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Portrait of a Cardinal, 16th century

Prospero Fontana

Italian, 1512-1597
Oil on canvas
48-1/2 x 43 in. (123.2 x 109.2 cm)
The Norton Simon Foundation
F.1968.11.07.P
© The Norton Simon Foundation

On view

Although Prospero Fontana’s early career in Bologna is poorly documented, by the early 1540s he was an established artist and worked frequently in Rome, often with Giorgio Vasari. In 1550 Pope Julius III formally recognized Fontana’s privileged position at the papal court. The Pope commissioned a portrait from the artist and extended him a principal role in the development of artistic policies. As a portraitist, Fontana favored the formal traditions of this genre as practiced in Florence over the naturalistic representations of Northern Italy. The unidentified cardinal sits in a room of indeterminate space with a view beyond into a series of salons. His large body boldly occupies the foreground. The cardinal’s relationship to the room and the connection between the foreground and background is ambiguous, a stylistic convention popular among Mannerist painters. The final impression is far more aloof than the almost contemporary representations of Giovanni Battista Moroni or Francesco Salviati.

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