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Scipione Pulzone, Portrait of a Cardinal

Key facts
Full title Portrait of a Cardinal
Artist Scipione Pulzone
Artist dates active 1569; died 1598
Date made about 1575-98
Medium and support Oil on tin-plated copper
Dimensions 94.3 × 71.8 cm
Inscription summary Signed
Acquisition credit Bought, 1879
Inventory number NG1048
Location Not on display
Collection Main Collection
Previous owners
Portrait of a Cardinal
Scipione Pulzone

This portrait is one of the earliest and largest known examples of a painting on tinned copper, and the only portrait. The subject is commonly identified as Cardinal Giacomo Savelli (1522–1587), who was made a cardinal at 16 and became Vicar General of Rome in 1560. There is a smaller version of this portrait on canvas in the Galleria Nazionale in Rome, where the artist is identified as Scipio Pulzone. The National Gallery’s version was probably the first of the two to be painted.

Pulzone, known as ‘Il Gaetano’, was famous for his meticulously naturalistic and rather austere ecclesiastical and aristocratic portraits. The texture of the paint here is used to great effect, with the line of a vein on the forehead marked out by small pinched dents in the wet paint, and points of white paint mimicking the way that the lace on the sleeve would catch the light.

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