Francesco Salviati
(florence 1510 – Rome 1563)


portrait of marcus aurelius  


oil on canvas
126 x 93 cm. (49.6 x 36.6 in.)
c 1540

“He handled colours in oils, in distemper, and in fresco in such a manner, that it may be affirmed that he was one of the most able, resolute, bold, and diligent craftsmen of our age, and to this we, who associated with him for so many years, are well able to bear testimony.”

Giorgio Vasari, Lives of the most eminent painters, sculptors & architects (1912-1915), p. 189

Francesco Salviati was born as Francesco de’ Rossi in Florence in 1510 and was the son of a velvet weaver. He first apprenticed with a goldsmith, but soon pursued his interest in drawing and painting,1 studying under several teachers, including Giuliano Bugiardini (1475-1555), Raffaele Brescianino, and Baccio Bandinelli (1493-1560). His most important teacher was Andrea del Sarto (1486-1530), under whom he and Giorgio Vasari apprenticed in 1529-1530. Vasari and Salviati became very close friends, and travelled to Rome together in 1531, where they collaborated on several projects, including the decoration of the apartments of the Palazzo della Cancelleria with several frescoes.2 Francesco soon became one of the leading fresco painters of the Florentine-Roman school and worked for several ecclesiastical and aristocratic patrons. Francesco even took the name of his most cherished benefactor, Cardinal Giovanni Salviati (1490-1553). During his time in Rome, Francesco came into contact with the work of Michelangelo and throughout his career, Francesco drew on his vocabulary of heavily muscular figures and rich drapery, typical of this Mannerist period.


After spending 7 years in Rome, Francesco made a journey of to Northern Italy, and spent 2 years in Venice and Bologna. He was recommended to several patrons in Venice by Pietro Aretino (1492-1556) and Paolo Giovio (1483-1552),4 among which Alfonso d’Avalos, Marchese del Vasto (1504-1546), who commissioned this newly discovered Portrait of Marcus Aurelius, which was to be the first of a proposed series of twelve imperial portraits. D’Avalos wanted to emulate the now lost series painted by Titian between 1538 and 1540 for Federico Gonzaga, Duke of Mantua (1500-1540). A series of letters describe how Aretino and Giovio urge Salviati to accept this commission and ask him to send an initial canvas as an example of his skill. It is unknown why the series was never completed, but Prof. Carlo Falciani has uncovered in recent research that this portrait can be identified as the first portrait of the series. The highly-arched expressive eyes are typical of Salviati’s Mannerist style and the monumental proportions of Marcus Aurelius’ arms and hand, as well as the sculptural power of the armour all’antica, are evident of Salviati’s inspiration from classical statues.5

Francesco travelled to France from 1554-1555 on the invitation of the Cardinal of Lorraine to work in the Château de Dampierre and then by King Francis I (1494-1547) to work at the Fontainebleau Palace, after which he also painted altarpieces in Paris. He never stayed away from Rome long, where he worked and lived until his death in 1563. Francesco Salviati preferred frescoes to paintings, which is clearly reflected in his oeuvre. Some of his most outstanding frescoes are those of the Sala dell’ Udienza (1544-48) of the Palazzo Vecchio in Florence and the Palazzo Farnese (1555) in Rome, which allowed him to demonstrate his inventive and varied compositions within grandiose works of art.

1. The J. Paul Getty Museum, “Francesco Salviati,” accessed 2 June 2021 from,
2. Benezit Dictionary of Artists, “Rossi, Francesco Salviati del also called Il Cecchino del Salviati or Il Salviati,” accessed on 2 June 2021 from,
3. Encyclopaedia Britannica, “Francesco Salviati,” accessed 1 June 2021 from,
4. Iris H. Cheney, “Francesco Salviati’s North Italian Journey,” The Art Bulletin, Dec., 1963, Vol. 45, No. 4, 338.
5. Prof. Carlo Falciani, in private correspondence, 2020.


(probably) Commissioned by Alfonso d’Avalos, Marchese del Vasto (1504-1546).
Abbot Jean Rossomme collection, Tournai, Belgium, from 1940 onwards, from whom acquired in 1980 by the following;
Mr. Jean Moreau in 1980, Tournai, Belgium;
his sale, Vanderkindere, Brussels, 15 October 2019, lot 226 (as “Anonymous, French School”);
Benappi Fine Art;
The Klesch Collection.

New discovery, unexhibited.

Carlo Falciani, “Un ritrovato ritratto di imperatore di Francesco Salviati per Alfonso d’Avalos,” in Paragone Arte, Anno LXXII, no. 857, Terza Serie 158, July 2021.

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