Book Series Irreplaceable Portraits, vol. 2

Painters and Sitters in Early-Seventeenth Century Rome

Portraits of the Soul

Esther Theiler

  • Pages: 336 p.
  • Size:220 x 280 mm
  • Illustrations:6 b/w, 146 col.
  • Language(s):English
  • Publication Year:2023

  • ISBN: 978-2-503-59083-7
  • Hardback
  • Available

Portraits of poets, courtiers, buffoons and the artists themselves are examined in the context of the development of portraiture and the cultural environment of early seicento Rome.


Esther Theiler holds a PhD in Art History and is currently an independent scholar working in the areas of seventeenth century art history, nineteenth to twentieth century art history, portraiture and literature.


Significant innovations in portraiture occurred during the transitional period from the end of the sixteenth-century to the early seventeenth-century in Rome. Portraits by Annibale Carracci, Valentin de Boulogne, Anthony van Dyck, Simon Vouet and Gianlorenzo Bernini display a loosening of formality and a trend towards movement. These artists produced a portrait type that was more inclusive of the viewer, more communicative, more revealing of a private face. The portraits in this study were less likely to celebrate achievements, family or social standing, titles, rank or station. Instead they portray individuals who exist apart from their professional personae. They reveal unique and characteristic traits of their subjects captured at a particular moment in time. They used subtle affetti, painting technique and colour to express mood and atmosphere and evoke the presence of the sitter. The sitters include poets, courtiers, buffoons and the artists themselves, and each composition is attentive to the thoughts, emotions and imaginative life of the individuals.



List of Illustrations

The image breathes
Rhetorical devices in portraiture
The “motions of the mind”: painting the soul
From the Renaissance to the Baroque

Chapter One
A portrait “most rarely done full face” of a learned prelate
Early seicento portraiture in Rome
Venice and colorito
Caravaggio and Annibale: “the new baroque illusionism”
The “proximity and close association of the Monsignore and Annibale”
Domenichino and Agucchi
Agucchi’s imprese: textual expressions of identity
Erminia and the Shepherds
Venere Dormiente – The Sleeping Venus
The portrait of Giovanni Battista Agucchi
Annibale Carracci as portraitist
Annibale’s illness
Domenichino and portrait painting
Del Mezzo: yearning for the middle
Il Trattato della Pittura
A portrait by Annibale Carracci or Domenichino?

Chapter Two
Painting as silent poetry: portraits of Giambattista Marino
From decorum to modernità
Ut pictura poesis
Dicerie Sacre
La Galeria
Rome: “with trembling feet, I leave behind myself”
Early Roman portraits Caravaggio’s portrait: “another me . . . in two divided”
Paris: the portrait by Frans Pourbus “is very dear to me”
Marino’s triumphant return to Rome: “music always, and always poetry, morning and evening”
Ottavio Leoni’s portraits of writers
Maffeo Barberini’s circle of poets
portraits of the soul
“There are thousands of portraits of me in Rome”: Simon Vouet’s lost portrait
The “speaking portrait” in Rome
Virginio Cesarini: Fenice degl’ingegni
Portrait of a buffoon

Chapter Three
The upside-down world
The parasite
The buffoon portrait in the Renaissance: the “good-natured fool”
The sixteenth century: “the princely tables are cluttered with buffoons”
Gabriele Paleotti: “deformity not deformedly rendered”
The seventeenth century: the individual in buffoon portraits
Hairy Harry, Mad Peter, and Tiny Amon: court mascots and servants in an urban Arcadia
Giangiovetta and the dwarf of the duke of Créqui
Raffaello Menicucci: the buffoon count of Monte San Savino
Celeberrimus in utroque Orbe Terrarum: the printed portraits of Raffaello Menicucci
Valentin de Boulogne
Il Cassero: Rocca del Conte
Valentin, il Babuino and Menicucci
Tristano Martinelli: from buffoon to actor
Bernardino Ricci: Il Tedeschino
The “self” portrait: the life makes the age

Chapter Four
Artist as virtuoso
“Done with the aid of a mirror”
Narcissus: “as he drank, he chanced to spy the image of his face”
The reflection of the Creator
Why paint self-portraits?
Annibale Carracci’s Self-portrait on an Easel
Artemisia Gentileschi: “the soul of this woman”
Simon Vouet: absolute absorption
Gian Lorenzo Bernini: showing that which does not exist
Velázquez in Rome: brushwork and the blur
The expressive power of the brush

“Here I am”

Appendix I
Appendix II
Appendix II

Primary and Secondary Sources

Photographic Credits



Key Subjects and Concepts

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