Art/ Collection/ Art Object

Portrait of an Olivetan Monk

Attributed to Baldassare Tommaso Peruzzi (Italian, Ancaiano 1481–1536 Rome)
Oil on canvas
38 1/4 x 28 5/8 in. (97.2 x 72.7 cm)
Credit Line:
Gift of Mrs. Charles Wrightsman, 1986
Accession Number:
On view at The Met Fifth Avenue in Gallery 609
The sitter in this portrait is an Olivetan monk, a branch of the Benedictines. He is surrounded by his writing materials: ink well, quills, a scraping knife, a seal and red wax, as well as a packet of letters and a book closed with a clasp. Both the artist and the sitter are open to question. The artist may be the Sienese Baldassare Peruzzi (1481–1536), or the Venetian Battista Franco; both worked in Rome and were influenced by Raphael and Sebastiano del Piombo. The sitter must have been an important member of the order, and the names of two abbots have been suggested.
The attribution of the portrait is controversial. During the Second World War, when the painting turned up on the art market in Rome, Rodolfo Pallucchini (reported in Dussler 1942; confirmed in Pallucchini 1944) identified it as a work by Sebastiano del Piombo (ca. 1485–1547), the Venetian protégé of Michelangelo, and dated it about 1515. Pallucchini’s attribution was accepted by Luitpold Dussler (1942), the author of the first monograph on Sebastiano, and by Johannes Wilde (1946), the great Michelangelo scholar, but it was rejected in 1946 by Roberto Longhi, who proposed instead that it might be by an anonymous painter active on the Venetian mainland, perhaps the author of the pair of ecclesiastical portraits formerly in the collection of Mrs. J. Horace Harding, New York. Fifteen years later Philip Pouncey (reported in Freedberg 1961; confirmed in Pouncey and Gere 1962) suggested that the portrait was by Baldassare Peruzzi (1481–1536). Pouncey's attribution was accepted by Sydney Freedberg (1961) and by Christoph Luitpold Frommel (1968). It would be Peruzzi's only independent portrait (there are donor portraits in two of his surviving frescoes, but they are not comparable to the MMA painting). With the exception of Pallucchini, none of these authorities had seen the painting in the original: it was in a private collection in Brazil from 1950 until 1982, when it came up at auction in London and was purchased by Mrs. Wrightsman on the advice of the staff of the Metropolitan Museum. Although it has been exhibited at the Museum as a work by, or attributed to, Peruzzi, visiting scholars occasionally voiced doubts about the attribution. The only one to discuss it in print was Luciano Bellosi (2002), who attributed it to Battista Franco, arguing that the soft, rounded folds of the sitter's habit lack the chiseled appearance of Peruzzi's crisply folded drapery and that the overall design of the portrait does not reflect Peruzzi's classical bearing. The glimmer of light, especially on the sleeves, and the bulging form of the cowl of the monk's scapular, with its contorted folds, are hallmarks of Battista Franco's style.

Going hand in hand with the attribution have been various attempts to identify the sitter. Pallucchini suggested in passing that he might be Battista Mantovano, a Carmelite scholar. However, as Frommel observed, the white habit is that of the Olivetans, a strict branch of the Benedictine order. Frommel advanced the theory that the sitter is Barnaba Cevennini, the abbot general of the Olivetans in 1513–14, 1518–19, and 1524–25; Cevennini also served as the prior of San Michele in Bosco, Bologna, in 1522. To support his argument, Frommel read the word beginning with a B on the packet as Bologna, a city where Peruzzi worked. Keith Christiansen (1987) observed that Peruzzi designed the entrance portal of San Michele in Bosco in 1522, during Cevennini's priorship, and the portrait could have been commissioned at that time, though he preferred to date the portrait to 1513–14, when Cevennini was at Monte Oliveto Maggiore, near Siena, or to 1515, when he was in Bologna. Frommel interpreted the large C at the top of the long inscription as the initial of Cevennini's name, although it would be odd to start a sentence with a cognomen. However, Bellosi eliminated Cevennini as a possibility by pointing out that the sitter bears no resemblance to the portrait of Cevennini by Innocenzo da Imola (ca. 1490–ca. 1545) in a fresco in the sacristy of San Michele in Bosco, which Cevennini commissioned on December 22, 1522. Moreover, Cevennini's balding pate and chubby features were also depicted by Bagnacavallo (ca. 1484–ca. 1542) in an altarpiece in the Pinacoteca Nazionale, Bologna. Bellosi suggested the sitter may be Antonio Bentivoglio (d. 1567), who as a young man served as the abbot general of the Olivetans from 1538 to 1540.

The format of the portrait recalls that of Raphael’s Tommaso Inghirami of about 1510 (Galleria Palatina, Florence).

[2011; adapted from Fahy 2005]
Inscription: Inscribed: (on packet) B[ologna(?)]; (on letter) C . . . [illegible]
private collection, England; [Aldo Briganti, Rome, in 1942, as by Sebastiano del Piombo]; [Morandotti, Rome, until 1950; sold to Segal]; Mrs. C. Segal, São Paulo (1950–82; sale, Sotheby's, London, April 21, 1982, no. 79, as by Peruzzi, for £42,000 to Wrightsman); Mr. and Mrs. Charles Wrightsman, New York (1982–his d. 1986); Mrs. Charles Wrightsman, New York (1986)

Luitpold Dussler. Sebastiano del Piombo. Basel, 1942, p. 143, no. 59, as "Bildnis eines Mönches" by Sebastiano del Piombo, in the collection of Dr. Aldo Briganti, Rome; as formerly in a private collection, England; dates it about 1515.

Rodolfo Pallucchini. Sebastian Viniziano (Fra Sebastiano del Piombo). [Milan], 1944, pp. 40, 160, pl. 32, attributes it to Sebastiano and tentatively identifies the sitter as the Carmelite Battista Mantovano; dates it about 1515; notes the influence of Raphael's portrait of Inghirami (Palazzo Pitti, Florence; about 1514).

Roberto Longhi. Viatico per cinque secoli di pittura veneziana. Florence, 1946, pp. 65–66, under no. 120, attributes it to an artist from the Venetian mainland who also painted two portraits of prelates formerly in the Harding collection, New York (see Lionello Venturi, "Italian Paintings in America," 1933, vol. 3, pls. 500–501).

J[ohannes]. Wilde. "Review of Pallucchini 1944." Burlington Magazine 88 (October 1946), p. 259, accepts Pallucchini's attribution to Sebastiano.

S[ydney]. J. Freedberg. Painting of the High Renaissance in Rome and Florence. Cambridge, Mass., 1961, vol. 1, p. 408; vol. 2, pl. 493 [rev. ed., New York, 1985, vol. 1, p. 408; vol. 2, pl. 493], erroneously states that it is still on the art market in Rome; notes that Pouncey has correctly attributed the picture to Peruzzi; dates it about 1514–15; identifies the sitter as a Carmelite, and calls the work Peruzzi's only known oil portrait.

Philip Pouncey and J. A. Gere. Italian Drawings in the Department of Prints and Drawings in the British Museum: Raphael and His Circle. London, 1962, text vol., p. 135, attribute it to Peruzzi.

Christoph Luitpold Frommel. Baldassare Peruzzi als Maler und Zeichner. Vienna, [1968], pp. 80–81, no. 41, pl. XXX, attributes it to Peruzzi and tentatively identifies the sitter as the Olivetan monk Barnaba Cevennini; states that it was probably painted either in about 1513/14 at Monte Oliveto Maggiore or in 1515 in Bologna.

Mauro Lucco in L'opera completa di Sebastiano del Piombo. Milan, 1980, p. 139, no. 222, ill., lists it under "Altre opere ascritte a Sebastiano del Piombo"; summarizes the earlier bibliography.

Keith Christiansen in Recent Acquisitions: A Selection, 1986–1987. New York, 1987, pp. 34–35, ill., attributes it to Peruzzi; accepts Frommel's (1968) dating of the picture, and his tentative identification of the sitter.

Luciano Bellosi. "Per Battista Franco." Prospettiva nos. 106–7 (April–July 2002), pp. 178–79, 182 nn. 30–32, 36, fig. 5, attributes it to Battista Franco; does not believe the sitter is Cevennini, and suggests Antonio Bentivoglio (d. 1567) instead.

Carla Bernardini in Il Cinquecento a Bologna: disegni dal Louvre e dipinti a confronto. Ed. Marzia Faietti and Dominique Cordellier. Exh. cat., Pinacoteca Nazionale e Sale delle Belle Arti, Bologna. Milan, 2002, p. 120, under no. 23.

Anne Varick Lauder. "Battista Franco (c. 1510–1561): His Life and Work with Catalogue Raisonné." PhD diss., University of Cambridge, 2004, vol. 3, p. 907, no. 5PR, fig. 1125, includes it among "Doubtfully Attributed or Rejected Paintings," finding the style closer to Sebastiano del Piombo; mentions a personal communication of 2004 from Paul Joannides in which he expresses the same opinion.

Everett Fahy in The Wrightsman Pictures. Ed. Everett Fahy. New York, 2005, pp. 14–16, no. 4, ill. (color), attributes it to Battista Franco.

Anne Varick Lauder. Letter to Gretchen Wold. January 26, 2006, rejects the attribution to Battista Franco, finding the traditional attribution to Peruzzi more likely.

Fabrizio Biferali and Massimo Firpo. Battista Franco "pittore viniziano". Pisa, 2007, p. 60 n. 174, reject Bellosi's (2002) attribution to Battista Franco, calling it a work of the Lombard school from the beginning of the sixteenth century.

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