Portrait of a Man

Cosimo Rosselli (Italian, Florence 1440–1507 Florence)

ca. 1481–82
Tempera on wood
20 3/8 x 13 in. (51.8 x 33 cm)
Credit Line:
Bequest of Edward S. Harkness, 1940
Accession Number:
  • Gallery Label

    Whether this portrait was painted in Rome, where Cosimo Rosselli was employed in the Sistine Chapel, or in Florence, cannot be said with certainty. The sitter wears a costly red doublet lined in ermine and places his hand on the edge of the frame, in a manner found in the Netherlandish portraits of Hans Memling. Netherlandish portraits were much appreciated for their descriptive truthfulness.

  • Catalogue Entry

    Throughout his long career Cosimo Rosselli painted many portraits of his contemporaries, most of them as bystanders in his religious compositions. This half-length portrait of an unknown man, one of his rare easel portraits, is of such high quality that critics have ascribed it to Botticelli or the Pollaiuolo brothers. Berenson's (1905) identification of it as a work by Rosselli is now universally accepted.

    When it came up for auction in 1929, Oskar Fischel proposed that it was Rosselli's self-portrait, even though it bears no resemblance to the woodcut that Vasari used to illustrate his life of Rosselli. The self-portrait identification was promptly rejected (Gronau 1931), but at the same time it was put forward independently by Richard Offner in an expertise for Knoedler's, dated February 16, 1931. However, the sitter's clothes—a bright red doublet lined with ermine, a linen undershirt visible at the collar, and a tall cap, originally bright azurite but now quite darkened—indicate he was a member of the Florentine patrician class.

    Suggestions for the portrait's date have ranged from about 1470 (Baldini 1953) to about 1485 (Berenson 1905). The portrait lacks the harshness of Rosselli's early works. Its gentle handling has more to do with the murals he painted in the Sistine Chapel (1481–82) and the church of Sant'Ambrogio (1484–86). With only three or four years separating these commissions, one hesitates to date the portrait firmly.

    As several writers have observed, Rosselli copied the motif of the hand resting on the bottom edge of the panel from one of Hans Memling's portraits in the Uffizi, Florence. Rosselli would imitate the dazzling effects of Netherlandish oil painting in later works, but here he still paints with the traditional technique of tempera, visible especially in the subtle gradations of the pale blue in the sky. A knot in the panel has caused paint losses on the right side of the man's chest, but otherwise the portrait is well preserved, contrary to Gabrielli's (2007) unfavorable assessment of its condition.


  • Provenance

    Étienne Martin, baron de Beurnonville, Paris (until 1878; sold to Spiridon); Joseph Spiridon, Paris (1878–1929; his sale, Cassirer & Helbing, Berlin, May 31, 1929, no. 63, as a self-portrait by Cosimo Rosselli, for 450,000 marks); [Knoedler, New York, 1929–34; sold to Harkness]; Edward S. Harkness, New York (1934–d. 1940; life interest to his widow, Mary Stillman Harkness, 1940–d. 1950)

  • Exhibition History

    New York. M. Knoedler & Co.. "A Loan Exhibition of Sixteen Masterpieces," January 6–18, 1930, no. 16 (as "Portrait of the Artist").

    Art Gallery of Toronto. "Italian Old Masters and German Primitives," January 1931, no. 15 (as "Portrait of the Artist," lent by the courtesy of Messrs M. Knoedler & Co. Inc., New York).

    Detroit Institute of Arts. "The Sixteenth Loan Exhibition of Old Masters: Italian Paintings of the XIV to XVI Century," March 8–30, 1933, no. 22 (as "Self Portrait," lent by M. Knoedler & Company, New York).

    New York. Century Association. "Italian Paintings of the Renaissance," March 2–24, 1935, no. 14 (as "Self-portrait," lent by Mr. Edward S. Harkness, New York).

    New York. M. Knoedler & Co.. "Italian Renaissance Portraits," March 18–April 6, 1940, no. 7 (as "Portrait of the Artist," lent anonymously).

    New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "Florentine Paintings in the Metropolitan Museum," June 15–August 15, 1971, no catalogue.

    Winter Park, Fla. George D. and Harriet W. Cornell Fine Arts Museum. "Cosimo Rosselli: Painter of the Sistine Chapel," February 9–April 22, 2001, no. 16 (as "Portrait of a Man, possibly a self-portrait").

    Bode Museum, Staatliche Museen zu Berlin. "Gesichter der Renaissance: Meisterwerke italienischer Portrait-Kunst," August 25–November 20, 2011, no. 127.

    New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "The Renaissance Portrait from Donatello to Bellini," December 21, 2011–March 18, 2012, no. 127.

  • References

    Bernhard Berenson. "Due ritratti fiorentini del Quattrocento." Rassegna d'arte 5 (December 1905), pp. 177–78, ill., attributes it to Cosimo Rosselli and calls it a portrait of a Florentine gentleman.

    Bernhard Berenson. The Florentine Painters of the Renaissance. 3rd ed. New York, 1909, p. 179.

    Adolfo Venturi. "La pittura del quattrocento." Storia dell'arte italiana. 7, part 1, Milan, 1911, p. 690, fig. 402.

    Tancred Borenius. "Professor Venturi on Quattrocento Painting." Burlington Magazine 29 (July 1916), p. 162.

    A. Lorenzoni. Cosimo Rosselli. Florence, 1921, p. 79.

    Raimond van Marle. The Development of the Italian Schools of Painting. 11, The Hague, 1929, p. 605, calls it a work in Rosselli's Botticelliesque manner.

    Raimond van Marle. "Die Sammlung Joseph Spiridon." Der Cicerone 21 (1929), p. 183, fig. 8, as a portrait of a man.

    Ella S. Siple. "Art in America—Messrs. Knoedler's Exhibition." Burlington Magazine 55 (December 1929), p. 331, pl. IIB, calls it a self-portrait.

    "New York: The Knoedler Exhibition." Connoisseur 85 (January 1930), p. 51, ill. p. 57, as a portrait of a man.

    R. H. Wilenski. "A Recent Loan Exhibition in New York." Apollo 11 (January 1930), ill. p. 34, as a self-portrait.

    Hans D. Gronau. "Zwei unpublizierte Porträts von Cosimo Rosselli." Pantheon 7 (1931), pp. 154–56, ill., does not believe it is a self-portrait.

    "A Self Portrait by Rosselli." Connoisseur 90 (August 1932), pp. 143–44, ill.

    Wilhelm R. Valentiner. "Die Leihausstellung frühitalienischer Malerei in Detroit." Pantheon 12 (1933), p. 238, ill. p. 237.

    W. R. Valentiner in The Sixteenth Loan Exhibition of Old Masters: Italian Paintings of the XIV to XVI Century. Exh. cat., Detroit Institute of Arts. Detroit, 1933, unpaginated, no. 22, ill., calls it a self-portrait.

    [Georg] Gronau in Allgemeines Lexikon der bildenden Künstler. 29, Leipzig, 1935, p. 36.

    Bernhard Berenson. Pitture italiane del rinascimento. Milan, 1936, p. 423, lists it as a portrait of a man.

    "List of Gifts and Bequests of Mr. and Mrs. Harkness." Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin 10 (October 1951), p. 83.

    "Illustrations of Outstanding Harkness Gifts." Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin 10 (October 1951), ill. p. 60, as "Portrait of the Artist".

    U[mberto]. Baldini. "Note brevi su inediti toscani: Cosimo Rosselli." Bollettino d'arte 38 (July–September 1953), p. 280, suggests assigning it to the same period as a fresco of an apostle by Rosselli (parish church, Sesto Fiorentino), which he tentatively dates between 1470 and 1475.

    Bernard Berenson. Italian Pictures of the Renaissance: Florentine School. London, 1963, vol. 1, p. 191.

    Federico Zeri with the assistance of Elizabeth E. Gardner. Italian Paintings: A Catalogue of the Collection of The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Florentine School. New York, 1971, pp. 148–49, ill., date it about 1481–82; doubt that it is a self-portrait.

    Burton B. Fredericksen and Federico Zeri. Census of Pre-Nineteenth-Century Italian Paintings in North American Public Collections. Cambridge, Mass., 1972, pp. 178, 523, 608.

    Edith Gabrielli. "L'impresa Sistina e l'ultima 'maniera' di Cosimo Rosselli." Sisto IV: le arti a Roma nel primo rinascimento. Rome, 2000, pp. 209, 219 n. 81, sees the influence of Memling's "Portrait of a Man" in the Uffizi, Florence.

    Arthur R. Blumenthal in Cosimo Rosselli: Painter of the Sistine Chapel. Exh. cat., George D. and Harriet W. Cornell Fine Arts Museum. Winter Park, Fla., 2001, pp. 148–53, no. 16, ill. (color).

    Everett Fahy in Cosimo Rosselli: Painter of the Sistine Chapel. Exh. cat., George D. and Harriet W. Cornell Fine Arts Museum. Winter Park, Fla., 2001, p. 251.

    Edith Gabrielli. Cosimo Rosselli: catalogo ragionato. Turin, 2007, pp. 56, 201–2, no. 65, ill., rejects the idea that it is a self-portrait.

    Everett Fahy in The Renaissance Portrait from Donatello to Bellini. Exh. cat., Bode-Museum, Berlin. New York, 2011, pp. 301–2, no. 127, ill. (color) [German ed., "Gesichter der Renaissance: Meisterwerke italienischer Portrait-Kunst," Berlin, 2011], relates it to Rosselli's work in the Sistine Chapel (1481–82) and in the church of Sant'Ambrogio in Florence (1484–86); notes that "the sitter's clothes . . . indicate he was a member of the Florentine patrician class.

  • See also
    In the Museum
    Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History