Francesco Mazzola, called Parmigianino
Portrait of a Man with a Petrarchino

panel; 66 × 51.5 cm
Montecarlo, private collection

Sold at auction as a painting from the “Emilian School” (Sotheby’s, Florence, 18 May 1987, lot 688), the portrait was later convincingly attributed to Pamigianino by Giuseppe Cirillo (1999), later substantiated by more thorough studies carried out by Sylvie Béguin (2001). An interesting confirmation of the attribution comes from a prior opinion expressed by Philip Pouncey in an unpublished letter of 1986 (Béguin 2001). on the other hand, it seems the work cannot be identified, as has been suggested, as the “Portrait of a priest wearing a cap, office in hand, and ring on the right hand, by Parmigianino”, listed in a late-seventeenth century inventory in Pallazzo del Giardino in Parma. Careful research (Gasparotto 2002, pp. 379–386; Denunzio 2002, p. 264) has found this work to correspond to the painting depicting a Portrait of a Man with a Book in the City Art Gallery in York.

On the reverse of Portrait of a Man with a Petrarchino there is an inscription: “1526 a dj p[rim]o. de mazo/ era de an[n]i 28” (Chiusa 2001, p. 188), indicating the probable date when it was painted, although it is hard to confirm it is in the artist’s hand. In assessing the work, Ekserdjian (2005, p. 134) endorses the attribution to Parmigianino, although he notes the quality of the painting is poorer around the area of the hands, while at the same time recognising that the slender fingers are typical of Parmigianino’s style. The unusual and studied addition of the figure’s shadow against the uniformly green ground contributes to the picture’s claustrophobic atmosphere. The book is elegantly bound in leather and is quite clearly a copy of Petrarch’s works. on the back cover can be made out the painted letters “FRANC/P”, which without any doubt stand for the book’s author, who was well known and much loved by Parmigianino (Vaccaro 2002, pp. 21–31). The eye is drawn to the centre of the composition by the play of the figure’s fingers around the book he has just finished reading and is perhaps the cause of melancholy thoughts (Macola 2007, pp. 140–141). The elegance of the pose and the painter’s desire to highlight the cornelian on the right index finger combine to hint that we are observing a cultured reader, a refined gentleman and bibliophile, in the fashion of the day, rather than a prelate (Chiusa 2001, p. 95).

Sergio Momesso