Portrait of Alessandro Farnese wearing armour, circa 1561
Oil on canvas
175 x 100 cm / 68.9 x 39.4 in
[Possibly: Margarita of Austria, Inventory of 26 February 1586 (as portrait of Alessandro “when he returned from Spain”); inherited by Alessandro Farnese and then by descent; possibly inventory of the Palazzo Farnese, Rome, of 1644, no. 240, and the same, inventory of 1653, no.7]; purchased in the Italian art trade in the 1930s by a private collector on the recommendation of Bernard Berenson; and by inheritance to his heirs.; Private Collection, New York.
 See Almudena Pérez de Tudela (Curator of Paintings of the Patrimonio Nacional, Monasterio del Escorial) unpublished text, Antonio Moro y Alonso Sánchez Coello en la corte española junto a Alejandro Farnesio (1559-1563), Madrid, 2014.
[Unpublished note by Federico Zeri, identifying the painting as by Anthonis Mor]; Lucia Fornari Schianchi, Collezionismo e committenza, 1993, pp. 10, 17 (ill.) and pp. 28-29, note 7, as “Antonio Moro”; Maria Kusche, El caballero cristiano y su dama - el retrato de representación de cuerpo entero, 2004, p. 354, fig. 317, as “Sánchez Coello”; Almudena Pérez de Tudela, “Alejandro Farnesio en la corte de España (1559-1561 en particular),” re-edited versión to be published in the acts of the International congress, Alessandro Farnese e le Fiandra, Académie royale des Sciences, des Lettres et des Beaux-Arts de Belgique, Brussels, Palais des Académies, 20-22 October 2005 (directed by K. De Jonge y H. Cools, actually in press); Giuseppe Bertini, “Un altro quadro con il ritratto del Principe Alessandro”, in L’inventario di Margherita d’Austria, Introduzione di Silvia Mantini, Torino, Allemandi, 2012, p. 72, note 138, as “Antonio Moro”; Almudena Pérez de Tudela, in “El príncipe don Carlos de Austria”, in El Retrato en las Colecciones Reales. De Juan de Flandes a Antonio López, Palacio Real, Madrid, 4 December 2014 – 19 April 2015, exhibition catalogue edited by Carmen García-Frías and Javier Jordán de Urries, illus. p. , as Antonio Moro; Almudena Pérez de Tudela, Antonio Moro y Alonso Sánchez Coello en la corte española junto a Alejandro Farnesio (1559-1563), unpublished mansucript, 2014; Andrea Donati, Anthonis Mor / Antonio Moro alla corte di Spagna dagli esordi al ritorno nei Paesi Bassi, to be published in 2015, as Anthonis Mor.
Related Works: Version 1 – Portrait of Alessandro Farnese in Armour, now attributed to Anthonis Mor, formerly given to Alonso Sánchez Coello, 177 x 99 cm; inscribed: ANNO ÆTATIS SUE XVI / 1561; Provenance: Sir Coutts Lindsay; Sir Thomas Beecham Bt. C. H.; David M. Koester Galerie, Zurich; in 1971 to Algur H. Meadows Collection, Meadows Museum, Southern Methodist University. Literature: S. Breuer-Hermann, in Alonso Sánchez Coello, 1990, pp. 147-148, n. 30, as “Sánchez Coello” (with incorrect provenance “Palazzo Farnese, Naples 1697” – there was no such palace); Joanna Woodall, Anthonis Mor. Art and Authority, 2007, pp. 395 e 483, nota 118, as by Anthonis Mor.
Anonymous copy – Three-quarter length portrait, 115 x 94 cm; Provenance: Bought at Piacenza by Ricci e Sorrentino, as by Mor, now in the collection of the National Gallery, Parma; N. Moretti, in Galleria Nazionale di Parma, 1998, II, p. 128, n. 275 - this has been attributed to Alonso Sánchez Coello but is probably a studio copy.
Anthonis Mor stands alongside Hans Holbein and Titian as the most brilliant and innovative of the royal portraitists to emerge in sixteenth century Europe. Little is known about Mor’s earliy life, except that he was born in Utrecht, Netherlands and that he studied under Jan van Scorel. He worked mainly in the Netherlands, Portugal and Spain but also travelled to Italy and England where he painted his extraordinarily perceptive portrait of Mary Tudor (Madrid, Museo del Prado). Mor’s style came to be emulated not only in the Netherlands by artists such as Frans Pourbus and Adriaen Key but also by his pupil Sánchez Coello, who succeeded him as court painter to King Philip II of Spain. Mor’s three full-length portraits of Alessandro Farnese, future Duke of Parma and nephew of the Spanish King, done at the height of his fame, are among his most notable artistic achievements. The participation of Sánchez Coello has been postulated by several scholars who have suggested that Sánchez Coello may have assisted in the painting of parts of the armour and costume.
Our portrait shows the young Prince wearing a full corselet (or half armour), for field use on foot, as is demonstrated by the type of sword and dagger worn on either side. Such corselets, usually accompanied by a round shield with a central spike (or brocchiere), gauntlets and an open headpiece, possibly a burgonet (as in Titian’s portrait of Philip II) or cabasset, might also be used in service on the galleys or war ships. A similar suit is worn by Francesco Maria II della Rovere in a portrait by Federico Barocci (1572), commemorating the battle of Lepanto, now in the Uffizi (Fig. 1).
Although no part of the armour shown in this portrait is known to exist today, parts of a similar garniture do still exist and are displayed in the Museo di Capodimonte in the Farnese-Borbone armoury. These include the tournament helmet, pauldrons for mounted service (the left one missing its reinforcement), the left tornament (also missing its reinforcement), the right arm-piece, breastplate and back-plate for mounted service, leg armours and cuisses. Alessandro’s armour is missing its tassets and, as with other Farnese and Este suits, the breastplate is completed with a lobed lame, in the French style. The elbow protectors (couters) in Capodimonte are decorated differently to the leaf decoration in the portrait - such decoration was used to differentiate parts of the garniture that servants might otherwise confuse when dressing their master. The armour worn by the young prince is Italian made, blued and gilded, in a style showing the influence of French armourers, is dated to circa 1560 and is almost certainly the Milanese armour mentioned by his mother in her correspondence as being delivered to him in Madrid in October 1561. The crimson piping which would have identified Alessandro as a member of the Spanish army can also be seen in that worn by his father, his grandfather (Emperor Charles V) and uncle Philip II.
Mor spent two years in Brussels from 1555 to 1557, when he was commissioned to paint his first portrait of the then twelve-year-old Alessandro Farnese (Rome 27 August 1545 - Arras, 2 December 1592). Alessandro’s mother, Margarita of Austria (1522-1586), was the much-loved natural daughter of Emperor Charles V by Johanna van der Gheynst and, as such, half-sister to Philip II. Margarita, widowed a year earlier by the murder of her first husband Alessandro de Medici, Duke of Florence, had been unhappily married in 1538 to Ottavio Farnese as part of an imperial diplomatic manoeuvre to cement the relationship with Ottavio’s grandfather, Pope Paul III (whose son Pier Luigi, Ottavio’s father, was born before the Pope was ordained). Margarita’s father and brother held her in high esteem and she had left her husband and young son to join them in Brussels in 1555.
Alessandro arrived in Brussels in 1557 and Mor’s painting of Alessandrro aged twelve was evidently completed within a few months as it had already been delivered to Parma by the 10 July when a local carpenter, Pasquale Testa, was commissioned to make a frame for it. In 1559 Mor painted a further portrait of Alessandro, aged fourteen, in a private collection today, before embarking on his third and last portrait of the young prince painted after the court had returned to Madrid in April 1561. Like the 1557 portrait the format follows almost exactly that of the artist’s painting of Philip II in the El Escorial (Fig. 2), a format which enabled him to repeat a composition without substantial changes to the overall physiognomy of the sitter while focusing his attention on the face and costume.
Alessandro here wears an ornate gilded black half-armour, a padded and paned trunk hose (muslos, in Spanish) with while silk and gold-embroidered slashings (cuchilladas) and a prominent cod-piece (bragueta), white stockings (calzas) and white silk and cream leather slippers. His right gauntleted hand rests nonchalantly on his hip just below a narrow white leather sword belt attached to a small-sword of which the gilded hilt is just visible and partially reflected on his highly polished breast plate. Alessandro’s gauntleted left hand lightly grasps the hilt of his epée, also suspended from the belt that hangs at an angle across his front from above his waist to his left hip. The black metallic tones of the armour are contrasted with the crimson piping that serves to prevent the different elements chaffing against each other. The existence of a record of this commission is uncertain – according to one source there is a record of a payment for the painting by Philip, made in 1561, but this has not been confirmed by other scholars. Mor was at this time on a permanent retainer paid by the Spanish crown, but this painting would have been a commission by his mother. The two versions of this painting, the version here and the poorly conserved version now in the Meadows Museum, Dallas, are both given to Anthonis Mor, but possibly with the participation of Sánchez Coello, to whom the latter painting had long been attributed. They were begun in August 1561 and by the end of October Mor had already requested a passport to return to Brussels; this had a validity of only three months and Mor was certainly back in Brussels by early 1562.
The Portuguese (but Spanish born) Sánchez Coello had been sent to study with Mor in Antwerp in 1550, where he was also exposed to the work of Titian and had then accompanied Mor to Lisbon in 1552. Sánchez Coello had stayed in Portugal in the service of the young heir to the throne when Mor left, but following João’s death in 1554 accompanied his widow, Infanta Juana (Philip’s sister) when she settled in Madrid soon thereafter. Sánchez Coello gained royal favour with his 1558 portrait of Philip’s eldest son, Don Carlos, whose tragic fate was romanticised by Friedrich Schiller and Giuseppe Verdi, and ultimately succeeded Mor as the principle Spanish court painter. His particular talent – a notable feature of his most successful portraits of both male and female sitters – was the meticulous presentation of court costume, a skill which surpassed his ability to give the individual characterisation to his subjects that is such a remarkable aspect of Mor’s portraits. Unlike Mor, Sánchez Coello did not confine himself to portraiture but also painted some important religious compositions – his style influenced Sofonisba Anguissola as well as Juan Pantoja de la Cruz.