Francia As A Portrait Painter

IT is, I think, clear from the many references that are made by Bolognese writers to the portraits painted by Francia, and to their excellence and beauty, that the artist was considered by his fellows to be of great repute as a portrait painter, and that more portraits should be ascribed to him than we are at first inclined to suppose.

Oretti, as has already been seen, credits Francia with many important portraits, and names several in his list in addition to those which he painted of himself for Raphael ; but when search is made in the galleries of Europe, it will be found that very few indeed are ac-credited to our artist, and that of those that do bear the name of Francia, there is a note ascribing them to Giacomo rather than to his father.

Oretti expressly states that Giacomo painted very few portraits, and that Giulio did not paint more than one or two ; and in this contention he is borne out by the older Amorini, whose book has remained only in manuscript, and who refers to the portraits of Francesco Francia as of very high merit and repute.

Lately it has been the habit amongst certain Italian critics to take away from Francia all the portraits already ascribed to him ; but in England we have learned better, and I think no possible fault can be found with the ascription that gives the great portrait of Bartolommeo Bianchini belonging to Mr. Salting, which was shown at the Burlington Fine Arts Club, to Francia.

We know that Francia painted this man’s portrait; that the Senator, who was a man not only of wealth and power, but of genius, wrote some verses praising the ability of Francia ; and that the picture at Berlin, to which reference has already been made (Plate XI.), was done for Bianchini, and bears the inscription recording the fact (see p. 36).

Then there is a picture at Vienna in the Lichtenstein Gallery of “The Marchese Bovio” that was restored to Francia by Crowe and Cavalcaselle, and there is one at Frankfort of a man dressed in black which is now with good cause given to the artist.

The one that hangs in the Tribune in the Uffizi, and which is inscribed as the portrait of Evangelista Scappi (Plate XLII.), is another portrait regarding which there seems to be no doubt ; but there are two portraits in the Pitti Gallery which, although very different in some respects one from the other, I am disposed to give tentatively to the artist rather than to his son Giacomo, whose name they bear at this moment.

Dealing first with the Uffizi portrait, it is quite clear that there was such a man as Evangelista di Scappi. He is mentioned twice at least in the chronicles of Bologna, and was a notary, and his signature still can be found in the Hall of the Notaries. He was a son of one Giovanni di Scappi, who also was a member of the Guild of Notaries, and who I take to be the Johannes Scappus who commissioned the altar-piece, now at Bologna, in memory of another son (Plate XVIII.).

This particular portrait and the Bianchini portrait are very characteristic in many ways of the work of Francia. In neither of them are there any ears to be seen. In both the hair is arranged in two portions, of a somewhat lumpy style, on either side of the head ; the painting of the hair is very liney in character, many of the hairs being clear and distinct, standing away from the others, and in each case the hair at its extremities has an upward turn. In each portrait are to be seen the two sorts of trees that are very distinctive of Francia—the short bushy ones, and the finer ones that are silhouetted against the sky, and painted with such particular care.

In each portrait the hands have no knuckles, the chin is soft and dimpled, and the cheeks are round and very smooth and soft.

Each holds a letter, each wears a dark jacket, and on the head of each is a black cap, and each portrait is set in a background of rocks and trees with surrounding hills, and a town in the far distance.

It will be seen, therefore, that the Bianchini and the Scappi portraits are very similar in their characteristics.

With regard to the two portraits in the Pitti Gallery (195 and 44), the case is very similar.

Each man has, like the other two, a dark cap on his head. On neither are there any ears to be seen. The hands, where they are to be seen (44), closely resemble the hands Francia loved to paint, and are soft, fleshy, and without knuckles.

The hair has all the special peculiarities of the other two portraits, not only in its position and arrangement, but in the manner in which it is painted, in the way in which certain loose hairs escape from the others, and in the upward turn. The mouth in all four has the exact bow-shape, so perfectly drawn and almost too accurately curved, that is to be found in almost every full-faced picture by Francia. The eyes in all have the same quiet, reposeful, half-sleepy glance, but thoughtful, steady look, as though they were somewhat conscious of being painted. The two Pitti Gallery portraits also have many points of resemblance in costume, notably in the presence in each of a sort of chequer pattern material, which in one portrait is rose and cream in colour, and in the other black, with dark green and gold, and which also appears in three other works by Francia.

In each case there is the same background, which contains the same trees, hills, and towns, although there are no rocks in it, as in the Scappi and Bianchini portraits.

Of these two Pitti Palace portraits, one is far grander and more sumptuous than the other. The one numbered 44 is of a man in rich apparel trimmed with fur (Plate XLI.), whilst the other is of a man garbed in darker costume (Plate XL.), more serious in his habits and calling than the other. I take the latter to be a notary, as he wears the special biretta that the notaries appear to have worn in the time of Francia, and has the dark, close-fitting dress that they assumed. The other man was very possibly a rich senator.

An old list of the Pitti Gallery calls this latter one ” Messer Lambertini,” and if this is so, as would be very possible, seeing that the Lambertini family was one of the richest and noblest of Bologna at that time, and that, according to Oretti, Francia did paint the portraits of that family (see his reference to them in his list of palaces containing portraits, p. 119), we have another piece of evidence not without its force as to the portrait being by Francia.

The technique of all the portraits is of such close resemblance that, if they are not all by the same man, it is evident that the painter of the two in the Pitti Gallery must have been trained by the man who did the Bianchini and Scappi portraits, and if that were the son of Francia, then the agreement would not be unlikely ; but if all were by the same artist, as I contend, then there is no need to admire the dexterity with which Giacomo copied his father’s technique, but to accept them all as by the same hand.

Girolamo di Casio alludes in some verses of his to two female portraits painted by Francia, but these I am quite unable to trace.

One was, it is evident, of Ippolita, daughter of Carlo Fratello, Duke of Milan, wife of Giovanni Bentivoglio II. and mother of Alessandro Bentivoglio. This was painted for the Church of the Misericordia, and was at one time in the sacristy of that interesting building.

The care that Francia always took in painting the faces of those persons whom he introduced into his pictures proves him to have been no mean expert in this branch of his craft and fully persuaded of its value. The portraits that have now been named will add to the weight of his importance in this direction, and will show that in portraiture he had no equal at that moment in Bologna, and was not a whit behind the very greatest masters of his craft.

Of two interesting portraits that Francia painted we have all the history in the papers and letters that relate to Isabella d’Este.

One was that of the young Prince Frederick her son, who was sent as a hostage to the Papal Court, and placed in the hands of Julius II. His affectionate mother desired to have a portrait of her boy before he left her charge, and the commission was given to Lorenzo Costa, who was at that time attached to the Court at Mantua ; but it was eventually transferred to Francia. The picture was finished on August 10, 1510, and sent to Isabella, who, in a letter which she wrote to Girolamo Costa, expressed her very high appreciation of it, and her great delight at possessing it. She sent thirty ducats of gold to Francia for it, but returned the portrait to the artist, requesting him to touch the hair lightly, as it was too blond in colour.

She never received it back again, for afterwards it was sent to Rome as the father of the youthful Frederick, who was at that time at the Papal Court, desired to show the portrait to the Pope and to many of the Cardinals, and thither it went in November.

On December 12 Francia himself wrote to the Marchioness Isabella, thanking her for the thirty ducats which he had safely received from her, and for the great praise that she had bestowed on the portrait, and offering to carry out any other instructions that she might have as to another picture which she had desired to possess for her boudoir. He signed himself ” Francia, goldsmith at Bologna.”

Again he wrote on January 11, 1511, respecting this same picture, and by this second letter it appears that the size and the subject of this picture had not yet been fixed.

Just at this time Lucrezia Bentivoglio had expressed a great desire to have a portrait of the Marchioness of Mantua, and that it should be painted by Francia ; and the Marchioness was not unwilling to grant the request, but would have preferred that Costa should have the commission, and was evidently very anxious that no special favour should be given to Francia over that shown to his old friend, who was recognised as the painter to the Mantuan Court, for fear of annoyance to Costa, who had done such good work for Isabella in her palace.

Francia did, however, execute the required portrait, but without going to Mantua, as a visit from him to that place might have wounded the susceptibilities of Costa; and the portrait was sent home on October 25, 1511, with a letter written by Francia, signed with a Latin motto, in addition to his own signature, in the classic mannerism that he had adopted : “Nec plura vale et vivas Francia Aurifex.”

Isabella acknowledged the receipt of the portrait of herself, and in her reply to Francia stated that it was more beautiful than life itself.

Neither of these celebrated portraits can at present be traced. My information as to them is taken from Professor Venturi’s paper in the Archivio for July, 1888.

Having now dealt with all the various works that can safely be ascribed to Francia, it will be well to say a few final words on his art and influence.

The influence of Francia does not appear to have extended far beyond his immediate surroundings. His school was a very large one, and he implanted his own ideas very firmly upon his pupils ; but he appears neither to have been touched by the influences of pagan literature that were abroad in his time, nor to have, in his turn, sent any great movement away from Bologna in connection with his art.

He occupies a place apart. His pictures almost without exception are religious ; they betray no special sympathy with the classic or humanistic movement. There is not one of them that is concerned with mythology or pagan story, but all have sacred themes as their subject.

His colouring was always rich, full, and deep. His pathos was never forced, and always assisted by the tone of his colour scheme. His earnestness and purity were very marked ; his tender sympathy, religious devotion, warm-hearted acceptance of the truths of religion, and simple faith were all clear features of his life.

He was possessed of a mastery over his materials which is well shown in every branch of art with which he had to do, and is especially marked when colour is to be taken into account.

He was able to create an emotion, and to move the heart of the spectator in the direction that he desired, whether it be that of sympathy, affection, or sadness.

He never depicted scenes of horror or intensified bodily suffering in his works ; but loved to paint those passages of pure affection, of deep love, of tender pathos, of adoring reverence, or of aspiring hope, in which his heart rejoiced.

He takes a place towards the close of the Renaissance as a great master whose Christian motives were never lost ; who was controlled through all his life by the teaching of his religion ; who never became merely mechanical or formal ; who was always master of his resources, always ready to use them in the service of the Church, in whose teaching he had so profound a belief, and always ready to put not alone his whole heart into his work, but also his whole soul and emotions, in order that the result should be the very best of which he was capable, and a living part of himself.

He must have been very different from many who were round about him, and was perchance looked upon as somewhat old-fashioned and out of date ; but his life —so pure, so gentle, and so true—is taught us by his works, which will ever be cherished by those who are able to appreciate some of the choicest fruits of the close of the Renaissance in Italy.