Portraits by Sebastiano del Piombo: Olympic gravitas

According to Philippe Daverio, Sebastiano del Piombo (Venice, 1485-Rome, 1547) was “a great precursor” because “some of his paintings seem ready for a 19th-century portrait gallery”.

The French-Italian art historian also adds, “Anton Francesco degli Albizzi must have been very happy to be portrayed in such a determined and rhetorical pose. Andrea Doria must also have been very happy to appear so stern and powerful, above the antique frieze representing the ancient rostrum of a Roman ship. Sebastiano’s success was rising just as Rome’s was dwindling, under the weight of Northern art and the fact that by then you could be brilliant even outside of major cities: his buyers loved him, but he was forgotten by history and rediscovered only recently.”

In the 16th century, Como-born historian Paolo Giovio (1483-1552), in mentioning contemporary artists such as Leonardo, Raphael, Michelangelo, Titian, and Dosso Dossi, noted that “in portrait painting, the Venetian Sebastiano surpasses all the others without a doubt; he stands out for the extraordinary way in which he brings life to his paintings.”

In his “Storia dell’arte italiana”, Giulio Carlo Argan (1909-1992) wrote that Sebastiano grasped “very early the lyrical aspects of Michelangelo’s art; and, one could say, gave the first romantic interpretation of his art. In fact, he wished to make it more human within an ethical-religious view of history, as we can see in paintings such as Andrea Doria’s portrait, which prove him as the inventor of the ‘heroic portrait’.”

Finally, Federico Zeri (1921-1998) has seen in the people Sebastiano portrayed a look of worry for the dramatic historical changes underway at the time: “In Rome, the splendidly peaceful, ornate season populated by the men and women portrayed by Raphael was short-lived; the horrors of the Sack were about to come, and erudition as a natural way of being – such as had flourished under Pope Leo X – would never resurrect. Even before 1527, Sebastiano del Piombo’s subjects reflect worries that were not relegated to the desk or library where they studied; in their Olympic gravitas, these supreme champions of intellectual decorum pondered immense problems, which after a moment of hope would be

buried one after the other, by the Council of Trent and the Counter-Reformation.”

Here is a gallery of Sebastiano’s “champions”.

Sebastiano del Piombo, "Andrea Doria", 1526 ca, olio su tavola, Villa del Principe, Genova - oil on board, Genoa

"Andrea Doria", ca. 1526, oil on board, Villa del Principe, Genoa

Sebastiano del Piombo, "Ritratto d'uomo in armi", 1512, olio su tela, Wadsworth Atheneum Museum of Art, Hartford, Connecticut - "Portrait of a Man in Arms"

"Portrait of a Man in Arms", 1512, oil on canvas, Wadsworth Atheneum Museum of Art, Hartford, Connecticut

Sebastiano del Piombo, "Ritratto di uomo" 1515, olio su tavola, Szépművészeti Múzeum, Budapest - "Portrait of a Man", oil on board

"Portrait of a Man", 1515, oil on board, Szépmuvészeti Múzeum, Budapest

Sebastiano del Piombo, "Ritratto di papa Clemente VII" 1531 ca, olio su tela, Museo di Capodimonte, Napoli - "Portrait of Pope Clement VII", ca. 1531, oil on canvas, Capodimonte Museum, Naples

"Portrait of Pope Clement VII", ca. 1531, oil on canvas, Capodimonte Museum, Naples

Sebastiano del Piombo, "Ritratto di Paolo III Farnese con un nipote", 1534, olio su lavagna, Galleria Nazionale, Parma - "Portrait of Paolo III Farnese with his Nephew", oil on slate

"Portrait of Paolo III Farnese with his Nephew", 1534, oil on slate, Galleria Nazionale, Parma

Sebastiano del Piombo, "Ritratto femminile, forse Vittoria Colonna come Artemisia", 1526 ca, 1530-1535, olio su tela, Earl of Harewood Collection, Leeds - "Female Portrait, perhaps of Vittoria Colonna as Artemisia"

"Female Portrait, perhaps of Vittoria Colonna as Artemisia", ca. 1526, 1530-1535, oil on canvas, Earl of Harewood Collection, Leeds

Sebastiano del Piombo, "Ritratto di donna come vergine saggia", 1510, olio su tela, The National Gallery of Art, Washington - "Portrait of a Woman as a Wise Virgin", 1510, oil on canvas

"Portrait of a Woman as a Wise Virgin", 1510, oil on canvas, The National Gallery of Art, Washington

Sebastiano del Piombo, "Salomè con la testa del Battista", 1510 ca, olio su tavola, National Gallery, Londra - "Salome with the Head of John the Baptist"

"Salome with the Head of John the Baptist", ca. 1510, oil on board, National Gallery, London

Sebastiano del Piombo, "Ritratto femminile, forse Vittoria Colonna", 1520-1525, olio su tavola, Museu Nacional d'Art de Catalunya, Barcelona - "Female Portrait, perhaps of Vittoria Colonna"

"Female Portrait, perhaps of Vittoria Colonna", 1520-1525, oil on board, Museu Nacional d'Art de Catalunya, Barcelona

Sebastiano del Piombo, "La chiamata", 1509 ca, olio su tela, Detroit Institute of Arts - "The Call"

"The Call", ca. 1509, oil on canvas, Detroit Institute of Arts

Sebastiano del Piombo, "Ritratto di donna", 1512, olio su tela, Galleria degli Uffizi, Firenze - "Portrait of a Woman", 1512, oil on canvas, Uffizi Gallery, Florence

"Portrait of a Woman", 1512, oil on canvas, Uffizi Gallery, Florence

Sebastiano del Piombo, "Testa femminile", 1530-1535, olio su tavola, Kimbell Art Museum, Fort Worth - "Female Head"

"Female Head", 1530-1535, oil on board, Kimbell Art Museum, Fort Worth

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