called FRA GALGARIO
(Bergamo, 1655 – 1743)
Portrait of a Bewigged Gentleman, possibly the Italian castrato Senesino
Oil on copper, oval
3 x 2 3/8 inches
(7.6 x 6 cm.)
Suida-Manning Collection, New York
“Eighteenth Century European Paintings from the Collection of Robert L. and Bertina Suida Manning,” The Gallery, Dept. of Art, Duke University, Durham 1966, no. 19.
“Baroque Portraiture in Italy; Works from North American Collections,” John and Mable Ringling Museum of Art, Sarasota, Dec. 7, 1984-Feb. 3, 1985, and Wadsworth Atheneum, Hartford, Mar. 20-May 20, 1985, no. 25.
John T. Spike, Baroque Portraiture in Italy; Works from North American Collections, Sarasota 1984, pp. 92-93, cat. no. 25 ill.
Fra Galgario is the author of some of the most astonishing portraits of the late Baroque period. Full of character and remarkable for their expressive poses, these images, usually life-size are both dramatic and sympathetic. The present work shows the artist working on an unusually small scale, with no loss of impact. The sitter, sporting a stylish wig and an a richly decorated doublet, gazes at the viewer with a frankness and intimacy that are perhaps lost in portraits of a larger format. The tilt of his head, the turn of his body, the placement of his arm akimbo – are all subtle indications of character that underscore the personality conveyed in the depiction of the subject’s features.
Recently, James Middleton has suggested that the subject of this portrait may be the celebrated Italian contralto castrato Francesco Bernardi, called Senesino (1686-1758). Senesino began his career in Venice, but is best known as the primo uomo in George Frederic Handel’s company, the Academy of Music, in London. There he created seventeen leading roles for Handel, including those in Giulio Cesare, Rodelinda, and Orlando. He returned to Italy in 1736. Portraits of Senesino, such as van Haecken’s print after a portrait by Thomas Hudson (illustrated below), show a man of great physical similarity to the sitter in our portrait, with a square brow, cleft chin, and wearing an almost identical costume and wig. Van Haecken’s print is dated 1735, presumably also the date of Hudson’s portrait and the year before Senesino’s return to Italy, where Fra Galgario would have painted him.
This work comes from the distinguished Suida-Manning Collection, begun by the Austrian art historian Wilhelm Suida and continued by his daughter Bertina Suida Manning and her husband Robert Manning, both scholars in the field. The attribution of the present work to Fra Galgario was first proposed by Robert Manning and seconded by John T. Spike. It has recently (June 2011) been confirmed by Dr. Mina Gregori upon first-hand inspection.