This recently rediscovered portrait of Santi di Tito depicts a Florentine senator, with a letter in his hand indicating that the painting was executed in 1574 when the sitter was 66 years old. On the basis of these clues, it is tempting to view it as a portrait of Bartolomeo Panciatichi, who was painted some thirty years before by Bronzino (1503 - 1572). While the treatment of the hands recalls the Florentine tradition of Mannerist portraits, the comparison with Bronzino's portrait illustrates Santi di Tito's search for greater realism, despite the stereotyped composition.
- Santi di Tito, Counter-Reformation painter and portraitist
Santi di Tito was the great painter of the Florentine Counter-Reformation. He proposed a new artistic language that broke away from Mannerism.
Little is known about his training in Florence (perhaps alongside Bronzino or Baccio Bandinelli), but this period of training enabled him to join the Company of Saint Luke, the guild of Florentine painters, in 1554. Between 1560 and 1564, Santi di Tito spent time in Rome, where he frequented the workshop of Taddeo Zuccari. This stay had a fundamental influence on his work, thanks to the discovery of the late work of Raphael, but also his encounters with the painters Francesco Salviati and Federico Barocci.
Around 1565, Santi di Tito returned to Florence, where he remained until the end of his life, dividing his talents between the creation of important religious paintings and countless portraits. He became one of the city's leading painters, distinguishing himself, in particular, in the creation of large religious compositions in which the spirit of the Counter-Reformation was reflected.
In 1568, Santi di Tito became a member of the Confraternity of Saint Thomas Aquinas, whose members were faithful observers of the principles developed during the Council of Trent. Around 1574 (the year of our portrait) he produced one of his masterpieces, The Resurrection, for the Basilica of Santa Croce in Florence in which he departed from previous Florentine works by offering a representation close to the sacred texts, free of any lascivious or purely ornamental elements.
His style, marked by the Florentine preference for drawing, continued to evolve towards a luminous and naturalistic painting that inspired the painters of the following generation.
- Santi di Tito as a portraitist
Despite, or perhaps because of, the scale of his production and unlike his religious paintings, Santi di Tito's portraits have not been the subject of a monographic study to date. It has been established that Santi di Tito ran an extremely active workshop in the production of portraits, benefiting both from Medici commissions and those of the great Florentine families. The inventory of Santi di Tito's possessions, drawn up after his death on 5 November 1603 , includes a long list of portraits that testify to the importance of this activity.
This multiplication of the portrait in the second half of the 16th century reflects the political evolution of Florence in which Cosimo 1er (who died in 1574, the year of our portrait) established a court with a hierarchical organisation. Florentine society was transformed from a republican and bourgeois society into an aristocratic one, in which the great families imitated the Medici grand-ducal family and commissioned numerous portraits, often intended to constitute galleries of ancestors.
One of the characteristics of Santi di Tito's portraits is the psychological description of the characters, beyond the illustration of social status through the choice of clothes and objects represented. Two other portraits of senators by Santi di Tito are known, demonstrating the Florentine interest in these ceremonial portraits.
- Description of the portrait
Our senator is depicted in a three-quarter view, in an architectural setting that could be his study. He is dressed in the ceremonial garb of the Florentine senators: a midnight blue jacket covered by a chasuble with red piping, consisting of a transparent gauze in front and a fabric of the same colour as the jacket, lined with a red cloth, in the back. The treatment of the transparent gauze is of great fluidity. Through the undulations he gives to the chasuble, the painter manages to translate the life that animates this imposing body.
Our senator holds a folded letter in his right hand his wrist resting on a table draped in green cloth, while in his left hand he has a pair of gloves. Two other objects are on the table to his right: a book with ornate edges, whose delicate clasp can be seen, and on which rests a quadrangular beret.
As is often the case with similar letters, it provides us with some background information on this painting. Although the name of the model is not given, we know from the inscription "annus aetatis suae 66 - PAD 1574" that he is a 66-year-old man, depicted in 1574. Our attention is drawn to his imperious gaze; the photograph makes his face even more imposing, as it is slightly elongated so that it can be seen without distortion from below.
This portrait strikes a balance between imitation (imitare) and portraiture (ritrarre). The great physical presence of the model evoked by his imposing stature, the accuracy of the proportions and the naturalistic touch of the rendering of the beard establishes a balance with the symbolic significance of the garment (which clearly indicates the model's function), and of the only element of decoration (a book placed on the table, which could be a bible or a book of prayer).
- Stylistic analysis
While several elements link this portrait to the Florentine pictorial tradition developed by the Mannerist artists, the more naturalistic rendering of the face demonstrates Santi di Tito's stylistic evolution.
The ideal space in which our character is represented is very modern, full of clarity and perfect simplicity, with a certain sophistication. Beyond a foreground delimited by a pillar on the right is a concave space which encloses our character. This architectural space follows the Florentine tradition developed during the sixteenth century, according to which portraits stand out against an architectural background, and no longer against a landscape (as, for example, in the portrait of Bartolomeo Panciatichi by Bronzino, which we will present later).
The very refined treatment of the hands links our painting to the Mannerist tradition, and in particular to the art of Bronzino or Allori, as illustrated by comparing the right hand of our senator with the left hand of the young man portrayed around 1560 by Alessandro Allori:
The position of our senator, with his left arm slightly bent along his body and his right hand resting on the table, is the prototype of a composition that Santi di Tito would repeat many times for official portraits, such as those made in 1589 for Christine of Lorraine, on the occasion of her marriage to Ferdinando I, or the one of Marie de Medici, made at the very end of the 16th century, before her departure for the French throne.
One last detail is interesting because it reveals the evolution of Santi di Tito's style towards naturalism - and thus his move away from mannerism. The treatment of our senator's beard, at once very elaborate and very free, is close to that of one of Guido Guardi's two sons, in a famous portrait of Santi di Tito with the three men, probably completed in the 1570s-1580s.
- Proposed identification of the model
In 1722, Giuseppe Manni published a collection entitled Serie de' senatori fiorentini, which gives the main chronological references of all the members of the Senate of the Forty-Eight since the creation of this institution in 1532.
Only three senators meet the conditions and could fit as sitter for our portrait: they must be born between 1507 and 1508, to be 66 years old in 1574. The first is Bartolomeo Panciatichi, born on 21 June 1507 and deceased on 23 October 1582. The other was Giovanni Ugolini, born on 11 May 1508 and deceased on 18 August 1588. Elected senator in 1540, he was commissioner of Cortona and appointed ambassador to His Holiness Pope Gregory XIII in 1572, which seems to exclude the painting of his portrait by Santi di Tito in Florence in 1574. As for Simone Corsi (8 December 1508 - 31 March 1587, elected senator in 1556), his birthday seems too close to the end of the year to allow the delivery of his portrait in 1574.
The Bartolomeo Panciatichi hypothesis seems the most interesting to us, especially since around 1545 he posed for a famous portrait by Bronzino in which we find a number of common characteristic features.
While it is always difficult to recognise a friend in a photo taken thirty years earlier, it is certainly even more difficult to recognise a stranger, portrayed by two different painters thirty years apart.
However, we recognise the shape of the nose, the rather high cheekbones, the finely arched eyebrows and the same position of the ear in both portraits, despite the difference in the pose, which is more frontal with Bronzino. We also find the same bifid beard, whitened by time.
It is questionable whether the elegant hat in Bronzino's portrait is not a cover for incipient baldness. The beret placed on the table thirty years later could then be interpreted as another naturalistic element, the model accepting himself as he is and agreeing to give an image as close as possible to physical reality.
Finally, it is interesting to compare the two expressions, and the evolution between the distanced and questioning gaze of the young man portrayed by Bronzino and the intense and slightly distressed gaze of the elderly man painted by Santi di Tito.
- Some biographical information on Bartolomeo Panciatichi
Born on 21 June 1507 in Lyons, where his father had commercial interests, the young Bartolomeo entered the court of Francis I as a page. His ties with France were destined to last, as Cosimo I later appointed Bartolomeo as ambassador on diplomatic missions to the king he had once served, and then to Henry II.
Bartolomeo studied in Padua between 1529 and 1531, then in Lyons, where he came into contact with French reformist circles. In 1534, Bartolomeo married Lucrezia di Gismondo Pucci and the couple moved to Lyons, not returning to Florence until the late 1530s. Travel between Florence and France is documented in 1539, 1547, 1549 and 1552, but was undoubtedly more frequent. The Panciatichi couple's interest in the doctrines of the Reformation led to their being tried for Lutheran heresy in 1552 and having to publicly recant. They adhered to strict Catholic orthodoxy after their abjuration.
Bartolomeo Panciatichi developed fairly close contacts with the literary world, not limited to Florence, as evidenced by his friendship with Pietro Aretino based in Venice. Known to his contemporaries mainly as a Latin poet, Bartolomeo joined the Accademia degli Umidi on 2 January 1541, a few weeks before Bronzino, and shortly before the group became the Accademia Fiorentina. His portrait is part of a group of five paintings commissioned by Bartolomeo from Bronzino between 1540 and 1545: three religious scenes, two Holy Families and a Crucified Christ inspired by reformist ideas, and two portraits of him and his wife.
Appointed senator in 1567, Bartolomeo Panciatichi pursued a political career thereafter, becoming commissioner of Pistoia in 1568 and of Pisa in 1578.
The choice of a book as the only accessory in his portrait by Santi di Tito is doubly moving: it obviously evokes the intellectual, but the presence of clasps on the sides indicates that it is probably more of a religious book and testifies to his deep Christian faith.
The majesty of this portrait is enhanced by its framing in a beautiful late 16th century gilded wood cassetta frame which is probably its original frame.
The probable identification of the sitter of this portrait as Bartolomeo Panciatichi opens a fascinating field of analysis. While it is quite exceptional to have two portraits of a Renaissance man painted within 30 years of each other, Santi di Tito's path, moving away from the seductions of mannerism towards more realistic images, follows the personal evolution of the model. From the haughty and seductive appearance of a man in his thirties he becomes an elderly man, who displays his full humanity in front of us, despite his political power.
Main bibliographical references :
Giuseppe Manni Serie de' senatori fiorentini - 1722 Florence
Carlo Falciani and Antonio Natali Bronzino. Artist and Poet at the Court of the Medici - 2010 Mandragora
Carlo Falciani and Antonio Natali -The Cinquecento in Florence - "Modern Manner" and Counter-Reformation - 2017 Mandragora
Keith Christiansen and Carlo Falciani - The Medici Portraits and Politics 1512 -1570 - 2021 The Metropolitan Museum of Art - New York
 Published by Julian Brooks Santi di Tito's studio: the contents of his house and workshop in 1603 - the Burlington Magazine 144 - 2002
 We have retained the modern spelling of the name Bartolomeo - Manni speaks of Bartolommeo Panciatichi.