The daughter of a leading painter in Bologna, Lavinia Fontana became the most famous woman artist of her day and much appreciated both in Rome and in Madrid by Philip II. Miniature portraits such as this one were in vogue: El Greco seems to have made a specialty of them during his years in Rome (1570–77).
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Fig. 1. Infrared Reflectogram
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Credit Line:Bequest of Millie Bruhl Fredrick, 1962
Support: The painting was executed on a copper support measuring about 1 mm thick on average. The support is softly rounded at the edges, seemingly related to the production of the copper plate. No evidence of any scraping or sanding of the copper surface in preparation for painting was evident in this examination.
The copper support is generally flat and in good, stable condition.
Preparation: There appears to be a thin, pale grey priming layer overall. A grey priming layer has frequently been found on paintings on copper from the time and was recommended in artists’ treatises.
Examination with infrared reflectography (see fig. 1 above) did not reveal any underdrawing. The fine black lines in the man’s white collar and along his proper left arm that can be seen in the reflectograph are in fact strokes of paint. However, it is possible that an underdrawing was carried out in a medium not detectable in infrared, or that the abundant black pigment in the paint layers is obscuring any carbon-containing underdrawing.
Paint Layers: The artist took advantage of the extremely smooth surface afforded by the copper support to develop the refined handling and detail that is so striking in this portrait. In the sitter’s face in particular she used tiny well-blended brushstrokes that are barely perceptible, except when intentionally left visible as hairs in the beard. Throughout the painting, the attention to detail on a miniscule scale is impressive for the control and tight handling required, as seen in the protruding veins of the man’s hand, the stitching at the raised collar of the black coat, and the shadows of the bands on the book. In some passages the technique is somewhat painterly at very close examination although still quite controlled, such as in the diagonal strokes in the red chair and the very occasional instances of evident wet-in-wet paint, as in the white sleeve. Around the man’s ear the brushstrokes are somewhat looser; the shape is not as precise as in the rest of his figure, as if the artist was developing its form as she was painting.
In fact, there are several instances in which the artist appears to have been working out the final forms on the copper panel. Perhaps most readily apparent is the pentiment in the sitter’s hat, which was initially lower in height and extended further to the left. This change is faintly visible in close examination of the surface but clarified in the infrared reflectogram. The sitter’s collar was also altered as the painting progressed: initially the white collar was positioned lower over the black overcoat and a few white strokes and dots, akin to the decoration of the final white collar, are apparent in the reflectogram. In addition, the lapels were repositioned and possibly enlarged: they were ultimately painted out over the black overcoat, a change that is also visible in the reflectogram.
The reflectogram also reveals that the paint handling in the initial stages was not as precise as the final surface belies; some slightly looser paint strokes are evident at the contours of the hat and robe, which were then finessed in the final paint stages. See, for example, along the right side of the hat, where the artist corrected the final contour using the same golden-brown paint of the background, now slightly apparent as a pentiment. It appears that the artist painted the background first and, after the figure and the other forms were established, refined the contours, tightening up the composition.
The painting is generally well preserved. There are only a few scattered losses. The paint and priming layers appear to remain well-adhered to the support. There is very minimal craquelure in the painting, only visible under high magnification.
Sophie Scully 2023
 For example, Pacheco specifically recommended preparing copper supports with a priming layer containing lead white and umber in oil. See Isabel Horovitz, “Paintings on Copper: A Brief Overview of their Conception, Creation and Conservation,” in Paintings on Copper and other Metal Plates: Production, Degradation, and Conservation Issues, ed. Laura Fuster López et al., Valencia, 2017, 20. A similar grey layer was observed on The Wedding Feast at Cana (J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles), a painting on copper by the artist. See Elizabeth Bernick, Julian Brooks, Davide Gasparotto, Kari Rayner. “Wedding Feast at Cana.” Collection: J. Paul Getty Museum. Los Angeles: J. Paul Getty Trust, 2019. https://museum-essays.getty.edu/drawings/ebernick-fontana/.  Infrared reflectography was acquired with an OSIRIS InGaAs near-infrared camera fitted with a 6-element, 150mm focal length f/5.6–f/45 lens; 900-1700nm spectral response. Evan Read, January 2023.
Inscription: Inscribed (reverse, in ink): [illegible]
Mrs. Leopold (Millie Bruhl) Fredrick, New York (?by 1943–d. 1962; inv., 1960, no. 148)
National Gallery of Ireland. "Lavinia Fontana: Trailblazer, Rule Breaker," May 6, 2023–August 27, 2023.
Edward Grosvenor Paine. Inventory of the miniatures in the Fredrick collection. 1960, p. 19, no. 148, as by Antonio Mor, about 1550, but with a parenthetical comment that calls it "Atb. to Mor".
Federico Zeri with the assistance of Elizabeth E. Gardner. Unpublished manuscript for catalogue of North Italian paintings in The Metropolitan Museum of Art. n.d. [ca. 1980], call it north Italian, almost certainly Bolognese, and suggest an attribution to Lavinia Fontana and a date in the 1580s; note a connection with Bartolomeo Passerotti; state that the illegible inscription in pen on the back of the painting seems to refer to the sitter.
Maria Teresa Cantaro. Letter to Andrea Bayer. November 29, 1990, favors an attribution to Lavinia Fontana.
Maria Teresa Cantaro. "Aggiornamenti e precisazioni sul catalogo di Lavinia Fontana." Bollettino d'arte 78 (May–June 1993), pp. 85–86, 99 n. 5, fig. 1, attributes it to Fontana and calls it an early work, dating it between 1578 and 1582; compares it with the artist's self-portrait in a studio (Galleria degli Uffizi, Corridoio Vasariano, Florence).
Katharine Baetjer. European Paintings in The Metropolitan Museum of Art by Artists Born Before 1865: A Summary Catalogue. New York, 1995, p. 115, ill.
Andrea Bayer. "North of the Apennines: Sixteenth-Century Italian Painting in Lombardy and Emilia-Romagna." Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin 60 (Spring 2003), pp. 47–48, fig. 32 (color), calls it Attributed to Lavinia Fontana and dates it possibly 1580s, noting the influence of the Carracci in the soft, painterly quality.
Caroline P. Murphy. Lavinia Fontana: A Painter and her Patrons in Sixteenth-century Bologna. New Haven, 2003, p. 58, fig. 62 (color), accepts Cantaro's [see Ref. 1993] attribution to Fontana and dates it about 1580.
Sarah Cascone. "Meet Orsola Maddalena Caccia, the Remarkable Painting Nun Whose Work Just Entered The Met’s Collection in a Surprise Donation." Artnet News. February 4, 2021 [https://news.artnet.com/exhibitions/orsola-maddalena-caccia-1941173].
Babette Bohn inBy Her Hand: Artemisia Gentileschi and Women Artists in Italy, 1500–1800. Ed. Eve Straussman-Pflanzer and Oliver Tostmann. Exh. cat., Wadsworth Atheneum Museum of Art, Hartford. Detroit, 2021, p. 79, no. 13, ill. (color), dates it about 1580; deciphers the inscription on the reverse as "Coreggio," which "could be an early attribution to Antonio da Correggio (1489–1534), or it is perhaps the name of the sitter".
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