Frieze Masters: Virgin. Muse. Heroine.London
Portrait of a Lady in a Ruff and a Black Hat, 1580s
With frame: 61 x 53 x 7 cm (24 1/8 x 20 7/8 x 2 3/4 in.)
Koelliker Collection, Milan.
By concentrating on the facial features, around which the canvas is closely cropped, the painter conveyed a very strong impression of immediacy with his portrait, rendering it something close to a character study. Despite the anonymity of the sitter, she seems a fully alive presence. Passarotti's command of realism contributes to this effect, with details like the eyelids rendered with a touch of pink, and the wrinkles and the view furrowing her brow, though at the same time the painter also adheres to the ideals of Mannerism, evident in the formal stylisation of this portrait.
Taking all these elements into account, the painting must be placed amongst a select and small group of works which belong to the late period of Passarotti’s career, in which it is documented that he had a great interest in character studies, a theme which also interested the young Carracci at the outset of the 1580s. In particular, one can refer to the intense Portrait of a Young Man (documented in D. Benati, 'Una Lucrezia e altre proposte per Bartolomeo Passerotti' Paragone, 379, 1981, p. 33, fig. 46), and to the Portrait of a Man in Black Velvet in the Mattheisen Gallery, London (G. Poletti, 'Alcuni ritratti inediti di Bartolomeo Passerotti e I manuscritti di Marcello Oretti ad esso relativi' Antologia di belle arti, 25-26, 1985, p. 87, fig. 10), and the so-called Self-Portrait as an Old Man in the Cassa di Risparmio, Bologna (A. Ghirardi, Bartolomeo Passerotti pittore 1529–1592, Rimini, 1990, p. 302, no. 118). It is thanks to Passarotti’s exercises in this genre that he developed his distinctive portrait style, giving way to a more modern and fluid style of depiction, as can be seen in his Trumpet Player in the Tolentino collection, Florence, which emphasizes the rapport between the painted subject and the viewer.
Further confirmation of this dating may be discerned from other works executed by Passarotti around 1580, such as the cycle of canvases from the Mattei collection now divided between the National Gallery in Palazzo Barberini, Rome (the Butcher Shop and the Fishmonger), the Fondazione Longhi, Florence (The Chicken Vendors) and a private American collection (another Fishmonger; Ghirardi, cit, pp. 236-39, no. 64-66 & D. Benati, La natura morta in Emilia e In Romagna, Pittori, centri di produzione e collezionismo fra XVII e XVIII secolo, curated by D. Benati & L. Peruzzi, Milan 2000, fig 4). The strong sense of quotidian realism and immediacy in this work, seen in the light of Italian genre scenes of the time, reinforces the conviction that the present work goes beyond its simple raison d’etre of a portrait, and veritably represents the resolute modernity of Passarotti's art.
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