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Francesco Morandini, known as Il Poppi

Portrait of a Man, possibly Francesco I de’ Medici

oil on panel

115.2 x 86 cm

oil on panel

115.2 x 86 cm

Painted by the Florentine Mannerist artist Il Poppi, Portrait of Man was acquired from Nicholas Hall by the Sarah Campbell Blaffer Foundation, Houston.

Rev. John Sanford (1777-1855), Casino Torrigiani, Florence and Connaught Place, London

His sale, London, Christie’s, 9 March 1839, lot 96 (as Andrea del Sarto)

with Martin B. Asscher, London

F. Holland Collection, Llandudno, Wales (as Bronzino)

Private collection, Belgium

London, Christie’s, 3 December 2012, lot 35

Private collection, United Kingdom


Benedict Nicolson, ‘The Sanford Collection’, The Burlington Magazine, July 1955, vol. XCVII, no. 628, pp. 211, 214, cat. no. 48, reproduced fig. 37.


Represented in three-quarter length, the sitter in this portrait is clad in a fur-trimmed coat with a white ruff. Seated by a table covered with a red cloth, he is pointing at the pages of Matthioli’s Commentarii in sex Libros Pedacii Dioscoridis – first edited in Italian in 1544, with a lavishly illustrated Latin edition in 1554, this publication was identified as the supreme authority on Dioscorides – while his arm rests against an armillary sphere. A green drapery is suspended in the background, leaving part of a window visible.

Attributed by Professor Elizabeth Pilliod[1] and Professor Carlo Falciani[2] to Francesco Morandini, called ‘il Poppi’ after his native town, the present work offers an interesting addition to our understanding of the oeuvre of this Florentine mannerist artist. Poppi moved to Florence at a young age and while he started his training with Giorgio Vasari, he became a protégé of Don Vincenzo Borghini, the deputy of the Accademia del Disegno and the artistic advisor to the Medici family. In 1565, Poppi contributed to the decorations for the wedding of Francesco I de’ Medici, Grand Duke of Tuscany. A few years later, he was employed – along with the best painters of his time including Giovanni Battista Naldini, Mirabello Cavalori or Girolamo Macchietti – to decorate Francesco I’s studiolo (1570 – 1575). Working under the direction of his master Giorgio Vasari, Poppi executed ceiling frescoes and two paintings, The Bronze Foundry (Palazzo Vecchio, Florence) and Alexander bestows Campaspe on Apelles (Palazzo Vecchio, Florence).

Despite having trained under Vasari, Poppi’s softer style owed more to the influences of his other contemporaries, particularly Giovanni Battista Naldini. Poppi created idealized faces with squared noses that show a great affinity with Naldini with whom he collaborated on the Studiolo. The modelling of Poppi’s figures with their elongated and convoluted anatomy presents striking resemblances with that of the late-Mannerist artist. Poppi’s technique also seems to be deeply indebted to that of Jacopo Pontormo; using ‘fired’ tones, he masters a similarly expressive and well-balanced colour palette.

Poppi’s activity as a portraitist was fairly extensive and he was commissioned to paint members of some of the leading Florentine families, including his patron Don Vincenzo Borghini at age 55 in 1570 (Staatliche Kunsthalle, Karlsruhe, inv. no. 1755) or Cardinal Alessandro de’ Medici, Archbishop of Florence[3] in around 1580 (Palazzo Arcivescovile, Florence). The latter, though in disastrous condition, bears a strong resemblance to the present portrait both in terms of composition and technique, further corroborating the attribution to the artist.

Though there is no documentary proof that allow retracing the creation of this painting, Professor Pilliod suggests that the sitter could be Francesco I de’ Medici[4], probably portrayed at the end of his life – between 1582 and 1587. The armillary sphere and Matthioli’s Commentarii would attest to the range of Francesco’s interests, which are known to have included cosmography, mathematics, and naturalist sciences to his official duties. Though this assumption cannot be verified, it bears an important hint as to the dating of this picture, that would have been created at about the same time Poppi worked on the similar Cardinal Alessandro de’ Medici, Archbishop of Florence[5].❖

Updated Feb 2024

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