A young man gazes past us and into the distance, his hand resting on a marble shelf. We don‘t know who he is, but he holds a scroll bearing his age (20), the date (1494) and a monogram, apparently ’AMPRF‘. This is probably an early portrait by the Milanese painter Marco d’Oggiono, a pupil of Leonardo da Vinci, and there are many similarities between this painting and Leonardo’s La Belle Ferronière (Louvre, Paris).
Like Leonardo, d'Oggiono seems to have been experimenting with novel painting techniques. Very unusually for panel painting there is no gesso ground (a common preparatory layer), only a thick layer of lead white pigment in oil. The distinctive ashen hue of the flesh is partly the result of large amounts of charcoal black in the shadows, but it has been exacerbated by the fading of the red lake pigment that would have given a warmer tone.
A young man gazes past us and into the distance, his hand resting on a marble shelf. We don‘t know who he is, but he holds a scroll bearing his age (20), the date (1494) and a monogram, apparently ’AMPRF‘. This is probably an early portrait by the Milanese painter Marco d’Oggiono, a pupil of Leonardo da Vinci, and it gives us a firm date for works produced under Leonardo’s influence.
This painting was traditionally known as ‘The Archinto Portrait’. It was in the Archinto Palace in Milan, and was once thought to show Francesco di Bartolomeo Archinto. Francesco died in 1551, and was possibly born in 1494, though we can‘t be sure of this. The portrait was formerly attributed to Giovanni Ambrogio de Predis, as the monogram was thought to be a contraction of Ambrosio Preda Fecit (’Ambrosio Preda made this‘). But the monogram has to be interpreted with caution: the letters M and R are certainly there, but the horizontal strokes of the A and F are in a different paint, and may have been done at a different time.
Marco d’Oggiono developed a distinctive style, following and slightly exaggerating his master’s innovations in composition and technique. There are similarities between this painting and Leonardo’s La Belle Ferronière (Louvre, Paris), which was painted at about the same date: the marble shelf, the dark background and pale face, the coolly watchful gaze and the turn of the body so that one shoulder is further back. Some of these features are also seen in Girl with Cherries (Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York), probably also by Marco d‘Oggiono.
Like Leonardo, Marco d’Oggiono seems to have been experimenting with novel painting techniques. Very unusually for painting on panel, there is no gesso ground, only a thick layer of lead white pigment in oil. It isn‘t possible to see any underdrawing, except for a few lines around the hand, in part due to the large amounts of charcoal black in the paint layer. There is no darker under-modelling that contributes to the tone seen at the surface, and shadows were created by the use of dark grey paint applied on the general pink colour of the flesh. This has resulted in the distinctive ashen hue, which has probably been exacerbated by the fading of the red lake pigment and so may not be entirely intentional.
The painting has suffered from drying cracks, especially in the bright blue doublet. There’s a very thick layer of blue paint, made using the very expensive pigment ultramarine mixed with lead white, on top of a layer layer made with the pigment azurite (which was valuable but usually cheaper than ultramarine). The ultramarine in the upper layer has blanched, making the drapery appear flat and without modelling; the artist was using pigments he didn’t know would later change in colour. With a stereomicroscope, red fibres can be seen in the hat, because shreds of textiles were used to make one of the pigments (red lake) used to paint it. While it now looks almost black, the mix of red lake, azurite and lead white pigments would have given it an intense purple colour.
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