The painting depicts a young man with a serious and somewhat sulky expression, pictured in profile and emerging from a dark green background. His figure stands out not only for the rather long nose line and pronounced mouth but also for the bright colors of the hat and the cape he is wearing, between orange, red and pink.
The young man in question is Francesco Gonzaga, second son of Ludovico III Gonzaga, marquis of Mantua. He was born in 1444 and he became apostolic protonotary at just ten years of age and in 1461, when he was just seventeen years old, he was appointed cardinal by Pope Pius II, Enea Silvio Piccolomini.
Francesco is portrayed here shortly after his appointment, wearing a cardinal’s robe. It is pictured in profile, representing the fashion of the mid-15th century in the courts of northern Italy and which can be see mostly in medals, such as in those designed by Pisanello in those years. This kind of representation of an official figure recalls the ancient representations of emperors and illustrious men in coins and medals and for this reason it responded well to the humanistic and antique culture that had a significant development in Mantua and in the northern part of the Peninsula in these decades.
Andrea Mantegna, author of the work of Capodimonte, trained under Antonio Squarcione, a famous collector and merchant of antiquities, and for this reason he specialized to this type of antique depictions.
The work was attributed to him already in 1895 not only by comparing other effigies by Mantegna with similar composition, such as the portrait of the Poldi Pezzoli Museum in Milan and Portrait of a Man of the National Gallery of Art in Washington, but also because the first hypotheses of the attribution to Giovanni Bellini and his workshop were excluded. The softer lines and the gentle facial features as well as softer tones in colors compared to Mantegna’s work, were due to the close contact the artist had with Bellini, whose brother-in-law he was.
As for the identification of the subject, the criticism has long speculated that this could be the other son of Ludovico III Gonzaga, Ludovico bishop of Mantua. However, the comparison between this work and another depiction of Francesco made by Mantegna himself fifteen years later in the frescoes on the walls of Camera degli Sposi in the Ducal Palace of Mantua confirms the current identification. The work was perhaps made between 1460, before Francesco went to study in Pavia, and 1462, the year he went to Rome.
The work was found in the collection of Fulvio Orsini, librarian of the Farnese house, where it was inventoried as a work by Giovanni Bellini. The Farnese family probably acquired it from Orsini and placed it to the family palace in Rome, from where it was transferred to Naples, to the royal house of Capodimonte.
Andrea Mantegna was born in 1431 in Isola di Carturo, a town close to Padua, as son of a carpenter Biagio.
He was only ten years old when he was adopted by painter Francesco Squarcione. He started to study in his workshop in Padua and he was already registered in Padua’s painters’ guild in 1445.
In Padua Mantegna found a vibrant humanist-antiquarian atmosphere, which was influenced by Paolo Uccello and Filippo Lippi’s works. He was given a classical artistic education influenced by the Paduan works of Donatello. At the time of his graduation in 1457, he was given the decoration of the Ovetari chapel in the church of the Eremitans. Mantegna painted the Stories of St. James and St. Christopher, which were later almost completely lost due to the bombings of Padua in 1944. Thanks to the ancient copies and photographs Mantegna’s works can be memorized.
Following the decoration of the church of the Eremitans, Mantegna realized the polypych of San Luca for the church of Santa Giustina, which is nowadays kept in Pinacoteca di Brera in Milan. The painting represents his first step towards combined perspective of space, which culminates in the altarpiece of San Zeno church in Verona. In 1453 Mantegna married Niccolosa Bellini, daughter of Jacopo Bellini and sister of Gentile and Giovanni Bellini, who were among the most important and famous Venetian painters at the time.
In 1460 Ludovico III Gonzaga invited Andrea in Mantua, where he became a court painter. In four years he executed the internal decorations of the castle of San Giorgio, particularly the so-called Triptych of the Uffizi and the altarpiece with the Death of the Virgin, where all the ancient quotations were banished. Mantegna continued to work in the castle at least until 1474 decorating the Camera Picta for the marquis’s wife, Barbara of Brandenburg, which was one his greatest masterpieces involving the observer in the illustrative space. He also painted the portrait of Cardinal Ludovico Trevisan (1459-1460) and the portrait of Francesco Gonzaga (1461) during the years in Mantua. Under Federico II Gonzaga, who was a successor of Ludovico, between 1497 and 1502 Andrea begins to paint the nine canvases with the Triumph of Caesar in Gaul, a cycle of paintings where the painter interprets the ancient subject celebrating his patron as the new Caesar.
In 1487 Mantegna went to Rome to work in the papal court of Innocent VIII, who wanted to entrust him the decoration of the chapel in Beldevere in Vatican. He returned to Mantua three years later, in 1490. His production in the 1490s’ was characterized by the influence of the Thriumps and realized the Dead Christ and Three Mourners, located today in the Pinacoteca di Brera, the highlight of his years of perspective studies and an example of extreme naturalism. Madonna della Vittoria was commissioned by Francesco Gonzaga to celebrate the victory of the battle of Fornovo in 1495 against the French and the altarpiece of Trivulzio (1497) for the church of Santa Maria Ornago in Verona, situated today in the Pinacoteca of the Sforzesco Castle in Milan.
Mantegna returned to the court of Mantua in 1490 after the marriage of Francesco II Gonzaga and Isabella d’Este. As a gift, Mantegna decorated the studio of Francesco’s wife, but he only finished it in 1502. Isabella commissioned a cycle of mythological and allegorical subjects and Mantegna painted two canvases of Parnassus (1497) and the Triumph of Virtue (1499-1502) with complex compositions of characters and allegories, that took a lot of time.
The works of the last years, 1505-1506, were characterized by almost melancholic nuances, dark tones and skillful and innovative use of light and movement. The two canvases destined for his burial chapel in the church of Sant’Andrea in Mantua, the Baptism of Christ and the Holy Family with the family of St. John the Baptist as well as the St. Sebastian in the Galleria Franchetti of Venice were all attributed to this phase.
Andrea Mantegna died in Mantua on 13 September 1506. He was buried in the church of Sant’Andrea in Mantua, where the mortuary chapel was decorated by his students and young Correggio.
The collection of Capodimonte has the origins in the refined and elegant collection of the Farnese family. The first assemblage was formed in 1534 thanks to the initiative of Alessandro Farnese (1520-1589) and Pope Paul III, both interested in ancient objects (conserved today in the Museo Archeologico Nazionale of Naples) and the most important artists of the period.
In 1734 Charles III of Spain took the throne and inherited mother Elisabetta Farnese’s collection which was moved from Rome to Parma during the 18th century. In this occasion he felt the need to find a suitable location for the collection.
The construction of the Capodimonte building on the hill started in 1738 and it was used both as a residence and as a gallery. The place was first only visited by famous persons, such as Johann Winckelmann, Antonio Canova and Marquis de Sade.
The museum was inaugurated in 1957, thanks to the insistence of Ferdinando Bologna Raffaello Causa, opening to the public extensive collection of 2900 paintings, 150 sculptures, 17700 objects of decorative art, 26000 drawings, extended over 12000 square meters and divided into 114 rooms.
During the 18th century, the collection was enriched with the works commissioned by the sovereigns of the Bourbon family, but the lootings by French troops in 1799 marked the beginning of decline as its function as a museum.
In the 19th century the building was mostly used as a residence. French general Joachim Murat lived in the building with his wife and they brought new furnishing and interior decorations to Capodimonte.
Only after the arrival of the Savoys and thanks to Annibale Sacco, the new era of the museum started: the art objects which were spread in various residences of the Bourbon family were collected and moved to Capodimonte and there was a new attention to contemporary figurative production of art.
For this reason, there are two main groups in the collection. The Farnese collection includes the portraits of Cardinal Alessandro Farnese, Giorgio Vasari and Andrea del Sarto by Raphael, portrait of Bernardo de’ Rossi by Lorenzo Lotto, portraits of Paul III and Paul III with his Grandsons Alessandro and Ottavio Farnese and Danae by Titian, Portrait of Antea by Parmigianino and the cartoons by Michelangelo and Leonardo Da Vinci and pictorial cycles of Carracci, donated in 1600 by Fulvio Orsini. The second collection includes the historical pieces of Neapolitan art from circa 1200 to 1700. Among them are the works by Simone Martini and Colantonio’s St. Jerome, an example of the lively and rich Aragon period, and the works of foreign influence such as Pinturicchio’s Assumption of the Virgin. The 17th century was considered as the golden era of Neapolitan art, influenced by the works of Caravaggio and his followers. From this era there are Caravaggio’s Flagellation from 1606-1607, Ribera’s Drunken Silenus, Artemisia Gentileschi’s Judith and Holofernes, Guido Reni’s Atalanta and Hippomenes and Mattia Preti’s St. Sebastian.
The current layout of the museum is a result of the series of restorations in the 1980s’ and 1990s’ which determined the division of the collection onto three floors. The ground floor includes the educational rooms, the mezzanine floor holds the department of drawings and prints, the Farnese collection, the Borgia collection and the royal apartment are in the first floor and finally on the second floor the Neapolitan gallery, the D’Avalos collection, the 19th century gallery and the photographic gallery.