A Portrait of Alessandra di Vieri de'Medici and her son Ottaviano, Sebastiano Marsili(active Flo
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A Portrait of Alessandra di Vieri de'Medici and her son Ottaviano

Sebastiano Marsili
(active Florence second half
16th century)

A Portrait of Alessandra di Vieri de'Medici and her son Ottaviano

Oil on panel
Inscribed verso:
'ALESANDRA / DI VERI DE MEDICI, DI ANNI XXXII LANNO / MDL XXXI / fatto per mano di Bastiano Marsilij'
1581

Dimensions

Height
83 cm; 32 ⅔ in.
Width
60.5 cm; 23⅘ in.

Provenance

Private collection, Italy

Alessandra (born in 1549), a daughter of Attlio de’ Medici, is portrayed in the present work at the age of 32 years with one of her children, probably Ottaviano, who was born on 22 March 1577. Her husband Vieri (Veri) di Niccolò di Tanai de’ Medici (1527 – c.1600), a trusted Medici functionary, held the post of Proveditore Generale delle Fabbriche (general superintendent of non-military construction) from 1559. He administered payments for work on ducal building projects at the Uffizi and Palazzo Pitti, as well as at the Villas of Poggio a Caiano, Castello and Cerreto Guidi. According to Litta (Famiglie Celebri Italiane, Vol. VII), Vieri and his wife had five children – Cammillo, Ottaviano, Emilio, Roberto and Caterina. As her husband remarried and his only recorded surviving offspring was from that second marriage, it is likely that Alessandra died not long after our portrait was completed. It is also possible that the picture commemorates her at her death.

The format and style of the present work is based on the portraits painted by the leading artist of the 1580s in Florence, Alessandro Allori (1535 – 1607). It compares closely with a portrait attributed to Scipione Pulzone and identified as Bianca Cappello, in which the sitter’s hair similarly curls away from her forehead and a dark red carnation is tucked into her bodice. These details, as well as her dress, consisting of an outer sleeveless mantle (zimarra) with contrasting undergarment covered in gold embroidery, a roll marking the juncture of the shoulder with the sleeve, and the fine lace collar, confirm the date of the picture. The carnation at her bodice is a symbol of her love and devotion to her husband, while the coral necklace and bracelet worn by the young child were believed to ward off harm.

On the verso of the panel are two contemporary inscriptions. The first identifies the sitter and gives her age and the year of the painting. The second, 'fatto per mano di Bastiano Marsilj' reveals the artist of the portrait as Sebastian Marsili who had contributed the painting of Atalante and Hippomenes to the Studiolo of Francesco I in the 1570s. A third inscription at the bottom of the verso is later, as the use of quotation marks attests. It most likely was an attempt to attribute the image to Alessandro Allori’s master, Bronzino, or a confusion of their names because Allori had frequently appended  'Bronzino' to his own name, leading to confusion between Allori and Bronzino in subsequent centuries.

Marsili, who knew Alessandro Allori well from their collaboration in the Studiolo, seems to have copied Allori’s portrait type precisely. The outlines of Alessandra’s hands exactly match ones drawn by Allori, suggesting that Marsili used drawings or cartoons by Allori. Marsili is also known to have cut the wood blocks for the illustrations in Raffaello Gualterotti’s description of the wedding of Grand Duke Francesco I de’ Medici to Bianca Cappello: the Feste nelle Nozze del Serenissimo Don Francesco Medici Gran Duca di Toscano et Bianca Cappello, published in Florence in 1579. His participation is recorded in a prominent inscription at the bottom of the plate facing page 12 in the Feste nelle Nozze, which is written in Roman letters similar to the ones used in the inscription identifying Alessandra on the verso of our picture. Marsili may therefore have himself written the inscription on the present panel identifying Alessandra and attesting to his authorship.

This painting may be sold with an Italian walnut casetta frame from the second half of the 16th century, with a carved and gilded gadroon sight moulding and original gilding.

We are grateful to Professor Dr. Elizabeth Pilliod, Rutgers University, Camden, and Professor Dr. Mina Gregori, Professor Emeritus, University of Florence, for confirming the attribution to Sebastiano Marsili based on digital photographs and first hand examination of the work.