This beautiful copper represents a yet to be identified event, centering on the procession of a cardinal. The lion and eagles on the silver and gold mace in front of the prelate may be a reference to the cardinal’s coat-of-arms. The church behind him, which does not seem to represent an existing church, may also be related to the cardinal in the painting. Most of the figures in this painting appear to be portraits of specific individuals. The attribution of the painting to Ottavio Leoni is a tentative one.
The picture shows a cardinal and his entourage processing in front of a church located on the outskirts of Rome, with a road that runs past a Roman ruin to a distant triumphal arch. The view would appear to be fictive, for no church façade responding to the one in the painting is known, but the personages are clearly intended to be recognizable. The function of the picture would seem to have been commemorative or celebrative rather than documentary in nature; the coat of arms displayed in the tympanum of the church is not identifiable and although the ruins might seem to recall the temple of Minerva Medica, it is only a generic resemblance. At the time the picture was given to the Museum a number of specialists in the field were contacted concerning both the attribution and possible identity of the figures (see departmental files for correspondence). Francesca Baldassari tentatively suggested as the artist the Florentine painter Anastasio Fontebuoni (1571–1626), who between 1599 and 1620 worked in Rome, where he was under the protection of cardinals Giustiniani and Arrigoni. If this is so, then the picture would have been painted in Rome during this stay. However, other scholars, including Adriano Amendola and Antonio Vannugli, have proposed, instead, Ottavio Leoni (1578–1630), who is known primarily as the author of exquisite portrait drawings of the leading personages in Rome, but who has also emerged in recent scholarship as a painter and is known to have worked on a miniature-like scale. The most recent book on the artist, by Francesco Solinas (2013), accepts the picture unquestionably as by Leoni but considers the identity of the various figures uncertain (at an earlier moment he had suggested the possibility that the picture evoked Cardinal Francesco Sacrati (1567–1623) with an allusion to taking possession of his titular church of San Matteo in Merulana). Alternatively, Amendola and Vannugli have suggested identifying the figure to the right of the cardinal as Ludovico Ludovisi (1595–1632), the nephew of Gregory XV and a patron of Leoni (Leoni’s drawn portrait of the prelate was executed in 1621; see Additional Images, fig. 1, for the engraving of 1628). Vannugli considers the identity of the cardinal and the other figures in attendance more problematic. The precise interpretation of this exquisite and fascinating picture thus remains very much an open question.
[Keith Christiansen 2014]
[Colnaghi, London]; [Hazlitt, Gooden & Fox, London, mid- to late 1960s]; John Goelet (until 1996; anonymous sale, Christie's, New York, January 12, 1996, no. 193, as Attributed to Jacopo Chimenti, Il Jacopo da Empoli); Damon Mezzacappa, Palm Beach, Fla. (1996–2012)
Important Old Master Paintings: Part I. Sotheby's, New York. January 31, 2013, ill. p. 168 (color, installation view).
Erich Schleier. Letter to Keith Christiansen. June 2, 2013, rejects the attribution to Leoni, finding the style to be very different from works by Leoni in the Banca Popolare dell'Emilia Romagna, Modena, and the Detroit Institute of Arts.
Francesco Solinas. "'Bon dessinateur et excellent peintre': Ottavio Leoni à la cour de Rome." Ottavio Leoni (1578–1630): les portraits de Berlin. Ed. Francesco Solinas. Rome, 2013, pp. 23–24, 37 n. 56, fig. 15 (color), ascribes it to Leoni, dating it to about 1620, but considers the subject and identity of the figures still uncertain.