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). Sebastiano's Venetian works are rare. They include only three major works: an altarpiece still in the little church of San Giovanni Crisostomo (attributed by Vasari to Giorgione in the first (1550) edition of his LIves but to Sebastiano in the second (1568) edition); a pair of organ shutters painted for the German merchants' church of San Bartolomeo a Rialto and now in the Accademia; and the unfinished Judgement of Solomon now at Kingston Lacy in Dorset.
Sebastiano 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 by 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.
Vasari stresses that Sebastiano's greatest talent was in portraiture, and almost half his surviving paintings are portraits. Famous examples include the early, Raphaelesque so-called Dorotea in Berlin, the superb Pope Clement VII in Naples and the somewhat sinister Andrea Doria in the Galleria Doria-Pamphilj at Rome. Sebastiano’s late religious paintings were mainly for Spanish patrons. They tend to be more personal and emotional than his earlier works, and darker in tone. They influenced later Spanish artists, such as Luis de Morales and Francisco Ribalta. According to Vasari, Sebastiano was the first to succeed in painting on stone ('peperini, marbles, mischi, porphyry and hard stone slabs'), and slate was used as the support for many of his later paintings. (A posthumous inventory of Sebastiano's house in Rome listed no fewer than forty-six paintings on stone, just two on canvas and two on panel.) 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, and there are substantial paint losses along the panel's central join, which runs through the sitter's face and sleeve. There were restorations in 1976-80 and 2020-21.
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 in 1949 with the collection of the Catalan politician Francesc Cambó. There is a variant of the portrait, probably done from the same drawing, at Harewood House.
*Portrait of a Lady (‘Dorotea’). 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 V-shape position of her fingers (also found in Sebastiano's Wise Virgin at Washington and Titian's Flora in the Uffizi) may stand for virtus. 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 Dorotea (‘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 adorned with a ram's head, is identified as Ceres by the ears of corn she is holding. (An identical ram's head adorns Solomon's throne in the Judgement of Solomon at Kingston Lacy.) 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). It has been suggested that it could be a painting of the goddess Ceres mentioned in 1532 by the Venetian connoisseur Marcantonio Michiel. That painting, attributed by Michiel to Palma Vecchio, was in the palazzo of Andrea Odoni, where it was located 'in the door halfway up the stairs'. (What is probably the same painting – then described as a 'nymph' by Palma Vecchio – is recorded by Michel in 1521 framed in the door of a room in the house of Francesco Zio (Odoni's uncle).) Formerly in the Friedeberg collection, Berlin, the picture was acquired by the museum in 1956.
Budapest. Fine Arts Museum.
*Christ carrying the Cross. Marble, 157 x 118.
A late work, probably dating from around 1535-40. It differs from Sebastiano's first version of this subject, probably painted around 1516 and now at the Prado, in the solid dark background and absence of other figures. It is usually identified as the 'Christ carrying the cross, painted on stone from the middle up', mentioned by Vasari as painted for the ‘Patriarch of Aquileia’ after Sebastiano’s appointment to the Piombo in 1531. Several members of the Grimani family – Domenico and his nephews Marino and Giovanni (who was later accused of heresy because of his Lutheran sympathies) – were Patriarchs of Aquileia and possible patrons of the picture, which (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 smaller variants (on slate) in the Hermitage at St Petersburg and the Prado at Madrid.
*Portrait of a Man. Wood, 115 x 94.
The burly young man, wearing a coat with a heavy fur collar, is posed in front of the corner of a building and rests both hands on a stone block or parapet. The portrait dates from Sebastiano's early years in Rome (around 1512-15), but the sunset landscape is still distinctively Venetian. The picture is first recorded in 1808 in the collection of Antonio Scarpa, a professor of medicine at Parma, and was later with Scarpa’s descendants at Motta di Livenza as a portrait by Raphael of the Ferrarese poet Antonio Tebaldeo. (Raphael's lost portrait of Tebaldeo is mentioned by Pietro Bembo in a letter dated 19 April 1516.) The portrait was bought as a Raphael by the Budapest museum's director, Károly Pulszky, in 1895 for the huge price of 135,000 lire, although it had already been recognised as a work of Sebastiano by Crowe and Cavalcaselle (1871) and by Giovanni Morelli (who thought it was a portrait of Raphael by Sebastiano). The purchase of the misattributed portrait caused a scandal, Pulszky was removed from office, and eventually committed suicide after emigrating to Australia.
*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.
Two angels hold a crown over the head of the Virgin, who is seated on a rock shelf covered by a gold cloth. She draws a transparent veil round the naked Child, who stands with a globe in his left hand and his right hand raised in blessing. The shadowed figure of Joseph, who appears in adoration behind the crib on the right, could be a portrait of the donor. This majestic and richly coloured altarpiece hangs in the large Capilla de la Presentación in the south nave aisle. Undocumented, it was ascribed to Michelangelo in old guidebooks and only published as a work of Sebastiano in 1908 (by Giorgio Bernardino in his Italian monograph on the painter). 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 Vigarny) was commissioned in 1524, and Lerma died in 1527. An elaborate polychromed wooden retable was constructed to contain Sebastiano's painting. The retable, carved by Felipe Vigarny, was broken up and sold in the 1750s. 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. The picture was beautifully restored in 1993-95. It had been previously described (by Hirst (1981)) as 'dimmed and discoloured'.
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, oddly muscular Child resembles both that of one of the putti in the Creation of Adam and the antique sculpture of Reclining Hercules. 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 (on poplar panel) of the picture (on fine canvas) 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.
Compiègne (northern France). Château. Historic Apartments.
Vision of St Anthony Abbot. Wood, 111 x 88.
Anthony Abbot, an early Christian Egyptian hermit, was immensely popular as a father of monasticism and healer of both humans and animals. The saint, identified by the tau cross on the left shoulder of his monk's habit, looks up from the book he is studying and sees a vision of God the Father, represented as a small figure in the top left corner of the painting. The picture has been recorded at Compiègne since 1834. Long neglected, it was attributed to Sebastiano by Michael Hirst, who saw it under restoration at the Louvre in 1977 and published it as an autograph work in his 1981 monograph. There are other versions. One – on canvas rather than panel and slightly larger – came to light very recently in a private collection and is arguably superior. It was sold at Christie's, New York, on 22 April 2021 for $3.15 million. A version at Philadelphia was accepted as an autograph Sebastiano in the early twentieth century, but is now regarded as an old copy. It has been tentatively attributed to the sixteenth-century Roman Mannerist Girolamo Muziano (or Mutiano). The composition may date from around 1515-20.
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). Another possibility (favoured by Frank Jewett Mather in the 1926 Art Bulletin) is that the painting is a later pastiche made by a painter enamoured by the early sixteenth-century Venetian school. An old inscription on the back gives the names of Titian, Giorgione and Sebastiano, and it has been suggested (perhaps rather fancifully) 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. Probably a marmoset from the New World, it must have been an exceptionally rare and exotic pet. 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. By 1693, it had entered the Farnese collection. It passed into the hands of Cardinal Fesch, Napoleon's uncle, in 1806, when he took possession of the Palazzo Farnese in Rome. Later in the collection at Montreal of the Scottish-Canadian investment banker Richard B. Angus. Bequeathed to the National Gallery of Ireland by the Irish dealer and collector Sir Hugh Lane, a victim of the sinking of the Lusitania by a German U-boat in 1915. The picture 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.) Venus's cross-legged pose may have been suggested by the famous antique statue of the Spinario. 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.
St Agatha, a third-century virgin martyr from Catania in Sicily, was tortured for resisting the advances of the lecherous provast Quintianus (who is seen in profile on the extreme left). The saint is conventionally depicted displaying her breasts on a dish, and Sebastiano's disturbingly gruesome picture is unusual in showing the act of mutilation. The torturers are about to clamp her breasts with large pincers, before twisting them and cutting them off. According to the legend, the saint's wounds were miraculously healed by a vision of St Peter, but she was then stripped naked and rolled upon burning brands. The preparation of the fire is shown in the upper right background.
The picture was painted for Cardinal Ercole Rangone to celebrate his appointment as cardinal deacon of the church of Sant’Agata de' Goti at Rome on 1 July 1517. It appears to have been a gift from Giulio de' Medici (the future Leo X), who had commissioned the great altarpiece of the Raising of Lazarus (National Gallery, London). We know from a letter of 26 December 1519 from Sebastiano to Michelangelo that the Martyrdom of St Agatha 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). The picture's horizontal format, with the figures truncated at the knees, makes it unlikely that it was ever intended as an altarpiece for the church of Sant'Agata, and it probably hung originally in Rangone's palazzo. 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. It is uncertain whether the drawing is a life study, made from a female model, or is based on a piece of antique sculpture.
Portrait of Baccio Valori. Slate, 80 x 66.
The sitter, traditionally called Pietro Aretino, was correctly identified as the Florentine politician Baccio Valori only in 1920 (by Odoardo Giglioli in L'Arte). Valori – heavily bearded, with close-set eyes and aquiline nose, and wearing a black cap – seems to fit Benedetto Varchi’s description as a ‘man naturally restless, prodigious and rapacious’. The portrait is possibly the one that Vasari describes as 'beautiful beyond belief'. It 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. (He appears among the captives in the background of Battista Franco's fresco of the Battle of Montemurlo in the Sala di Cosimo of the Palazzo Vecchio.) By 1553 the portrait was in Cosimo I’s Guardaroba in the Palazzo Vecchio. Painted on slate, it is now very dark in tone. Restored in 2014.
Fort Worth. Kimbell Art Museum.
Head of a Woman. Wood, 25 in dia.
This little roundel may date from around the early 1530s. It seems unlikely to be a portrait. It has been suggested that it represents an ideal of female beauty, rather than either an actual young woman or a mythological or allegorical character. Another possibility is that it is a fragment of a larger composition – perhaps a Virgin's head cut from a panel of the Madonna and Child or Holy Family. A drawing at Christ Church, Oxford, may be from the same model wearing the same cap. The painting 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 with a Cup (Vittoria Colonna as Artemisia?). Canvas, 80 x 60.
A version, in which the sitter is given a cup, of the portrait at Barcelona. A cup is an attribute of Artemisia – an exemplar of noble widowhood, who is said to have mixed in her daily drink the ashes of her husband Mausolus. It has been suggested that the portrait represents Vittoria Colonna, and that she commissioned it after the death of her 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. Another possibility is that the portrait represents a lady as St Lucy. There are copies in which the sitter's eyes are reflected in the cup. The picture is first recorded in the mid-nineteenth century in the collection of Lord Elgin at Broomhall, Fife. By 1917, It had been bought by Henry Lascelles, 6th Earl of Harewood. It hung in Lascelles' London residence, Chesterfield House, which he purchased after his marriage in 1922 to Princess Mary, daughter of King George V. When Chesterfield House was demolished in 1934, Lascelles' picture collection was transferred to Harewood House. After forty years in storage, the picture has been restored, and it went on display at Harewood in March 2017.
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. A small variant of the portrait (head and shoulders only and painted on slate) was sold at Sotheby's, London, in July 2019.
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 orders the disputed baby to be divided in two. The scene is set in what appears to be a double-aisled classical basilica. The Corinthian columns, coffered ceiling and red and white floor tiles are drawn in sharply receding one-point perspective, with a vanishing point placed just below the figure of Solomon, sitting in judgement on a stepped marble throne adorned with rams' heads. 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 (such as the Borghese Gladiator). The false mother, whose baby had died, is shown on the left, petitioning Solomon and pointing accusingly at her rival. The baby's true mother appears on the right. She places one hand on her heart and gestures with the other that she is prepared to give up the child in order to save it. The third woman, standing with a soldier at the left edge of the picture, is possibly an earlier version of the false mother. The youth in an orange toga standing to the left of Solomon's throne is possibly his son Rehoboam, while the white-bearded old man on the right (who resembles the St Jerome in Giovanni Bellini's San Zaccaria Altarpiece) is possibly the High Priest Zadok.
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.
The robust young beauty, dressed in shimmering blue silk, turns her gaze defiantly towards the viewer, as she stands by an open door or window, holding an olive-grey severed head on a salver. The small panel is probably an idealised portrait rather than a devotional picture. It was 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 is 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). One of more than forty Italian pictures bequeathed to the National Gallery in 1910 by the Australian-born collector George Salting. The casetta frame is not original but is contemporary with the picture. Sebastiano's panel of a Wise Virgin at Washington (dated 1511 and very similar in style and size) may have been intended as a pendant.
*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 late 1516 by Cardinal Giulio de’ Medici, later Clement VII, as an altarpiece for the Cathedral of St Juste (where there were relics of Lazarus) at Narbonne in southern France. It was painted in direct competition with Raphael’s Transfiguration (now in the Vatican Gallery), which was also commissioned for the Cathedral by Giulio de' Medici, who had recently (February 1515) been appointed its archbishop. Sebastiano was paid the huge fee of 850 ducats for his altarpiece, while Raphael received an unprecedented 1,079 ducats for his.
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. The imposing frame dates only from 2017, but incorporates an antique entablature and pair of antique columns. The base (predella) is a modern copy of a fragment of the original frame that survives in Narbonne Cathedral.
*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 (on the arm of the Virgin's chair). 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.
She wears a dark green silk dress, adorned by ribbons of a brighter green, and a long veil covers the back of her head and falls down her back and over her left shoulder. The paint on the face is rather worn and has a greyish tone. The picture may originally have been a portrait. The attributes of St Agatha – the martyr’s palm in the right hand, the pincers on the table to the right and the breasts in the dish – were added after the paint surface had dried (though that does not necessarily imply that they are by a later hand). 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 pictures, and the execution is sometimes ascribed to his workshop or a close collaborator. One of twenty-five Italian pictures bequeathed to the National Gallery in 1831 by William Holwell Carr, an Anglican priest, amateur artist, art collector and dealer. A painting by Sebastiano of Judith (destroyed at Berlin in 1945) was similar in size (94 x 72) and may have been intended as a pendant.
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’. That portrait was painted in June-July 1532, when Giulia was only nineteen. 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. The picture has been identified as 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 identification of the Getty portrait with the 1531 version has not been established beyond doubt. It has been recently argued (by Stefano Pierguidi in the June 2008 Revue de L'Art) that the Getty picture is more likely to be another version, also on slate, which was sent to Catherine de' Medici after Sebastiano's death in 1547 and was last recorded at Fontainebleau in 1692.
The Getty picture is first definitely recorded only in 1851, when it was included in the Earl of Pembroke's sale at Christie's. It was sensationally rediscovered by the antiques dealer Philip ‘Buffy’ Parker, who picked it up, in a very grimy state, for just £180 in 1987 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. 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.)
The triptych is thought to have been commissioned in Rome by Don Jerónimo Vich y Valterra, who was Spanish ambassador there from 1507 to 1521. Jerönimo Vich brought it back to Valencia when he returned to Spain. It was ceded by his descendants to Philip IV and is recorded in 1657 at the monastery of the Escorial. It was damaged in the Alcàzar fire of 1734 and dispersed in Napoleonic times. The Descent into Limbo was transferred to the Prado in 1837. There is an old Spanish copy (attributed to Francisco Ribalta) of the complete triptych at Olomouc (Czech Republic), and there are copies of the two wings (also attributed to Ribalta) in the Museo de Bellas Artes at Valencia.
*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 painted in Rome around 1516 and is Sebastiano's first version of a subject he was to paint several times over the next twenty or twenty-five years. Devotional, half-length paintings of Christ carrying the Cross had been common in Northern Italy since the late fifteenth century, and Sebastiano would have known Venetian examples from the circle of Giovanni Bellini and also the greatly venerated votive image (attributed either to the young Titian or to Giorgione) at San Rocco. Sebastiano would also have been aware of Raphael's altarpiece of Christ Falling under the Cross (known as 'Lo Spasimo' and also now in the Prado), which was painted in Rome around 1514-16. Sebastiano's composition differs from earlier treatments, however, in adopting a frontal viewpoint, rather than showing Christ from the side.
The painting was probably a Spanish commission. Recent research suggests that it was in Spain, in the collection of the former 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. The picture appears to have made a considerable impression on the late sixteenth/early seventeenth-century Spanish painter Francisco Ribalta, who borrowed from the composition for his Vision of Father Simon (National Gallery, London) and his Christ on the Way to Calvary Meeting the Virgin (Museo de Bellas Artes, Valencia).
Christ carrying the Cross. Slate, 43 x 32.
This version, which omits the figures of Simon of Cyrene and the Roman soldier, is a miniature near-replica (on a small and remarkably thin sheet of slate) of one in the Hermitage at St Petersburg. It was considered by Hirst (1981) to be a Spanish copy. But following restoration and technical analysis for an exhibition held at the Prado in 1995, it has been generally accepted as an autograph late work, and it was included as such in 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.
The Virgin displays the nails and Veil of Veronica. A jar of oil or water is placed at the left edge. The dark background previously appeared virtually blank, but cleaning has revealed the shadowy presence of several mourners. The picture was the altarpiece of 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. Cobos was an avid collector of relics – which could explain the prominent inclusion of instruments of the Passion. 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). According to Vasari. Sebastiano was paid the considerable sum of 500 scudi. 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 slate support probably saved the picture from destruction during the Spanish Civil War, when a nearby statue (supposedly by Michelangelo) was smashed and a retable by Alonso Berruguete was burnt. The picture was mutilated with a bayonet 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. There is a Spanish copy at the Fine Arts Museum, Budapest.
Madrid. Thyssen-Bornemisza Collection.
*Cardinal Carondelet with His Secretary. Canvas, 113 x 87.
Cardinal Ferry Carondelet (1473-1528), Archdeacon of Besançon, was the son of the famous Jean Carondelet, Chancellor to the Emperor Maximilian. He is shown, seated in the loggia of a grand Renaissance villa with marble Corinthian columns, dictating to a secretary, while behind him a messenger brings in a letter. His name appears on the letter in his right hand, and above the door of the loggia is his motto Nosce Opportunitatem ('Seize the Opportunity'). This superb portrait must have been painted between June 1511, when Ferry Carondelet arrived in Rome as Imperial Ambassador to the Papal Court, and May 1513, when he returned to the Netherlands. Fra Bartolommeo painted his magnificent Besançon altarpiece, portraying Ferry Carondelet as a donor, in these same years. Like many of Sebastiano’s early portraits, the Cardinal Carondelet and His Secretary 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 hung for a great many years at Euston Hall in Suffolk. It retained the attribution to Raphael until 1894, when it was loaned by the Duke of Grafton to the Winter Exhibition at the New Gallery and recognised as a work of Sebastiano by Constance Jocelyn Ffoulkes (an English disciple of Giovanni Morelli). Acquired by Baron Heinrich Thyssen-Bornemisza in 1934.
*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. The picture remained in Sebastiano's studio until his death in 1547, and was subsequently acquired by Fulvio Orsini, who bequeathed it to Cardinal Odoardo Farnese. It was 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 old but not necessarily original. Columbus died in 1506; so if the portrait were actually of him, it would have to be posthumous and presumably derived from another portrait. An engraving after the portrait (or another version of it) was published as a likeness of Columbus in Theodor de Bry's Grands Voyages (1595). Some modern writers have accepted the identification, while others have doubted it. 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. It is recorded in an inventory of Heidelberg Castle, drawn up after the death of Karl Ludwig II, Elector Palatine, in 1685. It was later in the collection of the Duc de Talleyrand, Napoleon's chief diplomat. Given to the Metropolitan Museum in 1900 by the famous American banker and financier J. Pierpont Morgan, who had bought it from Agnew's, London, for the huge price of £40,000.
Holy Family with Four Saints and Two Donors. Wood, 67 x 103.
St Jerome introduces the male donor on the left, placing his hand on his shoulder, and St Francis, pointing to the stigmata in his side, introduces the female donor on the right. The two saints in the middle are harder to identify, but are usually called Anthony of Padua 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, widow of the New York banker Siegfried Bieber.
Olomouc (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 Olomouc 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 (Zechariah), St Elizabeth's husband. The Virgin Mary is welcomed by Elizabeth, her older pregnant cousin. Joseph, accompanied by a female servant or relative, stands behind Mary at the left edge of the picture. 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 must 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 diplomatic 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 moved to Versailles by 1683 and sent to the Louvre in 1795. 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.
Another version – painted in oil on paper and with just the heads of Mary and Elizabeth – was discovered by Roberto Sgarbossa in 2008 at a flea market in Montpellier. It was included as an autograph Sebastiano in the exhibition Michelangelo & Sebastiano held at the National Gallery, London, in 2017, but the attribution has been doubted (eg. by Charles Hope in the London Review of Books, April 2017).
Sacra Conversazione (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.
The Genoese nobleman Andrea Doria (1466/8-1560) was an adventurer, condottiere, famous naval commander and statesman. After joining the guard of the Genoese Pope Innocent VIII as a teenager and fighting for King Ferdinand I of Naples as a condottiere, he assembled a fleet of Genoese galleys that fought Barbary pirates and Ottoman Turks in the Mediterranean. In the Italian Wars, he first sided with the French King Francis I, but later switched allegiance to the Emperor Charles V. After driving the French from Genoa in 1528, he became virtual dictator of the maritime city state, imposing a new Republican constitution and ruthlessly crushing political opposition. He remained admiral of the Imperial fleet, leading expeditions against pirates and Turks, until extreme old age, retiring only in 1555.
The portrait is probably one painted by Sebastiano for Clement VII, which is mentioned in a letter of 29 May 1526 from the Mantuan ambassador at the papal court to his master, Marquise Federico Gonzaga. The sitter, about sixty years old at the time and dressed in a black travel cloak, stands magisterially behind a sculpted parapet, pointing down at a marble relief representing maritime objects. The objects (anchor, ship's beak, prow of a trireme, rudder, goose-head ornament (cheniskos) and ship's stern (aphlaston)) were taken from a Roman relief that was once in the church of San Lorenzo fuori le Mura and came originally from a Roman temple. (The relief still exists 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 as his family mausoleum 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 1 August 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 altarpiece is painted on stone – a local grey volcanic rock called peperino. In preparation, Sebastiano had the back of the chapel removed and replaced by large blocks of the stone. The picture 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. The altarpiece is dimly lit and the colours have darkened. Previously exceedingly dirty, it was restored in 2008. Sebastiano's modello (black chalk with white heightening on grey paper) is preserved in the Louvre. It is the largest and most elaborate surviving drawing by the artist. It corresponds closely with the final painting – showing that Salviati made no major changes to the composition.
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 work had begun by August 1516, but was interrupted in 1517-19 by Giulio de’ Medici’s commission for an altarpiece (the Raising of Lazarus, now in London) to send to his diocese at Narbonne. Progress was then further held up by an outbreak of the plague in 1522. 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.
Over the arch, angels appear to two reclining figures. The figure on the right, with a scroll, is probably the Prophet Isaiah. The figure on the left, with a partly opened book, has sometimes been called St Matthew, but may be another Old Testament Prophet (Ezekiel?). Here, Sebastiano re-used the design for Lazarus that Michelangelo had provided for the altarpiece of the Raising of Lazarus.
Soon after the chapel was completed, Sebastiano painted a near-replica of the Flagellation as an altarpiece for the church of the Osservanza del Paradiso at Viterbo (now in the Museo Civico there). A small copy on panel at the Borghese Gallery is usually attributed to Marcello Venusti (who made many painted copies of drawings by Michelangelo). The composition appears to have influenced Caravaggio's famous Flagellation at Naples.
Rome. Villa Farnesina. Sala di Galatea.
*Polyphemus. Fresco, 295 x 223.
In Ovid's Metamorphoses (Book XIII) the Cyclops Polyphemus fell in love with the Nereid Galatea. The one-eyed giant is shown staring out to sea, holding the panpipes with which he accompanied his lovelorn song. (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 Jerónimo Vich y Valterra, Spanish ambassador to the Holy See from 1507 to 1521. 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 Jerónimo and his brother, Cardinal Guillermo Raimundo de Vich. The triptych was given to Philip IV and is recorded as being in the Escorial by 1657; 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 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 de 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 at the lower right edge of the painting. The picture is referred to in a letter of 3 May 1537 from Niccolò Sernini, the Mantuan agent, to Ferrante Gonzaga. (Sernini's reference is – for reasons unknown – decidedly caustic: 'You would have been very disappointed, because it was not only not liked, but offensive to all'.) The picture is then recorded in Spain in 1589, hanging in the choir of the Escorial above the prior's seat. It was plundered from the monastery by Marshal Soult in 1809 during the Peninsular War, and was acquired for the Hermitage in 1852 at the sale of Soult’s collection in Paris. The bottom edge of the slate support is cut. There is a small near-replica (also on slate) at Madrid and a larger variant (on marble) at Budapest. The picture was immensely influential among later Spanish artists and was widely copied. Luis de Morales painted several versions of the composition (one, dated 1566, is in the Museo del Patriarca at Valencia).
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. The reattribution to Sebastiano del Piombo was due to the Parisian dealer and collector Pierre-Jean Mariette, who pointed out that Cardinal Pole would have been only twenty years old when Raphael died. The Sebastiano attribution – as a late work dating from the 1530s or 1540s – passed unchallenged until Roberto Longhi (1946) proposed Perino del Vaga. (The meticulous description of every fold of drapery is, allegedly, unlike Sebastiano.) The Hermitage has retained the Sebastiano attribution (but with a query in its 1992 catalogue).
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 Heinrich Freiherr 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 over his Franciscan habit) and St Sinibaldus (with pilgrim's hat, scrip 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 small church, near the Rialto Bridge, used by German merchants, whose warehouse (the Fondaco dei Tedeschi) was close by. 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, from the outside of the doors, are said to have been badly restored by the eighteenth-century Venetian painter Giambattista Mengardi.
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 presumably for the benefit of the German merchants, while Louis (Alvise) was the name saint 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. During the twentieth century, they were taken to the Accademia on several occasions, but subsequently returned to San Bartolomeo. The church was deconsecrated in the 1980s, and the canvases have been kept at the Accademia since 1980. 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 were subsequent attributions to Vincenzo Catena, Bernardo Licinio, Palma Vecchio and Giovanni Cariani, but recent opinion has been mostly divided between Giorgione and Sebastiano. The attribution to Giorgione was made by Roberto Longhi in 1927, while 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. The Virgin's pose is similar to that in the Madonnas sometimes attributed to Giorgione at Oxford and St Petersburg, while the types of the Christ Child and St Catherine strongly resemble those in the Sacra Conversazione usually attributed to Sebastiano in the Louvre.
Visitation. Canvas, 212 x 150.
A distinctly Junoesque Virgin Mary is greeted by the elderly St Elizabeth. The pregnant cousins are accompanied by their husbands, Joseph and Zacharias (Zechariah). The figures, oddly small in scale, are shown against the background of a large partly ruined house. 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. In recent years, the Accademia has labelled the picture either as 'early sixteenth-century Venetian school' or as 'attributed to Sebastiano del Piombo'.
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 is often identified as St Nicholas of Bari but may be St John the Evangelist. On the left is a 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. Restored in the early 1990s, when old varnish and some nineteenth-century retouchings were removed.
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. The Virgin is sometimes said to be praying, but actually appears to be wringing her hands with grief. As a Lamentation, the picture is unusual for the absence of other mourners, and there is also no sign of the sarcophagus or tomb, nor view of Golgotha. A full moon dimly illuminates the ruins and waterfall in the landscape. This famous, starkly dramatic picture was commissioned by Monsignor Giovanni Botonti, a clerk (and later head) of the Camera Apostolica, for the altar of his family chapel in the left transept of San Francesco alla Rocco at Viterbo. Its portal stone frame, finely carved and inscribed with Botonti's name, still survives in situ in the church (though damaged by bombing in 1944).
The picture dates from quite early in Sebastiano’s Roman period. It was probably in place by May 1516 (when Botonti donated altar cloths, candlesticks and other 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 clasped 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 Rome in 1840, and restored again before transfer to the Museo Civico in 1880. 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. The picture stood over the first altar on the right of the church, which was closed in 1873. Crowe and Cavalcaselle (1871) ascribed the execution to an assistant, Berenson excluded the picture from his early Lists (1894-1906) and Düssler (1942) suspected substantial studio assistance. However, the picture is generally now accepted as a (largely) autograph work. Like the Pietà, the Flagellation has been damaged by damp, and it was restored several times in the twentieth century (1924, 1951 and 1971). Following their restoration for the 2008 Sebastiano exhibition, the Pietà and Flagellation have both 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 and donated to the National Gallery in 1952.
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. On the strength of comparisons with engravings, the man pointing upwards has been identified as Paolo Giovio (the physician, historian and collector of portraits) and his companion as Giovanni Maria Cattaneo (a humanist scholar and poet). The table is covered by a 'Lotto carpet' from Anatolia. The open book is illustrated with maps and could be a manuscript copy of Ptolemy's Geography.
The picture is recorded in 1780 in the palazzo of Giacomo Balbi at Genoa. By 1854 it had entered 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 to the Stanley family of Quantock Lodge, Bridgewater, Somerset. By 1920 it had been acquired by Viscount Lascelles, later 6th Earl of Harewood, who hung it at the top of the great staircase in Chesterfield House, his London residence after his marriage to Mary, the Princess Royal. Acquired by Kress in 1949 and gifted to the National Gallery in 1961.
*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 from the Ghizzi family of Naples. It remained with the Marquess's descendants at Bowood Hall, Wiltshire, until at least 1914, and was then for many years in the hands of dealers. Acquired by Kress in 1955 and donated to the National Gallery in 1961.
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).