SCIPIONE PULZONE,
called IL GAETANO

Gaeta before 1550–1598 Rome

 

Portrait of Maria de’ Medici, later Queen of France

 

Signed and dated on the back of the chair, left center:

Scipio. Caietan/us. Faciebat./ 1594

 

Oil on canvas

52 ½ x 38 ¾ inches
(133.4 x 98.4 cm)

 

Provenance:

Ehrich Galleries, New York, 1920–24, exhibited as “Scipione Pulzone, Portrait of Marie de' Medici at the age of twenty-one”

Oscar Klein, New York; sold with “Oil Paintings from the Chateau Lustenice Collection,” Plaza Art Galleries, New York, November 24, 1944, lot 108 (as "Scipio Gaetano Pulzone: Maria de’ Medici")

Hardt Collection, Greenwich, Connecticut (by c. 1955); by descent to

Private Collection, Maine

Exhibited:               

“Beauty and Duty: The Art and Business of Renaissance Marriage,” Bowdoin College Museum of Art, Brunswick, Maine, March 24-July 22, 2008

“Hinter dem Vorhang; Verhüllung und Enthüllung seit der Renaissance – von Tizian bis Christo,” Düsseldorf, Museum Kunstpalast, Oct 1, 2016-Jan 22, 2017

Literature:      

Adolfo Venturi, Storia dell'arte italiana, vol. IX, part 7, Milan 1934, p. 781

Federico Zeri, Pittura e Controriforma; L’ “arte senza tempo” di Scipione da Gaeta, Turin 1957, p. 93, pl. 87

Erasmo Vaudo, Scipione Pulzone da Gaeta, pittore, Gaeta 1976, p. 42

Alessandro Zuccari, in The Age of Caravaggio, exh. cat., New York, Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1985, p. 170.

Augusto Donò, “Scipione Pulzone (1545–1598), il pittore della ‘Madonna della Divina Provvidenza,” Barnabiti Studi. Rivista di reicerche storiche dei Chierici Regolari di S. Paolo (Barnabiti), XIII (1996), p. 58, no. 23

Alexandra Dern, Scipione Pulzone (ca. 1546–1598) Weimar 2003, pp. 158–60, cat. nos. 51 and 52, figs. 65 and 66

Susan E. Wegner, Beauty & Duty: The Art and Business of Renaissance Marriage Brunswick 2008, pp. 44-45, 51, ill. p. 45, cat. no. 13.

Antonio Vannugli, “Scipione Pulzone ritrattista; Traccia per un catalogo ragionato,” in Scipione Pulzone; Da Gaeta a Roma alle Corti europee, exh. Cat. ed Alessandra Acconci and Alessandro Zuccari, Gaeta, Museo Diocesano,  June 27-Oct 27, 2013, pp. 52-3, 379, fig. 19

Benedetta Montevecchi, “ ‘Arti rare’ nella pittura di Scipione Pulzone, in Scipione Pulzone e il suo tempo, ed. Alessandro Zuccari, Rome 2015, p. 192 ill.

Claudia Blümle, “Das Bild als Vorhang,” in Hinter dem Vorhang; Verhüllung und Enthüllung seit der Renaissance – von Tizian bis Christo, ed. Claudia Blümle and Beat Wismer, exh. cat. , Düsseldorf 2016, pp. 33-36, 323 ill p. 35

 

The paintings of Scipione Pulzone are characterized by an elegant, pure classicism expressed through a meticulous and refined technique that makes them at once exquisitely attractive and powerfully effective. From this combination Pulzone became both a leading portrait painter and one of the major exponents of Roman religiosity in the wake of the Council of Trent, a figure who in his short life received commissions from the most important patrons of late sixteenth century Rome—Pius V, Pope Gregory XIII, Sixtus V, Ferdinando de' Medici, Alessandro Farnese, and Marcantonio Colonna, among others.

 

His paintings, both secular and sacred, are characterized by an intensity, timelessness, and universality —what Federico Zeri termed “pittura senza tempo” and “senza luogo.”

Pulzone is thought to have been a pupil of Jacopino del Conte, but his portrait style indicates a knowledge of both Italian court precedents and painters from Northern Europe, most especially Anthonis Mor. His paintings, both secular and sacred, are characterized by an intensity, timelessness, and universality —what Federico Zeri termed “pittura senza tempo” and “senza luogo.”

 

The present portrait is well known in the literature, but it is only with its recent cleaning that its signature and date (1594 rather than 1591, as earlier thought), as well as its inventive composition, have become apparent. With the removal of a painted extension at the bottom and overpaint along the left edge, Pulzone’s witty conception of a picture within a picture has been restored. The lady portrayed standing beside a chair is herself revealed to be a painted image, the drapery above her and to her left playfully alluding to two conventions of Renaissance portraiture: the backdrop of draped material and the custom of covering paintings with curtains. What may first be taken to be a background element is upon study a drawn curtain, hanging on top and wrapped around the side of the fictive unframed canvas (the tacking edge of which is meticulously depicted), casting a deep shadow on to the surface of the “portrait” below.

 

Pulzone made use of this illusionistic trompe-l'oeil device in other portraits, but never so closely in terms of format and size as in the three portraits he painted for the so-called Serie Aulica in Florence. This series of portraits of the Medici family was begun in 1584–86 with commissions for twenty-two portraits from various artists. In succeeding years, additional canvases were added, some of new family members, others to replace earlier images that were no longer current; all measured 2 1/3 x 2 braccia, roughly 140 x 116 cm.  Pulzone'sFerdinando I de’ Medici (which took the place of an earlier image by Naldini) and Christine of Lorraine (his duchess) are dated 1590.  The Francesco I de' Medici (which replaced a more juvenile portrait by Santi di Tito) is probably posthumous and must be roughly contemporary.  In each of these portraits, as with the present picture, the ambiguous curtain frames a three-quarter length subject standing beside a subsidiary prop, a chair or a table with crown or helmet. 

 

Pulzone did not employ this format exclusively for Medici portraits; a Portrait of Cardinal Michele Bonelli (Fogg Art Museum, Cambridge) is similarly conceived, as is a Portrait of a Lady in the Museo del Prado, Madrid. However, the tacit relationship of the present painting to the Serie Aulica portraits does serve to confirm the traditional identification of the subject as Maria de' Medici. It was with her name that the portrait was exhibited by Ehrich Galleries in the 1920s, an appellation perhaps based on some now lost information. That identification was later seconded by Wilhelm Suida in a certificate accompanying the picture's sale in 1944, and by Federico Zeri, in a letter of 1995.

 

Maria, the daughter of Grand Duke Francesco I de’ Medici was born in 1573 and later became Queen of France, marrying Henry IV in 1600; she would have been twenty-one years old at the time of the Pulzone portrait.

Maria, the daughter of Grand Duke Francesco I de’ Medici was born in 1573 and later became Queen of France, marrying Henry IV in 1600; she would have been twenty-one years old at the time of the Pulzone portrait. Supporting the identification are the resemblance of the sitter to later portraits of Maria, such as Pourbus's of 1611; the unusual reddish brown hair color and hair style of the sitter, shared by Maria; and the fact that the portrait of Maria currently in the Serie Aulica did not enter the collection until 1613 and thus replaced an earlier depiction of the Medici princess. A lost portrait by Pulzone of Maria is in fact recorded; it is attested to by inventory mentions of Pulzone portrait drawings of Maria, Ferdinando I, and Christine of Lorraine, all presumably associated with painted portraits for the Serie Aulica. The present portrait is in all likelihood the original portrait of Maria de' Medici painted for the Serie Aulica, but definitive confirmation of its provenance awaits further research in the Medici archives.