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Portrait of an Extremely Powerful Florentine Merchant

Cummer presents "Bartolomeo Compagni" painted by Pier Francesco de Jacopo Foschi in 1549, over 450 years ago. This painting was a commissioned portrait of a powerful Florentine Merchant that lived in London during the reign of Henry VIII. Compagni's trading empire stretched beyond Russia and he was often utilized as a "fundraiser" for English war efforts.

Published June 23, 2012 in Weekend Edition      4 Comments    Open printer friendly version of this article Print Article



Pier Francesco de Jacopo Foschi, Bartolomeo Compagni, 1549, oil on panel, 40 x 32 in.
The Cummer Museum of Art & Gardens, Jacksonville, Florida, Purchased with funds from The Cummer Council, AP.1984.3.1.

Bartolomeo Compagni was a Florentine merchant who resided in London, and had close ties to the house of Bardi and Cavalcanti.  It is clearly documented that he played a significant role in both the political and commercial life of the mid-sixteenth century.  During this time, England was at war with France, and the Boulogne was under siege.  Compagni was tasked by the government of Henry VIII with the role of negotiating with the French on behalf of the English.  At the same time, he was one of the Italian merchants prepared to provide Henry VIII with the added financial security needed to pursue the war.  He administered several “fund raisers” to support the war efforts of Henry VIII and handled very large sums of money as loans and other financial services.

From Compagni’s will, we know of the vastness of his trading empire, which reached from England to Russia and beyond.  As a result of his services to the crown, Compagni was given a grant allowing him the same luxuries in his trading as that of a favorable Englishman.  This is during a time when Italians were losing their foothold in the English market, especially dealing in luxury goods.  This grant was however revoked during Mary’s reign, due to involvement in a plot against her marriage to Phillip of Spain.  

Pier Francesco di Jacopo Foschi painted a large number of formal portraits during his career in Florence, where he completed many notable commissions, including paintings for Michelangelo’s funeral and the Medici family’s Villa Careggi.  He was also among the very select group of artists responsible for planning the Florentine Accademia del Disegno in 1563, which was the first academy of drawing in Europe.

During a visit to Florence in 1549, Foschi painted Compagni’s three-quarter portrait and inserted the sitter’s name on the letter in the bottom left foreground of the painting.   As shown in the portrait of Compagni, Foschi’s portraits were painted in the Mannerist style and his sitters gaze directly at the viewer.  As is common for the style, he painted Compagni in movement, with the bottom, right half of his body facing his desk and the upper, left half of his body twisting toward the viewer.  His left hand rests upon his leg and he stares forward, almost free of expression.  Compagni is depicted with his pen in hand, which is softly raised above his desk of letters, gold pieces, and red wax (a reminder of his valuable and classified business ventures).  There are two letters in the portrait, one referring to his business as a merchant, the other is addressed to Compagni in Florence.  In the background is a letter with a very large seal, depicting a man on horseback.  This is almost certainly Saint George, the image found on the third great seal of Henry VIII and the first of Edward VI, and is the Patron Saint of England.  By showing the seal in his portrait, Compagni is showing his prominence in London and his connection to the English royalty.




By showing the seal in his portrait, Compagni is showing his prominence in London and his connection to the English royalty.


Written by Amber Sesnick
Visitor Services & Social Media Coordinator at The Cummer Museum of Art & Gardens



The Cummer Museum of Art and Gardens

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4 Comments

AshleyLauren

June 30, 2012, 02:48:03 PM
I have one question. Is a portrait considered art? Yes, Mona Lisa is one of the most well-known pieces of art in the world, but is a portrait really art? There is not artistic expression used when painting a simple portrait, just canvas and paint and a painter. Is that the key? A well known artist painted it therefore it is art? So today a digital portrait is artwork. Or perhaps, I just dont see the value in this painting and I am looking for a purpose that is not there.

CummerMuseum

July 13, 2012, 04:04:10 PM
Portraiture is actually a very old form of art.  As a matter of fact, for the majority of art history, art was not based on the personal expression of the artist, but on an academic training in art.  Art has primarily been considered the competent use of tools - i.e. paint, brushes, clay, stone, chisels, charcoal, camera, etc... to represent something.  It has little to do with the notoriety of the artist, and much more to do with the skill and the process.  Artistic expression and the concept of art for arts sake, is really a 20th century invention.  This is not to say that artistic expression and the creative choice of the artist was not a part of art before this, it simply was not given the same attention we give it today. 

The type of portraiture in the above example was very common in the centuries before the camera.  These types of portraits were a way to document a person's personality, status, and interests, as well as how they looked at a given time in life.  Family trees were documented, the growth of children, important life events, and sometimes even death.  There is much to learn about culture and history from portraits, as well as the personality of the sitter.

As for your question about digital portraits as artwork, I challenge you to look through the work of local photographers.  You will notice a huge variance in the level of skill in posing, lighting, scenery, and artistic expression through the medium.  To take it one step further, compare the pictures of these photographers, especially the better among them, to a generic photo studio or a home snapshot taken by a family member. 

ben says

July 13, 2012, 04:12:42 PM
I have one question. Is a portrait considered art? Yes, Mona Lisa is one of the most well-known pieces of art in the world, but is a portrait really art? There is not artistic expression used when painting a simple portrait, just canvas and paint and a painter. Is that the key? A well known artist painted it therefore it is art? So today a digital portrait is artwork. Or perhaps, I just dont see the value in this painting and I am looking for a purpose that is not there.

Ah...the age old question that will probably never be answered and whereby no two people will ever agree: What is art?

AshleyLauren

July 16, 2012, 11:40:26 AM
Cummer,

I am not an artist (at all). I have taken a few Art History courses and that is the extent of my artistic training, but to consider art the process rather than the product, the tools used rather than the artist using the tools is an interesting concept. And perhaps one that only artists would appreciate. Thanks for the response and I will do what you recommended.
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