A cardinal sits in a red velvet chair decorated with gold braid. One of his hands lies on the arm rest, the other holds his cardinal’s biretta (hat) on his knee. Behind him is a bookcase, the shelves of which are lined with very large leather-bound volumes.
The sitter is identified by the inscription along the spines of the books as Carlo Cerri (1611–1690), Dean of the supreme ecclesiastical tribunal, or ‘Rota’. The Rota is the highest ecclesiastical court set up by the Holy See for judicial trials in the Catholic Church.
Cerri was created Cardinal, Bishop of Ferrara and Legate of Urbino on 29 November 1669 by Pope Clement IX. The portrait was probably painted soon after this date, but before 1679, when Clouwet, who made an engraving of the portrait, died. The inscription on the books refers to Cerri’s most important work, the Decisiones Rotae (Judgements of the Rota).
The sitter is identified by the inscription along the spines of the books: ‘Decis Ro (lettering partly obscured by the chair back) / Decis. Rot. Rom Pena t (the final letters obscured by the sitter’s cape) / Decis Rot. Card Cerri‘. This is Carlo Cerri (1611–1690), Dean of the supreme ecclesiastical tribunal, or ’Rota‘. The Rota is the highest ecclesiastical court set up by the Holy See for judicial trials in the Catholic Church. It is called Rota (‘wheel’ in Latin) because the court originally met in a circular room to hear cases. The pope himself is the supreme ecclesiastical judge.
Cerri is portrayed three-quarter length, his body turned toward the right but his face looking directly at us. His greying beard and thinning, receding hair suggest that he is in his late 50s. He is brightly lit from the top left, creating a strong shadow to the right of his nose and a bright highlight along its bony length, which the artist has suggested with a long expressive sweep of white. The crimped pleats of Cerri’s white rochet (robe) and the lace of his sleeves have been painted rapidly with fluid, unblended brushstrokes, which create a particularly beautiful effect. Cerri’s character and expression have been sensitively captured, suggesting sharp intelligence but with the slightest hint of a smile.
The painting is in superb condition and has never been lined (backed by another canvas). It is almost certainly the picture attributed to ’Maratti' (Carlo Maratta or Maratti) that was recorded in the apartment of Cardinal Girolamo Colonna in Palazzo Colonna, Rome, in an inventory of about 1763. However, Clouwet’s engraving definitively identifies Jakob Voet as the painter of this portrait. Voet was a Flemish portraitist who worked in Rome, Paris and Antwerp. He painted portraits of a number of cardinals in Rome, and his portrait of Cardinal de Retz is also in the National Gallery’s collection.
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