Monday, March 12, 2018

Raphael's Portrait of the Beautiful Banker

Raphael
Portrait of Bindo Altoviti
ca. 1515
oil on panel
National Gallery of Art, Washington DC

In 2005 David Alan Brown and Jane Van Nimmen brought out a book with Yale University Press called Raphael & The Beautiful Banker: the story of the Bindo Altoviti Portrait.  With industrious research and a gift for narrative, they account for wild fluctuations in this picture's reputation over the past five centuries, when both subject and painter regularly suffered under tenacious misidentifications.  One of the book's appendices offers the work's provenance, reproduced below. It follows the afterlife of rich young Bindo's original commission for his own portrait (probably on the occasion of his marriage to Fiammetta Soderini) from Raphael, then indisputably the dominant (and most expensive) painter in Rome.   

1556          Archbishop Antonio Altoviti, Bindo's older son
1573          Giovanni Battista Altoviti, younger son
1590          End of Bindo's direct line; heir is distant cousin, Giovanni di Bernardo Altoviti
1592          Pierozzo di Ridolfo Altoviti, firstborn son of another distant relative
1644          Giovambattista Altoviti, Pierozzo's older son
1656          Monsignor Antonio Altoviti, oldest son of Giovambattista
1695          Giovambattista Altoviti, son of Msgr. Antonio's younger brother
1716          Giovanni Gaetano Altoviti Avila
1745          Flaminio Altoviti Avila, younger son of Giovanni Gaetano
1806          Giovambattista Altoviti Avila
1806          Giovanni Altoviti Avila (only son of Giovambattista)

Around 1750 certain influential scholars and artists had begun wishfully to identify Bindo's portrait as a self-portrait by Raphael.  The fallacy was fueled by the period's hunger for artist-likenesses, its worship of Raphael, and dissatisfaction with existing self-portraits in Florence and Rome.  The belief grew to such an extent that Altoviti heirs themselves ceased to credit the identity of their own ancestor, and so felt justified in selling the picture to foreigners at an enormous price – as a Raphael self-portrait.

1808          Portrait sold to Johann Metzger, agent for Crown Prince Ludwig of Bavaria 
1810          Royal collection in Munich, displayed at the Hofgartengalarie

Around 1850 certain influential scholars and artists began to doubt the image as a portrait of Raphael.  These doubts soon spawned other doubts about Raphael's authorship at all.  Half a dozen artists in his circle were then proposed as likelier creators.  As David Alan Brown and Jan Van Nimmen observe, "The fall from grace of the Munich picture shows that this and other discredited objects of worship arouse feelings of betrayal, and that adoration in such cases turns into embarrassment and scorn.  Neither of Raphael nor by him, the Munich portrait may now truly be said to have had no value."  By the early twentieth century the museum itself was ready to deaccession it, and only waited for a good opportunity.

1938          Agnew's, London, acquired by trade from Bavarian State Painting Collections
1938          Duveen Brothers, London, purchased from Agnew's
1940          Samuel H. Kress, purchased from Duveen Brothers, New York   
1943          National Gallery of Art, Washington DC, gift of Samuel H. Kress

To obtain the Raphael, the chief item traded by Agnew's was a supposed Grünewald (later discredited), which the firm had recently acquired at an estate sale for £600.  Agnew's then immediately sold the Raphael to the Duveen firm for £30,000.

Brown and Van Nimmen offer another appendix with thumbnails of more than fifty different reproductive prints from the 18th and 19th centuries made to disseminate Bindo's portrait during the period when it was stoutly accepted as everyone's favorite likeness of Raphael.  A small sample of these appears below.

Jacob Frey after Domenico Campiglia
Raphael Self-portrait (actually Bindo Altoviti)
ca. 1747
etching, engraving
British Museum

Angelica Kauffmann
Raphael Self-portrait (actually Bindo Altoviti)
ca. 1762-65
etching
Philadelphia Museum of Art

Giovanni Battista Cecchi after Ignazio Hugford
Raphael Self-portrait (actually Bindo Altoviti)
1771
etching, engraving
British Museum

Sir Robert Strange
Raphael Self-portrait (actually Bindo Altoviti)
1787
etching, engraving
British Museum


Raphael Morghen
Raphael Self-portrait (actually Bindo Altoviti)
1803
etching, engraving
Philadelphia Museum of Art

Wolfgang Flachenecker
Raphael Self-portrait (actually Bindo Altoviti)
ca. 1810-21
lithograph
British Museum

Ludwig Emil Grimm
Raphael Self-portrait (actually Bindo Altoviti)
1812
etching, engraving
Philadelphia Museum of Art

Heinrich Maria von Hess
Raphael Self-portrait (actually Bindo Altoviti)
ca. 1813-17
etching
Philadelphia Museum of Art

Giovanni Farrugia
Raphael Self-portrait (actually Bindo Altoviti)
1822
etching-engraving
British Museum

Filippo Cenci
Raphael Self-portrait (actually Bindo Altoviti)
ca. 1830
etching, engraving
British Museum

Ferdinand Piloty
Raphael Self-portrait (actually Bindo Altoviti)
after 1836
lithograph
British Museum

James Dickson
Raphael Self-portrait (actually Bindo Altoviti)
ca. 1841-42
lithograph
British Museum

Thomas Holloway
Raphael Self-portrait (actually Bindo Altoviti)
1844
etching, engraving
Philadelphia Museum of Art