These twelve heads are from a series of at least forty-four panels that decorated the ceiling beams and upper walls of a small room in the palace of San Martino Gusnago, not far from Mantua. Whether they were commissioned by the military commander Francesco Secco or by Eusebio Malatesta, the Jewish advisor of Duke Federigo II Gonzaga, cannot be said. This type of ceiling decoration was especially popular in northern Italy. Only one of the figures can be identified with any likelihood: the one in the costume of a Venetian doge appears to be Marco Barbarigo (doge 1485–86). They were probably painted between 1500 and 1515 and in the insistent perspective of the architecture reveal the influence of the outstanding Milanese painter-architect Bramantino.
Palazzo di San Martino Gusnago (now Palazzo Pastore), near Ceresara, between Mantua and Brescia (until 1881/82); Henry R. Willett, Arnold House, Brighton (bought through Luigi Felisina; 1881/82–d. 1905; his estate sale, Christie's, London, April 10, 1905, nos. 97, 98, 102, 104, as by Bramantino, to MMA)
London. Royal Academy of Arts. "Winter Exhibition," January–March 1884, nos. 234 (as "Head of a Young Man" [05.2.6]; 240, as "Head of a Youth" [05.2.10]; 241, as "Head of a Lady" [05.2.3]; 249, as "Head of a Lady" [05.2.1]; 250, as "Portrait of a Doge" [05.2.11]; all by an unknown artist; all lent by Henry Willett).
London. Royal Academy of Arts. "Winter Exhibition," January–March 1885, nos. 236 (as "Head of a Man" [05.2.5]; ?240, as "Head of a Young Man" [05.2.7]; 248, as "Head of a Man" [05.2.4]; 249, as "Head of a Man" [05.2.2]; 250, as "Head of a Lady" [05.2.9]; all by an unknown artist; all lent by Henry Willett).
New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "Temporary Exhibition," April 1906, no cat. number (as "Part of Frieze from Castle of San Martino," Lombard School).
Richmond. Virginia Museum of Fine Arts. "Italian Art: Loss and Survival," October 15–November 16, 1947, no catalogue [acc. nos. 05.2.1, 3, 5, 8, 9, 11 only].
A. H. Church. "The Master of San Martino." Portfolio 15 (1884), pp. 35–37, ill. opp. p. 36 (05.2.6), states that they belong to a group of forty-four panels that were removed from a room in the castle of San Martino di Gusnaja [sic] in 1881 or 1882, only a few months before being acquired by Willett; notes that the panels were organized in four rows, two of which were located on opposite walls and the other two of which were placed along both sides of a beam which divided the room in half; adds that when the panels were taken down the images were covered by layers of paint, which he removed; describes their cleaning and condition; dates the panels to the fourth quarter of the fifteenth century and identifies them as portraits, suggesting that the doge may be Pasquale Malipieri, and that other images may depict Giovanni Pico della Mirandola and Louis XII, King of France.
Herbert F. Cook inCatalogue of Pictures by Masters of the Milanese and Allied Schools of Lombardy. Exh. cat., Burlington Fine Arts Club. London, 1898, pp. xlv–xlvi, 3, under nos. 9–14, accepts "the traditional attribution" of the panels to Bramantino and dates them probably about 1490–1500; is aware of thirty-six of the series still in existence; does not believe that they are actual portraits, but rather "fanciful heads"; mentions the influence of Leonardo; compares them with a similar series by Bramante in the Casa Prinetti, Milan (now Pinacoteca di Brera, Milan), and also with frescoes in the Casa Castiglione, Milan.
[H. W. Kent]. "Twelve Panels, Said to be by Bramantino." Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin 1 (November 1905), p. 14, ill. (05.2.1, 2, 4, 8, 9, 11), questions the attribution to Bramantino; calls them Lombard; confuses the exhibition history.
A. J. Koop. "The Bramantino Portraits from San Martino di Guznago." Burlington Magazine 8 (October 1905), pp. 135–36, pls. 3–4, accepts the original arrangement of the panels proposed by Church [see Ref. 1884] and also his description of the heads as portraits, suggesting that the doge might be Marco Barbarigo; proposes that the monograms appearing on some of the panels might be the initials of members of two different families; discusses the attribution, finding Konody's [see Ref. 1905] theory that the panels might be copies after the destroyed original frescoes by Bramantino convincing.
[Paul G. Konody]. Paris Herald Tribune (August 28, 1905), suggests that the panels are copies ordered by Raphael and made by one of his pupils, perhaps Giulio Romano, prior to the destruction of the original frescoes that Vasari reported Bramantino to have painted in the Vatican.
Herbert Cook. "Addendum to Ref. Koop 1905." Burlington Magazine 8 (October 1905), pp. 136, 141, calls the attribution to Bramantino not certain, but helpful, serving to mark a connection with Bramante and Foppa.
Martin Conway. Letter to H. W. Kent. August 15, 1905, referring to the panel from the series then in his collection, states that it "occupied the central position over the fireplace and was certainly the work of the master hand," who must have been an artist near Bramantino if probably not Bramantino himself; believes other panels from the series must have been painted by assistants.
American Art News 3 (August 15, 1905), unpaginated, mistakenly identifies the artist as Bramante, adding that the panels are said to depict members of his family; claims that the palace from which they were removed was destroyed in 1880.
Wilhelm Suida. "Die Jugendwerke des Bartolommeo Suardi, genannt Bramantino." Jahrbuch der kunsthistorischen Sammlungen des allerhöchsten Kaiserhauses 25 (1905), pp. 67–68, includes thirty-four of the panels (thirty-three from Willett's collection and one in Conway's collection) among works mistakenly attributed to Bramantino; notes Georg Gronau's opinion that they are more probably Veronese than Lombard.
Roger Fry. Letter to his wife, Helen Fry. March 13, 1906 [published in Ref. Sutton 1972, vol. 1, letter no. 180, p. 257], refers to them as "the Bramantino panels".
Roger Fry. Letter to his wife, Helen Fry. April 17, 1906 [published in Ref. Sutton 1972, vol. 1, letter no. 189, p. 264].
Selwyn Brinton. Leonardo at Milan. London, 1907, pp. 56–57, knows of thirty-six panels from the series; attributes them to Bramantino.
Martin Conway. The Sport of Collecting. New York, 1914, pp. 27, 54–57, states that Willett acquired the set of panels through a "tout" by the name of Luigi Felisina, from Brescia; adds that Willett owned forty-four panels, and that Felisina later showed him [Conway] three more from the same series, one of which he acquired and the other two of which he believes went to Germany; notes that these three panels were found at the principal end of the room, possibly over a fireplace; attributes the design and the execution of some of the panels to a master influenced by Foppa, and believes others must have been painted by assistants.
Catalogue des tableaux anciens, tableaux modernes, objets d'art et de haute curiosité composant la collection Engel-Gros. Galerie Georges Petit, Paris. May 30–June 1, 1921, p. 15, under no. 4, as attributed to Bramantino; states that the panels originally formed friezes in two rooms in the Palazzo San Martino.
Catalogue of Important Ancient and Modern Pictures and Drawings. Christie's, London. February 25, 1938, p. 10, under no. 41, as North Italian school, fifteenth century.
Harry B. Wehle. The Metropolitan Museum of Art: A Catalogue of Italian, Spanish, and Byzantine Paintings. New York, 1940, pp. 150–51, ill. (05.2.8), as by a follower of Bramantino.
John Pope-Hennessy. "Recent Research." Burlington Magazine 76 (January 1940), p. 31, attributes the series to Floriano Ferramola (1480–1528), comparing the panels with frescoes in the Palazzo della Corte, Brescia, of 1512.
Millia Davenport. The Book of Costume. New York, 1948, vol. 1, p. 283, nos. 764–67, 770–75, ill. pp. 282–83.
Luigi Coletti. Letter. December 29, 1949, compares them with the Brera frescoes [see Ref. Cook 1898] from the Casa Panigarola (now Prinetti), and suggests attributing them to Bramante.
Primitifs français et italiens provenant de la succession de Madame P. . . Galerie Charpentier, Paris. December 6, 1952, unpaginated, under no. 2, as attributed to Bramantino.
William Suida. Bramante pittore e il Bramantino. Milan, 1953, pp. 145–46, pl. CLXXVI (05.2.3, 5, 6, 7, 10, 12), incorrectly reproduces six MMA panels as in the Victoria and Albert Museum, London; knows of forty-four panels from the series; believes them to be Lombard rather Venetian; rejects the attribution to Bramantino; believes the monograms refer to the names of the sitters; suggests that the similarity of the doge to Marco Barbarigo may be explained by the use of a medal.
W. Terni de Gregory. Pittura artigiana lombarda del Rinascimento. Milan, 1958, p. 154 n. 29, p. 171, fig. 43 (05.2.11), dates the series to the beginning of the sixteenth century; believes that, except for the doge (05.2.11), the MMA panels are inferior to those in London; accepts the attribution to Ferramola [see Ref. Pope-Hennessy 1940] for the London panels, noting that variations in quality probably indicate that several artists were involved; finds Semitic traits in some of the heads, suggesting that the palace of San Martino may have been given to the family of Eusebio Malatesta, a Jew adopted by Paola Malatesta, and that he commissioned them; tentatively identifies the doge as Marco Barbarigo.
Angiola Maria Romanini. "Un nuovo complesso di tavolette da soffitto quattrocentesche ritrovate a Pavia." Arte lombarda 4, no. 1 (1959), p. 66 n. 10, compares the panels, without attributing them, with a series of angel heads in the Ospedale di San Matteo, Padua.
Ercolano Marani inMantova: Le arti. Vol. 2, Dall'inizio del secolo XV alla metà del XVI. Mantua, 1961, part 1, p. 107 n. 81, mentions the panels without attributing them.
Chiara Perina inMantova: Le arti. Vol. 2, Dall'inizio del secolo XV alla metà del XVI. Mantua, 1961, part 1, p. 342; part 2, pl. 308 (05.2.1, 2, 4, 11), dates the decoration of the palace between 1477 and 1491; mentions forty-four panels, which she calls close to Bramantino and attributes to an unknown fifteenth-century artist.
Denys Sutton, ed. Letters of Roger Fry. New York, 1972, vol. 1, pp. 26, 255 n. 1 to letter no. 177 (March 2, 1906), p. 257 n. 1 to letter no. 180 (March 13, 1906).
Burton B. Fredericksen and Federico Zeri. Census of Pre-Nineteenth-Century Italian Paintings in North American Public Collections. Cambridge, Mass., 1972, pp. 69, 524, 605, as Attributed to Floriano Ferramola.
C. M. Kauffmann. Catalogue of Foreign Paintings. London, 1973, vol. 1, p. 178, under no. 219, dates the series about 1480 and attributes it to an artist of the Mantuan school, rejecting the attributions to Bramantino and Ferramola.
David S. Chambers inSplendours of the Gonzaga. Exh. cat., Victoria and Albert Museum. London, 1981, p. 128, under no. 39, attributes them to an unknown painter and dates them about 1480.
Jessica Rutherford. "Henry Willett as a Collector." Apollo 115 (March 1982), pp. 177–78, 181 n. 8, mentions the panels without attributing them; states that Willett seems to have owned more than forty-four panels from the series.
Federico Zeri with the assistance of Elizabeth E. Gardner. Italian Paintings: A Catalogue of the Collection of The Metropolitan Museum of Art, North Italian School. New York, 1986, pp. 72–74, pls. 59–61, attribute them to an unknown Lombard painter and date them to the first quarter of the sixteenth century; state that some of the panels show an awareness of contemporary Milanese painting, including that of Bramantino and Boltraffio; consider the attribution to Ferramola the most plausible, although finding the panels superior in quality to Ferramola's documented work; state that the style and costumes indicate a date of 1500–1515; discuss the state of preservation.
Arthur R. Blumenthal. Italian Renaissance & Baroque Paintings in Florida Museums. Exh. cat., George D. and Harriet W. Cornell Fine Arts Museum. Winter Park, Fla., 1991, p. 4, under no. 2, fig. C (05.2.8), attributes one of the two panels in Winter Park to an unknown painter of the Mantuan school and dates it to the late fifteenth century.
Old Master Paintings. Sotheby's, London. April 1, 1992, p. 30, under no. 20, gives the total number of panels as forty-seven; attributes them to the Lombard school and dates them to the early sixteenth century.
Arthur R. Blumenthal inTreasures of the Cornell Fine Arts Museum. Exh. cat., George D. and Harriet W. Cornell Fine Arts Museum. Winter Park, Fla., 1993, p. 4, under no. 2, fig. B (05.2.8).
Andrea Bayer inThe Renaissance Portrait from Donatello to Bellini. Ed. Keith Christiansen and Stefan Weppelmann. Exh. cat., Bode-Museum, Berlin. New York, 2011, p. 337 [German ed., "Gesichter der Renaissance: Meisterwerke italienischer Portrait-Kunst," Berlin, 2011].
These twelve panels are part of a larger series which was installed in a room of the Palazzo di San Martino Gusnago (now Palazzo Pastore), near Ceresara, between Mantua and Brescia. The earliest known reference (Church 1884) to the panels mentions a total of forty-four, but three additional panels were apparently found subsequently (Conway 1914). The total number of panels is not completely certain. Besides the twelve in The Met, the following can be traced (some may be listed twice):
6 in the Victoria and Albert Museum, London
2 in the George D. and Harriet W. Cornell Fine Arts Museum, Rollins College, Winter Park, Florida
5 in the collection of Vittorio Frascione, Florence
2 in the collection of Federico Zeri, Mentana
2 in the collection of Lord Anthony Lampton, Cetinale (Siena)
1 formerly in the collection of Martin Conway (sale, Sotheby's, London, January 31, 1951, no. 23; sale, Sotheby's, London, April 1, 1992, no. 20)
2 formerly in the Engel-Gros collection (sale, Galerie Georges Petit, Paris, May 30–June 1, 1921, no. 4, bought in; sale, Galerie Charpentier, Paris, December 6, 1952, no. 2)
2 formerly in the collection of W. B. Chamberlin (sale, Christie's, London, February 25, 1938, no. 41)
4 formerly in the collection of Henry Harris (sale, Sotheby's, London, August 20, 1941, no. 92)
2 formerly in the collection of Jacob Reder, New York (sale, Christie's, New York, April 6, 1989, no. 208)
12 formerly in the Payne Whitney collection (Helen Hay Whitney estate sale, Parke-Bernet, New York, February 6, 1946, no. 258) [2 of these are now in the Cornell Museum and 2 in the Zeri collection; 5 more are apparently in other collections listed above and 3 have not subsequently been traced; see Zeri and Gardner 1986]