Tommaso di Stefano Lunetti, called Tommaso Fiorentino
Portrait of a Young Man in Profile
23 1/2 x 17 1/4 in
ProvenanceA. Rofe Esquire collection;
With Thomas Agnew & Sons, London;
New York, The Eileen & Herbert C. Bernard collection.
Traditionally, profile portraits were conceived with celebratory intent. Resembling the classical reliefs of Roman medals, patrons were usually portrayed half-length in profile, with compact silhouettes and fixed positions, occasionally conceived as paired paintings for special occasions, such as betrothal or marriage. In Florence, after the reign of terror of Girolamo Savonarola (1452-1498), the Medicis transformed the art of the portrait and used portraits as a propaganda tool. Courtesans wanted to have their portraits painted to demonstrate their status and wanted to place themselves on the level with poets. Painters such as Del Sarto, Pontormo, Salviati and Bronzino broke with classical rules to explore what the art historian Giorgio Vasari called “the modern manner”, a more sophisticated way of painting inspired by Leonardo and Raphael.
In this Portrait of a young man, Tommaso posed his sitter in three-quarter view to the left, while his face is turned in profile against a dark flat background. He is dressed in a contemporary garb, with a white embroidered collar secured by a cord. The young man is gazing left to the far distance. The artist realistically modelled the man’s restrained face and at the same time emphasised his inner personality, by leaving his lips semi-opened as if he was about to speak. He carefully rendered the flowing layers of his hair and the outlines of the folds of his robe, with a thoughtful use of chiaroscuro, giving depth to the figure and creating a subtle movement.
The portrait was already known to Bernard Berenson, as early as 1928; a photo, still kept in the Fototeca Berenson, was sent by a certain Ehric to the great scholar on August 14th, 1928 and on the back, in a hand written note, Berenson (fig. 2) referred the painting to “Andrea del Brescianino or Tommaso di Stefano”. The second attribution seems, ninenty years later, the correct one and is also endorsed by a respected scholar of Florentine Renaissance painting such as Carlo Falciani (oral communication).
The painting, before the acquisition by our gallery, was part of the remarkable collection assembled by Eileen (1916-1999) and her husband Herbert Bernard (1912-2016) during the course of their 65-year marriage. The highligts of the Bernard collection were probably a bronze bust by Giacometti and three paintings by Fernand Leger but particularly impressive was also their collection of drawings and works and paper that covered a period that span from the Italian Renaissance to the XX century avant – garde.