Artibus et Historiae no. 74 (XXXVII)

2016, ISSN 0391-9064

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PIERS BAKER-BATES - A Portrait of a Lady by Sebastiano del Piombo and his Reputation in Great Britain (pp. 103–118)

The recent appearance at Christie’s, London, in July 2015 of the so-called Portrait of a Lady by Sebastiano del Piombo from the Kennet collection seemed to me an appropriate starting point for a contribution to a Festschrift for Professor Paul Joannides. Though a heavily damaged and much disputed work, it can contribute much to our understanding of Sebastiano’s art. This article will consider first the Portrait of a Lady itself, and the handful of other versions, and what it can tell us about not only Sebastiano’s female portraiture more generally but also the intriguing questions surrounding copies and versions of his late work and whether or not these were even intended as portraits. This Portrait of a Lady, however, is but the latest in a long line of works by Sebastiano that were once in the United Kingdom but are no longer and, while a recent fashion for reception studies has touched on his contemporaries such as Titian, it has not yet reached Sebastiano. This paper, therefore, seeks to address this lacuna by considering the fluctuations of Sebastiano’s critical reputation in Britain, where, by the mid-nineteenth century, a majority of his paintings were housed. The arrival of the Raising of Lazarus with the Orleans collection, which became Number 1 in a new National Gallery in London, had in particular stimulated debate about Sebastiano’s qualities as an artist. This essay discusses not only the critical responses to his various paintings in the British Isles but also the misattributions that had arisen by the early nineteenth century between the work of Sebastiano and that of other artists, principally Raphael and Giorgione, especially for his portrait œuvre. Finally, the tortuous history of re-constructing a coherent structure for Sebastiano’s career that occupied much of the twentieth century will therefore in part be traced.

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