Giuseppe Ghislandi (known as Fra' Galgario)
Portrait of a Goldsmith
Ghislandi is one of the finest late Baroque portraitists. He trained with two local Bergamo painters, first with Giacomo Cotta then with Bartolomeo Bianchini, before leaving for Venice. There he took religious orders and entered the monastery of San Francesco di Paola. After a period in Bergamo, in 1688 he is again recorded in Venice and it was at this point that he met Sebastiano Bombelli, in whose studio he worked between around 1689 and the start of the next century, at which point he returned to Bergamo. He entered the Galgario monastery, from which he took his religious name of Fra’ Galgario. The manner in which Ghislandi presents his sitters reflects the influence of the great portraitist from Bergamo, Giovanni Battista Moroni. He also looked to 16th-century Venetian painting, which he could have studied at first-hand, with regard to his use of colour.
Ghislandi’s portraits are marked by their simple presentation of the sitter against plain, dark backgrounds in which the figure is generally presented half-length or bust-length, sometimes in an oval format. Difficult to date precisely, his portraits depict members of the Bergamo nobility, particularly the Rota and Secco Suardo families who were his patrons, as well as young artists, aristocrats, and children and young boys from more humble sectors of society. Ghislandi captured his models in a natural, realistic manner, also paying attention to their characters and personalities, which he reflected through the sitters’ expressions and particularly their gestures.
The present canvas, which was known from the time it was included in an exhibition on 17th-century portraiture held in Milan in 1910, was recorded in three private collections before it entered the Thyssen-Bornemisza collection in 1976. It was in the collection of Giuseppe Beltrami in Milan, then in the 1960s in that of Pino Gavazzeni in Bergamo. It was then owned by the Marquis dal Pozzo in Milan prior to its acquisition for the Collection housed at the Villa Favorita.
The ring that the sitter is holding and the striking jewel in his hat has led the present portrait to be described as that of a jeweller, although with no other argument to support this identification. It has been dated to Ghislandi’s last period. The artist focuses all his attention on the sitter, who looks out with a penetrating gaze and who is painted with a narrow colour range only broken by the red of his cap and of the stone in the ring. The large, striking jewel in the sitter’s hat is to be found in other male portraits by Ghislandi, albeit with a slightly different design. They include Man in Dalmatian Dress in a private collection, which is one of Ghislandi’s masterpieces and in which the jewel has a feather attached to it. In a portrait in a private collection in Milan, the model, who wears rich, striking red and blue clothes, also has a sophisticated brooch in his hat. Contini detected a physical resemblance between this sitter and the one in Portrait of the Noblewoman Bonduri Marenzi in a private collection in Bergamo.