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Tempera on spruce - Profile Male Bust

Profile Male Bust

  • Object:

    Tempera on spruce

  • Place of origin:

    Mantua (painted)

  • Date:

    1477-1491 (painted)

  • Artist/Maker:


  • Materials and Techniques:

    tempera on spruce panel

  • Museum number:


  • Gallery location:

    Medieval & Renaissance, Room 64, The Wolfson Gallery, case SS1

This male bust in profile is part of a large series preserved in different places, six of them being housed in the V&A. They originally decorated a ceiling in a Mantuan palace, the palace of San Martino Gusnago. This type of decoration was praised by the nobles who enjoyed displaying their portraits and portraits of relatives in all sorts of outfits which reveals their wealth. This panel shows a young man with long hair wearing a flat black hat.

Physical description

Profile bust of a man with semi long hair, wearing a flat black hat and facing left, set against a marble niche with a garland above his head.

Place of Origin

Mantua (painted)


1477-1491 (painted)



Materials and Techniques

tempera on spruce panel


Height: 47.5 cm estimate, Width: 48 cm estimate, Depth: 2.5 cm approx.

Object history note

Provenance: San Martino di Gusnaga; 1881-82 Henry Willet of Brighton (set of 35); 25 of them (but not those in the V&A nor that belongong to Sir martin Conway) sold Christies, 10 Apr. 1905, lots 97-105. Willet lent the six to the V&A some years before they were bought in 1904.

Kauffmann, 1973, p177.

Historical significance: According to Federico Zeri (1986), these 6 panels are part of a large series, of which 21 others can be traced: 12 in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York (nos. 05.2.1-12); two in The Cornell Fine Arts Centre, Rollins College, Winter Park, Florida (nos. 57-5-P and 57-6-P); two belonging to Francesco Zeri, Mentana; and five belonging to Vittorio Frascione, Florence. Twelve additional panels, whereabouts unknown, were in the following collections: two in the collection of W.B. Chamberlin (Christie's, London, 25th Feb. 1938, lot 41) and four in the Henry Harris collection (Sotheby's, London, 20 Aug. 1941, nos. 92); three in the Payne Whitney collection (Parke-Bernet, New York, 6-7 Feb. 1946, no. 258), one in the collection of Lord Conway of Allington (Sotheby's, London, 31st Jan. 1951, lot 23); and two in the Engel-Gros collection (Galerie Georges Petit, Paris, 30th May-1st Jun 1921, lot 4, bought in; Galerie Charpentier, Paris, 6 Dec. 1952, lot 2).
Each panel shows a bust figure in profile set against a marble niche with a garland above their head. The series was removed from a small room in the palace of San Martino Gusnago, situated between Mantua and Brescia, subsequently the property of the Gonzaga family and Francesco Secco (1423-1496) whose arms (the arms of the Aragon conceded to Secco by Ferdinand of Naples in 1477) appears indeed in the pictorial decoration.
The panels decorated a beam and were probably divided into four groups of eleven panels, with a figure in three-quarter view in the centre of each group, flanked symmetrically by profiles and possibly grouped by pairs. All V&A panels show a male bust profiles but the original series include female bust profiles such as the ones in the Metropolitan Museum collection.
According to W. Terni de Gregory, this kind of ceiling decoration was far from rare and profile figures dressed with all sorts of outfits and headgears were in fact the most favoured by the noble class. As a matter of fact, each of these six panels displays a different and extravagant outfit such as a hat with a turban underneath, a classical helmet etc.
One of these ceiling decorations is still in situ in the Banca Popolare of Crema and was executed ca. 1500 to celebrate the wedding of Ottaviani Vimercati and Domicilla Lupi of Bergamo.
These series of portraits may either have constituted the genealogy of the family living in the palace with at the centre the couple recently married and the arms of the families or an ideal genealogy which displays illustrious men particularly admired and regarded as great examples to follow for a learned citizen. In this case, Virgil, Julius Cesar and Alexander the Great can be portrayed side by side and included among the family members.
Some of the panels are closed to Bramantino, especially for the deep perspective of the niche in the background and Boltraffio's manner, to whom they have been attributed in the past. According to Zeri, the most plausible attribution is to Floriano Ferramola, of whose work an example is featured in the Museum's collection, see 8878-1861. However these panels display a highest quality and cannot be therefore attributed with certainty to any of leading artists of the time. The Metropolitan Museum formerly attributed his series to a follower of Bramantino but called it now 'Lombard school'.

Historical context note

During the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries in Italy, artists were often commissioned to create painted wooden furnishings for the domestic interior, especially for the camera (bedchamber) of wealthy private palaces. Such works were generally commissioned to celebrate a new marriage or the birth of a child and could include a lettiera (bed), spalliera or cornicioni (a painted frieze), a cassapanca (bench-chest) and a set of cassone (marriage chests) among other objects and furnishings. The decoration often included subjects associated with fertility, maternity, childbirth, marriage and fidelity and could include references to the patrons through inclusion of their coat of arms and heraldic colours, or of their personal motto or device.

Descriptive line

Tempera on spruce, Profile Male Bust, Lombard school, 1477-1491

Bibliographic References (Citation, Note/Abstract, NAL no)

Church, A.H in Portfolio , xv, 1884, p.35ff., repr.
Koop, A.J in Burlingtom Magazine., viii, 1905, p.135f., repr.
Cook, H.F, Burlington Magazine , pp.136, 141.
Metropolitan Museum Bulletin , I, 1905, p.14, repr.
Konody, P.G in Paris Herald Tribune , 28th August, 1905.
Suida, W. in Jahrbuch der Kuntsthist Samml .,xxv, Vienna, 1905, p. 67f.
Brinton, S Leonardo at Milan, 2nd ed., 1907, p. 56.
Pope-Hennessy, J., in Burlington Magazine, 1xxvi, 1940, p. 31.
Metropolitan Museum, Wehle, H.B., A Catalogue of Italian, Spanish and Byzantine paintings , 1940, p.150 f.
Suida, W., Bramante pittore e il Bramantino , 1953, p.145 f., figs. 235-40.
Terni di Gregory, W., Pittura artigiana lombarda del Rinascimento , 1958, p. 71, fig.44 , pl.xxii.
Marani, E and Perina, C., Le arti, Montova , ii, 1961, pp.80, 342.
Kauffmann, C.M., Catalogue of Foreign Paintings, I. Before 1800. London: Victoria and Albert Museum, 1973, p. 177-9, cat. no. 219.
Federico Zeri, Italian Paintings: a Catalogue of the Collection of the Metropolitan Museum of Art. North Italian School, New York, 1986, pp. 72-75, plates 59-61.
David Chambers and Jane Martineau, eds., Splendours of the Gonzaga, exh. cat., Victoria and Albert Museum, 1981, p. 128, no. 39.
Bramantino pp.xiv f.; nos. 9-14
Catalogue of pictures by masters of the Milanese and allied schools of Lombardy, London, Printed for the Burlington fine arts club, 1898


Tempera; Spruce



Subjects depicted

Man; Male




Prints, Drawings & Paintings Collection

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