper of antiquities, whose valuable collection was inherited by Cardinal Odoardo Farnese in 1600. Sebastiano probably used the portrait head as a reference (modello) for the three-quarter length portraits of Pope Clement at Vienna (Kunsthistorisches Museum) and Los Angeles (Getty Museum).
‘Madonna del Velo’. Slate, 118 x 88.
A second version, on slate and with the figures reversed, of the painting formerly at Prague and now in the new museum at Olomouc. It has been variously dated between the mid-1520s and about 1540, with recent opinion tending towards the mid-1530s. Seen by Vasari in Rome in the Guardaroba of Cardinal Alessandro Farnese. Its condition is fragile. It was among the pictures plundered by the Hermann Göring Tank Division from the museum at Monte Cassino that were discovered, covered in mould, in a salt mine at Alt Aussée in Austria. The lower left part appears to be unfinished. There is an exquisite study in black chalk for the head of the Virgin at Christ Church, Oxford.
New York. Metropolitan Museum.
So-called Christopher Columbus. Canvas, 107 x 88.
The Latin inscription (‘This is the marvellous portrait of the Ligurian Columbus, the first to reach by ship the world of the Antipodes, 1519’) is a later addition. Columbus died in 1506, so if the portrait were actually of him, it would have to be posthumous and presumably derived from another portrait. Hirst (1981) thought that the sitter might be one of the clerics present at Bologna in 1530 for the Coronation of Charles V. The picture is considerably damaged. Once in the collection of the Duc de Talleyrand, it was given to the Metropolitan Museum in 1900 by J. Pierpont Morgan.
Holy Family with Saints and Donors. Wood, 67 x 103.
St Jerome introduces the male donor on the left and St Francis introduces the female donor on the right. The two saints in the middle are harder to identify, but are usually called Anthony and Barbara. This richly coloured and rather awkwardly composed sacra conversazione was included in the 2008 Sebastiano del Piombo exhibition at Rome and Berlin. If by the artist, it would have to be a very youthful work. Once owned by George V, King of Hanover, it was deposited in the Hanover museum in about 1891 with the collection of the Duke of Cumberland. Traditionally ascribed to Palma Vecchio or his circle, it was sold at Berlin in 1926 as a work of Sebastiano. Bequeathed to the Metropolitan Museum in 1970 by Josephine Bieber of New York.
Olomonc (Czech Republic). Muzeum Umeni.
‘Madonna del Velo’. Wood, 120 x 93.
The sleeping Child clutches a goldfinch. The motif of the Virgin holding a veil over the Child is taken from Raphael’s Madonna di Loreto, which was at that time in the church of Santa Maria del Popolo in Rome. (Raphael’s original was until recently thought lost, but is now generally identified with the version at Chantilly.) Possibly the picture of ‘Our Lady with Joseph and another figure’ presented to Clement VII in January 1525. It was in the collection of Thomas Howard, Earl of Arundel, by the mid-seventeenth century and then acquired by the Bishop of Olomonc, Karl II di Liechtenstein. From 1961 until 1994 it was exhibited in the National Gallery at Prague. Transferred to the new museum at Olomonc in 2006. There is a later version – on slate and with the composition reversed – at Naples.
Visitation. Canvas (transferred from panel), 168 x 132.
The scene is set in the open air outside the house of St Zacharias. The Virgin Mary is welcomed by her older pregnant cousin St Elizabeth. In the right background, a young man brings the news of the Virgin's arrival to the elderly Zacharias, who hurries, with the aid of a stick, to greet her. Signed on the plinth on the right. (The signature also previously included the date 1521; but this was not original and was removed during a recent restoration.) The picture appears to have been finished by 4 March 1519, when it is mentioned in a letter from Rome by the Venetian aristocrat Marcantonio Michiel to his friend Antonio di Marsilio in Venice. It was sent to Francis I as a gift, and the subject may refer to the birth of a male heir to the French King in 1518. It was later installed as an altarpiece of the chapel at Fontainebleau, which was completed in 1545. It was transferred to canvas in 1802-3, when the panel was split in three places, and it is severely damaged and bleached in appearance. Restored in 1999-2000.
Holy Family with Saints and Donor. Canvas (transferred from panel), 95 x 136.
The Virgin is flanked by an elderly Joseph and a youthful St Catherine. The Child, on her knee, looks benignly down on a donor, portrayed in profile at the bottom edge. The plague-saint Sebastian, pierced with arrows, stands on the right against an oak tree. This devotional sacra conversazione, traditionally ascribed to Giorgione, is now usually regarded as an early, Venetian work of Sebastiano. Once in the collection of Charles I of England, it was acquired by Louis XIV as a work of Giorgione in 1662 with Jabach’s collection. It was still considered a possible Giorgione in Louvre catalogues into the early twentieth century; but from the late nineteenth century there were attributions to a number of lesser-ranked Venetian painters, including Pellegrino da San Danielle (Crowe and Cavalcaselle), Bonifazio de’ Pitati, Cariani (Berenson) and Domenico Mancini (also Berenson). Sebastiano does not appear to have been suggested until 1923 (by Hourticq). The attribution was strongly supported by Pallucchini in his 1944 Sebastian Viniziano and, though rejected in Michael Hirst’s 1981 monograph, it now appears to be widely accepted. Usually dated around 1506-8.
Parma. Galleria Nazionale.
Portrait of Pope Paul III (?). Slate, 104 x 89.
The portrait is unfinished, with only the head of the youth on the right painted in. Probably the ‘portrait of Paul III and Duke Ottavio on Genoa stone’ listed in the 1600 inventory of the collection of Fulvio Orsini, the Farnese’s trusted librarian and antiquarian. Later inventories for the Palazzo Farnese at Rome (1649) the Palazzo del Giardino at Parma (1680) identify the Pope as Clement VII (who died in 1534 and was succeeded by Paul III). Bought by the Parma Gallery in 1846 from G. Cavaschi, a junkdealer.
Rome. Galleria Doria-Pamphilj. State Apartments.
Portrait of Andrea Doria. Canvas, 125 x 94.
Probably the portrait of Andrea Doria painted by Sebastiano for Clement VII, which is mentioned in a letter of 29 May 1526 from Francesco Gonzaga in Rome to Duke Federico Gonzaga in Mantua. The great Genoese admiral was about sixty years old when the portrait was painted. He stands magisterially behind a sculpted parapet, pointing down at the Roman marine relief (with a trireme, anchor, oar and rudder). Two pieces of the relief (once in San Lorenzo fuori le Mura and originally from a Roman temple) still exist in the Capitoline Museum. The portrait is first recorded in the Doria collection in a 1668 inventory of the Villa Doria at Genoa. It was shipped to Rome in 1834 as part of a plan to establish a new family portrait gallery in the Doria-Pamphili palace. It was said to be in poor condition, and was restored after its arrival in Rome by a painter called Giovanni Berretta (a pupil of Tommaso MInardi).
A head of Andrea Doria on slate, derived from the three-quarter length portrait, has been rediscovered recently in the Doria-Pamphilj collection and attributed to Sebastiano.
Rome. Santa Maria del Popolo. Chigi Chapel (2nd left).
Birth of the Virgin. Stone, 600 x 350.
The beautiful octagonal chapel was founded by Agostino Chigi and designed by Raphael in about 1513-16. It was not until ten years after the great banker’s death that Sebastiano was commissioned to paint the altarpiece. The contract of 1530 also required Sebastiano to paint the eight scenes of the Creation and Fall between the windows of the drum and the four tondi of the Four Seasons in the pendentives. A deadline of three years was set for the work. In the summer of 1532 Sebastiano invited Michelangelo to help him, but there is no evidence that the composition of the altarpiece is anything other than Sebastiano’s own work. The enormous picture is painted on stone (a local volcanic rock called peperino). It was never finished, and was still boarded up at the time of Sebastiano's death in 1547. Francesco Salviati completed the remaining figures, and also painted the scenes of the Creation and Fall and the medallions of the Seasons. Restored in 2008. Sebastiano's modello for the Birth of the Virgin is preserved in the Louvre. It is the largest and most elaborate surviving drawing by the artist.
Rome. San Pietro in Montorio. Borgherini Chapel.
Wall paintings: Flagellation (behind the altar); Transfiguration (in semi-dome).
Pierfrancesco Borgherini – the Florentine banker, art patron and friend of Michelangelo – commissioned the chapel decoration, and his name saints (Peter and Francis) are represented on either side of the Flagellation. The reclining figures over the arch represent St Matthew (left) and the prophet Isaiah (right). For Matthew, Sebastiano re-used the design Michelangelo had provided for Lazarus in the altarpiece painted in 1517-19 for Narbonne Cathedral (now in the National Gallery, London). The work had begun by August 1516, but was interrupted in 1517-19 by Giulio de’ Medici’s commission for the Raising of Lazarus and in 1522 by an outbreak of the plague. The chapel was finally unveiled to the public on 24 March 1524.
According to Vasari, Borgherini awarded the commission to Sebastiano at Michelangelo's suggestion because he thought MIchelangelo would provide designs for the whole work. In the event, Vasari says, Michelangelo just supplied a piccolo disegno (little drawing) for the Flagellation. The piccolo disegno has not survived; but there is a copy of it by the miniaturist Giulio Clovio in the Royal Collection at Windsor Castle, and two studies in the British Museum for the Flagellation have been attributed to Michelangelo. The Flagellation, on the concave altar wall, is not a true fresco but was painted in oil on dry plaster. The Transfiguration, in the sem-dome, is in fresco. It has points of similarity with Raphael’s great picture (now in the Vatican), which was installed in 1523 over the high altar of San Pietro. There is a highly finished study by Sebastiano at Chatsworth for the figure of St James, and a fragment of the cartoon (the head of St James) is preserved in the Getty Museum. The St James – who resembles the donor in the London Holy Family and also the sitter in a portrait attributed to Sebastiano at San Diego – is possibly a likeness of Borgherini.
Rome. Villa Farnesina. Sala di Galatea.
Polyphemus. Fresco, 295 x 223.
The one-eyed giant stares out to sea, holding the panpipes with which he wooed the nymph Galatea. (Polyphemus’s blue tunic was added later for the benefit of a prudish lady.) In Raphael’s famous adjacent fresco we see the fleeing Galatea. The walls of the Sala di Galatea were to have been decorated with a whole series of classical divinities, but only Sebastiano’s Polyphemus and Raphael’s Galatea were ever painted.
Sebastiano also painted scenes from Ovid’s Metamorphoses in eight of the lunettes. Starting with the south wall, these represent: Tereus, Philomela and Procne; Aglauros and Herse; Daedalus and Icarus; Juno in a Chariot drawn by Peacocks; Syclla cutting the Hair of Nisus; the Fall of Perdix (often called the Fall of Phaethon); Boreas abducting Orithyia; and Zephrus and Flora (or Apollo and the Cumaean Sibyl). The colossal monochrome head, traditionally by Michelangelo, is now attributed either to Sebastiano or, more usually, to Peruzzi, who painted the Constellations on the ceiling.
The frescoes were finished by 27 January 1512; they were Sebastiano’s first works in Rome for his new patron Agostino Chigi.
St Petersburg. Hermitage.
Deposition from the Cross. Canvas (transferred from panel in 1863), 260 x 193.
Signed and dated 1516 on the cartellino in the foreground. The picture was the central part of a triptych; the side panels depicted the Descent into Limbo and the Appearance of Christ to the Apostles. The Descent into Limbo (or an excellent copy of it) is in the Prado. The patron was Don Jeronimo de Vich, Spanish ambassador to the Holy See from 1507 to 1516. Its original location is unknown, but the large triptych might have been intended as an altarpiece for the Hieronymite monastery of La Murta, near Valencia, which was endowed by Don Jeronimo and his brother, Cardinal Guillermo Raimundo de Vich. The triptych is recorded in 1666 in an inventory of the Spanish royal collection; it was damaged in the Alcázar fire of 1734 and was dispersed during the French invasion. The Deposition was bought by Tsar Nicholas I for 34,000 guilders at the 1850 sale of William II, King of Holland. There is an old copy (sometimes attributed to the Spaniard Francisco Ribalta) of the complete triptych in the Archiepiscopal Palace at Olomouc (Czech Republic). The Deposition was restored in 1984; the figures of the fainting Virgin (left) and of the two men opening the sarcophagus (upper right) are especially damaged.
Christ carrying the Cross. Slate, 105 x 75.
Painted for Don Fernando da Silva, Count of Cifuentes, who was Charles V’s ambassador at the Papal Court at Rome from 1533 to 1536. His name and Sebastiano’s are inscribed on the cross. The picture is referred to in a letter of 3 May 1537 from Serpini, the Mantuan agent, to Ferrante Gonzaga. It was acquired in 1852 at the sale of Marshal Soult’s collection in Paris. There are other versions or variants at Budapest, Madrid and Rome (Borghese).
Portrait of Cardinal Pole. Canvas, 112 x 95.
Cardinal Reginald Pole (1500-58) was an English churchman and scholar, who spent much of his life in Italy in exile. He returned to England when Queen Mary acceded to the throne and was consecrated as the last Roman Catholic Archbishop of Canterbury in 1556. The portrait, which was in the Crozat collection in Paris, was acquired in 1772 as a work of Raphael. It was long regarded as late work of Sebastiano, dating from the 1530s or 1540s. However, Roberto Longhi (1946) doubted the attribution, proposing Perino del Vaga instead. (The meticulous description of every fold of drapery is unlike Sebastiano.) The 1992 Hermitage catalogue retains the Sebastiano attribution, but with a query.
San Diego. Museum of Art.
Portrait of a Man (Pierfrancesco Borgherini?). Wood (transferred), 71 x 55.
The young bearded man bears a distinct resemblance to the donor in the Holy Family at the London National Gallery. The donor is often identified as Pierfrancesco Borgherini – a Florentine banker, who was a patron of Sebastiano and friend of Michelangelo. If the identification is right, the portrait would have been painted around 1517, when Borgherini was in his late twenties. The painting is much damaged. It has been transferred to a new wooden panel (apparently because the old panel was infested with worm) and the surface is badly abraded (probably because of harsh cleaning). First recorded only in 1907, when it was in the collection of Baron Heinrich von Tucher at Vienna. Donated to the museum in 1950 by the wealthy San Diegan sisters Anne and Amy Putnam.
Sarasota. Ringling Museum of Art.
Cardinal Salviati and a Companion. Wood, 105 x 99.
The sitter was long identified as Cardinal Enckenvoirt (or Nincofort as Vasari calls him), friend of Pope Adrian VI, but he is now thought to be Cardinal Giovanni Salviati (born 1490). Salviati returned to Rome in 1530 after many years away on diplomatic missions, and the portrait probably dates from the early 1530s. The standing companion was revealed by cleaning; he could be Benvento della Volpaia, a close friend both of the cardinal and the painter. Acquired in Rome in about 1847 by Thomas Erskine, and for many years in the Erskine collection at Linlathen. Bought by Thomas Ringling in about 1924.
La Spezia. Museo Civico.
Birth of Adonis; Death of Adonis. Wood, 40 x 49.
The two panels may have formed the ends of a cassone. One panel shows the tree, into which the pregnant Myrrha had been turned by the gods, splitting open to reveal the infant Adonis. Venus, dressed all in white, takes the child in her arms. The other panel shows Adonis killed by a boar. The boar is not depicted as a wild animal but as a domestic pig (Cinta Senese). The panels first came to notice in 1955, when they were loaned by a Florentine lawyer called Albrighi to the Giorgione e I Giorgioneschi exhibition in Venice and attributed by Roberto Longhi to the youthful Sebastiano. Longhi thought they could be two of three cassone panels – representing the Birth of Adonis, Venus and Adonis and the Death of Adonis – noted by Ridolfi (1648) as works of Giorgione in the Palazzo Widmann at San Canciano, Venice. Michael Hirst omitted the two paintings from his 1981 monograph, but they have been usually accepted as among the artist’s earliest surviving works. Acquired by Amadeo Lia, the benefactor of the La Spezia museum, in the 1970s.
St Louis of Toulouse and St Sinibaldus; St Bartholomew and St Sebastian. Four canvases, each 293 x 137.
The life-size figures of St Louis of Toulouse (wearing a sumptuous cope of red brocade) and St Sinibaldus (with pilgrim's hat and staff) are shown standing within shallow marble niches capped by gold semi-domes. Those of St Bartholomew (holding his flaying knife and a book) and St Sebastian (perhaps loosely modelled on the Apollo Belvedere) stand before a deep dark archway. The four canvases decorated the doors of the organ in San Bartolomeo a Rialto – a church near the Rialto Bridge, which was closed and deconsecrated in the 1980s. The St Louis of Toulouse and St Sinibaldus were on the inside of the doors and are better preserved. The St Bartholomew and St Sebastian were on the outside of the doors and were damaged in an early restoration. The organ doors are not mentioned by Vasari, Sansovino or Ridolfi, and are first recorded only in 1657 in Francesco Scanelli’s Il Microcosmo della Pittore. According to a late eighteenth-century source, they were commissioned by Alvise Ricci, who was vicar of San Bartolomeo from October 1507 until 1509. They must have been one of Sebastiano’s earliest commissions. St Bartholomew was the titular saint of the church and Sebastian was the patron saint of a company of archers that met there. The inclusion of Sinibaldus, patron saint of Nuremberg, was probably for the benefit of German merchants, whose warehouse (the Fondaco dei Tedeschi) was close by; that of Louis (Alvise) presumably reflects the name of the vicar, whose coat-of-arms appears above the arch. The canvases were removed from the organ in the late eighteenth century and framed separately. They were restored in 1940-1, and restored again by Venice in Peril for the 1983 Genius of Venice exhibition at the Royal Academy, London.
‘Sacra Conversazione’. Wood, 50 x 81.
The two saints are Catherine of Alexandria (with martyr's palm and broken wheel) and John the Baptist (who points at the cross he holds up in his left hand). A landscape and distant village are viewed through the open window. One of almost two hundred paintings bequeathed to the Accademia in 1838 by the Venetian artistocrat Girolamo Contarini. A traditional attribution to Andrea Previtali, a Bergamasque follower of Giovanni Bellini, was abandoned in the late nineteenth century. There have been subsequent attributions to Vincenzo Catena, Bernardo Licinio, Giorgione, Palma Vecchio, Sebastiano del Piombo and Giovanni Cariani. The attribution to Sebastiano – as a very early work that leans on Giovanni Bellini as well as Giorgione – was made by Rodolfo Pallucchini in 1935. Though now accepted by the museum catalogue, it remains controversial.
Visitation. Canvas, 212 x 150.
Unusually, the composition includes Joseph and Zachariah, the husbands of the Virgin and St Elizabeth. From the Venetian monastery of Sant’Andrea della Certosa, where it was discovered in 1812 by Pietro Edwards, superintendent of works of art in the Veneto, who attributed it to Titian ‘in his first manner’ and described its condition as ‘partly unfinished and partly decayed’. The little altarpiece was transferred to the Accademia in 1814, when the monastery was closed. It was further damaged in 1849, when the head of Joseph was cut out and stolen. The Titian attribution was first questioned by Crowe and Cavalcaselle who, in their great 1877 monograph on the artist, thought that the painting ‘is in the manner of Del Piombo, rather than of Titian, though it is feebler than the works of either’. The attribution to Sebastiano has since been made quite often (eg. in Pietro Zampetti’s catalogue of the 1955 Giorgione e I Giorgioneschi exhibition in Venice and in Mauro Lucco’s 1980 L’Opera Completa), but has never been fully accepted. During the course of his long career, Berenson listed the picture successively as a Sebastiano (1899), as a ruined or repainted early Titian (1932-36) and as a ruined Giorgione (1957). Other critics have seen affinities with Giovanni Cariani and Palma Vecchio, while recently Paul Joannides (2001) has sought to revive the old attribution to Titian. The picture is currently exhibited simply as a work of the early sixteenth-century Venetian school.
Venice. San Giovanni Crisostomo.
St John Chrysostom and Saints. Canvas, 200 x 156.
The saint is seated in profile on the steps of the portico of a Roman basilica, annotating a book of scripture or writing one of his famous homilies; his elderly companion may be St John the Evangelist. On the left is a majestic trio of female saints: Catherine (in profile with her wheel), Mary Magdalene (almost full-face with her vase), and Lucy (head tilted to one side). John the Baptist stands on the right with an armoured saint (George, Liberale or Theodore?), who is probably a portrait. Sansovino says that Sebastiano also painted the cupola of the tribune of the church, but this work no longer exists. (In a recent restoration of the church, fourteen layers of plaster were removed in an unsuccessful search for it.) Caterina Contarini, wife of Nicolò Morosini, bequeathed money in her will of 13 April 1509 to pay for a high altarpiece for the church. The money was to be made available only after the death of her husband, who was still alive in May 1510. The altarpiece must have been finished by August 1511 when Sebastiano left Venice in the entourage of Agostino Chigi. The influence of Giorgione is very marked; indeed Vasari attributed the picture to Giorgione in the first (1550) edition of his Lives.
Vienna. Kunsthistorisches Museum.
Portrait of a Prelate. Paper mounted on canvas, 44 x 29.
This little oil sketch of a prelate at the Papal Court may date from around 1530. One of the many Venetian pictures acquired by Archduke Leopold Wilhelm when the Duke of Hamilton’s collection was dispersed during the English Civil War. Rediscovered by Roberto Longhi in 1930 in the gallery storerooms.
Portrait of Clement VII. Canvas, 92 x 74.
Pope Clement's coat-of-arms, with the six Medici balls on a gold shield, appears in the top right corner. Possibly the picture mentioned in a letter, dated 22 July 1531, in which Sebastiano told Michelangelo that Pope Clement had visited his workshop to see a new portrait of himself on canvas. Sebastiano says that Clement was so pleased with the portrait that he commissioned another version, painted on stone. The second version is probably the picture on slate now in the Getty Museum, Los Angeles. The small study of Clement's head at Naples probably served as a model for both portraits.
Portrait of a Cardinal (Rodolfo Pio da Carpi). Canvas, 71 x 57.
This fine portrait, discovered in the gallery storerooms in 1882, was unanimously regarded as a late work of Sebastiano until Hirst’s 1981 monograph questioned the attribution. It was included in the 2008 Sebastiano exhibition at Rome and Berlin, but as a work of the Florentine Francesco Salviati.
Viterbo. Museo Civico.
Lamentation over the Dead Christ (‘Pietà’). Canvas, 259 x 219.
Though usually called a Pietà, the dead Christ lies on the ground rather than across the mourning Virgin’s lap. A full moon dimly illuminates the ruins and waterfall in the background. This famous, starkly dramatic picture was commissioned by Monsignor Giovanni Botonti, a clerk (and later head) of the Camera Apostolica, for the altar in the left transept of San Francesco alla Rocco at Viterbo. Its stone frame still survives in situ. The picture dates from quite early in Sebastiano’s Roman period. It was probably in place by 1516, when Botonti donated sacred fittings for the altar, and has recently been dated as early as 1513. Vasari says that Michelangelo provided a cartoon for the figures, and there are preparatory drawings by him in Vienna for the praying hands of the Virgin (on a double-sided sheet with studies for a Sistine Ceiling ignudo). Recent technical examination, which has revealed Michelangelesque underdrawing and suggests that the design was transferred from a cartoon, provides further confirmation of Vasari's account. The picture, which was blistering because of damp, was badly restored in 1839-40. The first 'modern' restoration was carried out by the distinguished theorist Cesare Brandi, whose report (1950) drew attention to Sebastiano's 'very delicate technique' and use of multiple glazes 'so liquid and transparent that they resemble watercolour'. ('The secret of the unforgettable moonbeam', he writes, 'simply lies in these splendid glazes, which the previous restorers had darkened but not removed.') The picture was taken to Rome in the early 1970s for further treatment and remained there many years. It was restored yet again for the 2008 Sebastiano exhibition in Rome and Berlin. On the back of the panel are various charcoal sketches: a large head and standing figure (attributed to Sebastiano) and some smaller figures (attributed to Michelangelo).
Flagellation. Wood, 250 x 178.
A near-replica on panel, with two executioners rather than four, of the wall painting in San Pietro in Montorio. It is from the Chiesa dell’Osservanza del Paradiso at Viterbo, and was commissioned by Giovanni Botonti about ten years later than the Pietà. In a letter of 29 April 1525, addressed to Michelangelo, Sebastiano mentions that it is two months since he finished the painting. Like the Pietà, it has been damaged by damp. Following their restoration for the 2008 Sebastiano exhibition, the two paintings have been installed in specially constructed display cabinets, designed to control temperature and humidity.
Washington. National Gallery.
A Wise Virgin. Wood, 53 x 46.
The subject was formerly identified as the Magdalen, but the object she is holding appears to be a lighted lamp rather than an ointment jar. An early work, very similar in style, and almost the same size, as the Judith in the National Gallery, London, who wears the same glistening blue dress (and may even represent the same woman). The date 1511 was discovered during cleaning in 1986. Sebastiano moved to Rome in August of that year, but it is generally assumed that the picture was painted in Venice. In 1650 it was in the collection of John and Jacobus van Veerle at Amsterdam, where it was engraved by Hollar as a portrait of Vittoria Colonna (whose name is faintly inscribed in an old, but not contemporary, hand on the pedestal of the painting). The discovery of the date explodes the theory that the picture was painted as a wedding gift in 1509, when Vittoria Colonna married Ferrante d’Avalos, Marchese of Pescara. From 1872 to 1945 it was in the Cook collection at Richmond. Acquired by Samuel H. Kress in 1947.
Cardinal Bandinello Sauli and Three Companions. Wood, 122 x 150.
Sebastiano’s largest portrait (but not one of his more successful compositions). Signed and dated 1516 on the piece of paper on the lower right of the table. The identity of the young sitter is established by the damaged inscription (first read in 1951) on the bell on the table. Bandinello Sauli of Genoa was created a cardinal by Julius II in 1511; he died in 1518, ruined by the charge of complicity in the cardinals’ plot to poison Leo X. In 1780 the picture was in the palazzo of Giacomo Balbi at Genoa. By 1854 it was in the London collection of Lord Taunton (where it was fancifully described as ‘Amerigo Vespucci submitting maps of his discoveries to various gentlemen’), and then passed by inheritance into the Stanley collection at Quantock Lodge, Bridgewater, Somerset. By 1920 it had been acquired by Viscount Lascelles, later 6th Earl of Harewood, who hung it in Chesterfield House, his London residence after his marriage to Mary, the Princess Royal. Acquired by Kress in 1949.
Portrait of a Humanist. Wood (transferred to masonite), 135 x 101.
Objects (a pen and ink stand, books, globe and compass) on the table on the left allude to the young man’s scholarly interests. Once identified, probably wrongly, as the portrait of the soldier Federigo Gonzaga da Bozzolo mentioned by Vasari. Another suggestion is that the sitter could be Marcantonio Flaminio, a scholar, poet and friend of Sebastiano. Probably painted in Rome around 1520. Bought in about 1821 by the Marquess of Lansdowne (of Bowood Hall, Wiltshire) from the Ghizzi family of Naples. Acquired by Kress in 1955.
Wilton House (Wiltshire). Earl of Pembroke’s Collection.
Shepherd with a Flute. Paper mounted on board, 52 x 40.
This romantic, Giorgionesque painting was given to the Earl of Pembroke in 1669 by the Grand Duke of Tuscany, Cosimo III, and was traditionally supposed to represent Antonello, Prince of Salerno, in the guise of a shepherd. Previously ascribed to Savoldo. Roberto Longhi pronounced it an early, Venetian work of Sebastiano after seeing it in the 1955 Giorgione e I Giorgioneschi exhibition in Venice. The attribution was subsequently supported by Berenson (1957 Lists) and by Mauro Lucco (1980 monograph and entry in the 2008 Sebastiano del Piombo exhibition catalogue).