This portrait was long known as ‘Il Cavaliere dal Piede Ferito’ (‘The knight with the wounded foot’). But the brace supporting the man’s left foot suggests he was suffering from foot-drop, a fairly common disorder caused by the failure of the ankle muscles. The way in which his plate armour has been carelessly strewn about is very unusual. The ruined setting may be intended to highlight the sitter’s enduring virtues. His rapier and helmet would have been worn for tournaments rather than for warfare.
The sitter is thought to be Conte Faustino Avogadro of Brescia. It is possible that the portrait was made to hang with Moretto’s Portrait of a Man, dated 1526, which possibly depicts Faustino’s father, Gerolamo II Avogadro. Moroni’s portrait ‘La Dama in Rosso’ may be of Faustino’s wife, Contessa Lucia Albani Avogadro. All three paintings came to the National Gallery from the Avogadro collection.
This portrait was long known as ‘Il Cavaliere dal Piede Ferito’ (‘The knight with the wounded foot’). But the brace supporting the man’s left foot suggests he was suffering from foot-drop, a fairly common disorder caused by the failure of ankle muscles weakened by disease or inflammation. It’s unusual to find a disorder featured so prominently in a sixteenth-century portrait of this type. Perhaps it was regarded as the consequence of a heroic exercise or the man was thought heroic for fighting despite his disability.
The man rests his arm on his helmet and parts of his armour are scattered across the floor. This plate armour is of a type that was made in north Italy in the mid-sixteenth century. The way in which it has been carelessly strewn about in this portrait is very unusual and unexplained. The ruined setting may be intended to highlight the endurance of virtues which the sitter represents.
The sitter is wearing a doublet of unstained, padded leather – known as an arming doublet – to which chain mail is laced to provide protection where there are gaps in the armour. A black satin doublet and white shirt are worn beneath this. The trunks are black and neither puffed nor rounded, which may suggest that the portrait dates to before 1560. The man’s cap of black velvet is decorated with black and white ostrich feathers. His plumed helmet would have been used at a tournament rather than in battle. His sword is a rapier, also for use in tournaments, and is luxuriously inlaid with gold and silver.
The repetition of colours in different parts of the painting is typical of Moroni: the duck-egg blue of the sky also appears in the veins of the marble panels and the rusty stains in the stone pick up the colours of the beard and the doublet. The ivy and brown weeds below the fig tree must be of copper green which has discoloured. The various blacks may have been more easy to distinguish originally: the black trunk, codpiece, hose and shoes all differ in texture.
An inventory of 1715 of the Avogadro collection in Brescia describes this painting as showing Conte Faustino Avogadro. He was married to Lucia Albani (possibly depicted by Moroni in ‘La Dama in Rosso’) and was caught up in the feud between the Brembati and the Albani families that divided Bergamo in the mid-sixteenth century. Faustino may have been implicated in the assassination of Conte Achille Brembati – one of his servants was certainly among those condemned to die for the crime. Faustino went into exile in Ferrara. A year later, in 1564, he fell blind drunk into a well and died.
The composition is similar to Moroni’s Portrait of a Man, probably Michel de l'Hospital, dated 1554 (Ambrosiana, Milan). Here however, the arrangement and lighting are reversed. It is possible that this portrait was made to hang with Moretto’s earlier Portrait of a Man, dated 1526, which may also depict a member of the Avogadro family, possibly Faustino’s father, Gerolamo II Avogadro.
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