Portrait of Luca Martini
Oil on slate
20 3/8 x 14 3/4 inches
(51.8 x 37.6 cm)
Probably Sale, Christie's, London, Sept. 26, 1974, lot 79 (Bronzino: Head of a Bearded Man, Slate, 20 ½ x 14 ½ in.); sold to Brill;
Walpole Gallery, London, 1988-89;
Private Collection, California;
Private Collection, New York
“Treasures of Italian Art,” Walpole Gallery, London, April 19-June 24, 1988, no. 5.
“From Sacred to Sensual; Italian Paintings, 1400-1750,” Berry-Hill Galleries, New York, Jan./ 201-Mar. 14, 1998
Treasures of Italian Art, exh. cat. Walpole Gallery, London 1988, pp. 18-19, no. 5, illustrated in color.
Robert B. Simon, From Sacred to Sensual; Italian Paintings, 1400-1750, New York 1998, pp. 52-53.
Luca Martini was a close friend of Bronzino's and a member of the circle of literati at the Medici court. He was by profession an engineer and served for many years as an advisor to Duke Cosimo I de'Medici. Martini's greatest engineering achievement was the draining of the malaria-infested marshes around Pisa and the creation of fertile, workable land where only fetid swamp had been. Symbolic of that feat, reports Vasari, was a painting by Bronzino (now lost) of the Virgin accompanied by Luca, who is portrayed holding a basket of fruit. A more overt allusion is to be found in Bronzino's Portrait of Luca Martini in the Pitti Palace, in which the subject is shown holding a map of the drainage system that he had devised.
The present painting portrays Luca at roughly the same age as the Pitti portrait and in a similar pose; it is, however notably different in such details as the rendering of the hair, beard, and costume. Bronzino has exploited the cool gray support of the slate in treating Martini, whose steel gray eyes seem both engaging and forbidding. A date in the late 1550's accords well with the artist's style at the time and Martini's evident age.