This recent discovery of this canvas is a marvellous addition to the oeuvres of the great painter Domenico Fetti, an apprentice under Cigoli in Rome who was later chosen by Rubens as his successor at the House of Gonzaga in Mantua.
It is well recorded that Fetti worked as a portrait painter from the outset of his career in Rome, since it is documented that on 2nd April 1610 a payment was made to Fetti "for a portrait of B. Filippo sent to the Duke of Bavaria, 2 scudi". On 24th April of the following year he was paid for "4 portraits of Leo XI, Paul V, Ascoli and Bellarmine, 4 scudi" thus the portraits were completed on 30th May (E.A. Safarik, Fetti, Milan, 1990, p. 332).
Domenico exhibited a naturalism in his art from the outset of his career, especially as he had trained with one of the most respected artists of the early 17th century, Ludovico Cardi (known as Cigoli), who moved and settled in Rome after spending the majority of his life in Florence. It is of interest to compare the intensity of the facial expression with the studies of monks' heads created by Cigoli (F. Moro, Viaggio nel Seicento Toscano. Dipinti e disegni inediti, with a preface by M. Gregori, Mantua, 2006, pp. 43-45). The figure is also strongly reminiscent of Cigoli's work; linking it with The Stoning of St. Stephen (Florence, Palatine Gallery), or with the creation of St. Louis and St. Clare admiring a painting of St. Francis (Pistoia, Cassa di Risparmio collection) or The Adoration of the Magi (Stourhead House, Hoare collection) from 1605, where the Florentine elegance of the composition is combined with hints of Venetian and Baroque influences. We can also connect it to The Martyrdom of St. James the Greater and the scribe Josias (Polesine, province of Mantua, San Jacopo) and to The Entry of Christ into Jerusalem (Florence, Santa Croce), a monumental work (R. Contini, Cigoli, Soncino, 1991).
However, in the instance of this canvas the rich and dense colour combined with the powerful, quivering curves of the brush strokes testify the hand of Domenico Fetti. The artist drew inspiration from series of historical portraits of ancestors found in aristocratic collections. Along with the unmistakable Florentine influence of Cigoli, as well as Gregorio Pagani and Andrea Commodi, the painting reflects aspects of Rubens' exuberance. The gnarled hands, the ruffs, and the bright puffed sleeves with their slalom of brushstrokes, as well as the light that captures and defines the harsh realism of the facial profile, is a direct reference to the extraordinary 'Apostolado' series housed in Mantua's Palazzo Ducale (Safarik, op. cit., nn. 73-84, pp. 189-202). This reflects a period in the painter's development, in which he still appears to use the techniques and models learned during his recent apprenticeship under Cigoli, while moving towards the more naturalistic facial expression seen in Double study of the faces of Franciscan Saints (private collection, F. Moro, op. cit. 2006, pp. 46-47), whereby the brush flows, gliding across the variations in the skin under light, with fuller brushstrokes which outline the shape of the face. The most likely date for the painting is between the end of the artist's Roman period and the beginning of his career in Mantua, around the start of the 1610s.
The portrait probably depicts an ancestor of the noble Anguisola (or Anguissola) family, the Cremona branch of which were the patrons of the well-known painter Sofonisba, one of the first women artists to rise to fame. In 1559, she became a lady-in-waiting in Madrid for Elisabeth of Valois of the House of Habsburg, the wife of Philip II, and married two noblemen named Fabrizio Moncada and Orazio Lomellini. The Anguissola family were one of the oldest and most celebrated families of Piacenza's aristocracy, who had links to the Visconti since the fourteenth century.
The Vigolzone branch of the family, descended from Riccardo, included Bernardo, Lancillotto, Pietro and Gian Carlo, who distinguished themselves in the service of the Dukes of Milan and thereby obtained the investiture of their fiefs. In addition, a family member named Giovanni was awarded the "cingolo militare" (a belt worn as a badge of military rank) by Duke Galeazzo Maria Sforzain in 1450. Louis XII confirmed the rights and properties of the brothers Tommaso, Francesco and Nicolò as “propter familiare dignitatem et generis nobilitatem” in 1511.
Nicolò was the Camerlengo of the Holy Roman Church, while Galvano di Teodosio, in the service of Spain, accompanied Philip II on his wedding trip to England, he subsequently met his death as an infantry commander in Djerba. Alessandro di Vigolzone distinguished himself at the Battle of Lepanto with Alessandro Farnese, whom he followed to Flanders with his sons Galvano and Carlo. By virtue of a deed drawn up by the notary Alessandro Orsi from Piacenza on 14th August 1509, Duke Ranuccio I granted him the investiture of the fief of Grazzano, Maiano and Varano, created as a marquisate for he and his sons and male heirs. This fief, together with the fief of Riva, had belonged to Giovanni Anguissola, who became infamous conspiring against Duke Pier Luigi Farnese (1547). Ottavio Farnese purchased the fief from Giovanni after the latter took refuge in Milan, where he was persecuted and excommunicated. One of Giovanni's brothers died in 1541 fighting alongside the Duke Pier Luigi, against the Colonna family. Meanwhile, his sister Cattarina married Luigi Gonzaga di Castel Goffredo, with whom she had a child named Ferrante who eventually became the father of Saint Aloysius Gonzaga. became the father of Saint Aloysius Gonzaga. We know that Giovanni, who betrayed the son of Pope Paul III, was given a seat on the Senate of Milan, became Governor of Como, had overall command of the troops of King Philip in aid of Charles IX. He drove the Prince of Condé out of the Dauphiné, was feared by the Huguenots, and built the magnificent Villa Pliniana on the shores of Lake Como, where he eventually died.
Carlo, the brother of the aforementioned Alessandro, bequeathed Grazzano to Galvano II. The fief of Vigolzone passed over to Giovanni Battista, the third son of Alessandro I. Alessandro had established the right of primogeniture on 2nd April 1598 in order to pass on his Grazzano assets to his son Galvano, also with the privilege passing to the second-born in the absence of an heir.
The Marquises of Grazzano are remembered for their notable endeavours in Flanders: Galvano was awarded the command of the Duke's armies by Margherita Farnese, while Giovanni Battista accompanied the Duke Ranuccio Farnese in the war of Algiers.
Bartolomeo and Giovanni Francesco Anguissola who obtained the fief of Podenzano in 1460, were invested with the title of the estate itself (Count of Podenzano and Villas) by Bona and Gian Galeazzo Sforza on 1st December 1477, with the right of primogeniture. Louis XII confirmed the rights of Count Giovanni di Gian Francesco to half the lands of Montechiaro on 17th November 1511, he also added the fief of Rustigasso to his estates. Girolamo carried out various diplomatic missions for Ranuccio I Farnese, visiting Clement VIII, the Duke of Savoy, and the Duke of Bavaria (V. Spreti, ad vocem, in Enciclopedia storico-nobiliare italiana, Bologna, 1969 (reprint, Milan 1928-1935), pp. 389-392; Le antiche famiglie di Piacenza e i loro stemmi, Piacenza 1979, pp. 97-100).
Franco Moro Piacenza, 21st September 2009