Spotlight on Francesco Salviati

Exploring the Portrait of Marcus Aurelius and an unfinished legacy

In this Spotlight, we focus on the Italian Mannerist painter Francesco Salviati (1510–1563) and his fascinating Portrait of Marcus Aurelius.

Francesco Salviati, Portrait of Marcus Aurelius, c. 1540

Francesco Salviati, originally Francesco de’ Rossi, was the son of a Florentine velvet weaver. He trained with several painters, culminating in an apprenticeship under the acclaimed Andrea del Sarto (1486–1531). His reputation as a promising young artist earned him an invitation to continue his studies in Rome, where he was sponsored by Cardinal Giovanni Salviati (1490–1553), whose name Francesco adopted thereafter. While Rome would remain his artistic haven, Salviati’s influence as a leading figure of the Florentine–Roman school of painting led him to travel across Italy and even to the French court of Fontainebleau. His oeuvre was strikingly diverse and not confined to a single medium or style, demonstrating his skill in frescoes, altarpieces, and engravings, depicting religious and mythological scenes whilst also being an accomplished portraitist. Salviati’s work had a significant impact on the development of the Mannerist style and helped shape the transition from the High Renaissance to the Baroque in Italian art.

During his time in Venice between 1539 and 1541, Salviati formed friendships with Titian (1485/90?–1576) and authors Pietro Aretino (1492–1556) and Paolo Giovio (1483–1552), prominent members of the intelligentsia at the time. Their friendship is documented in a collection of letters between Aretino and Giovio, which reveals a diplomatic effort by Giovio to persuade Alfonso d’Avalos, Marchese del Vasto (1504–1546), to entrust Salviati with the production of a series of twelve portraits of Roman emperors. This series sought to emulate Titian’s famous ensemble of emperors painted between 1538 and 1540 for Federico Gonzaga, Duke of Mantua (1500–1540), as a sign of his allegiance to the emperor of the modern era, Charles V. When the Marchese’s attempt to engage Titian for a second series proved unsuccessful, Giovio suggested Salviati as an apt alternative. To reassure the Marchese of Salviati’s talent, Giovio likely proposed that the artist present him with the first painting from the series as a sample of his work. This initial canvas, the Portrait of Marcus Aurelius, beautifully captures Salviati’s burgeoning interest in portraiture and signature Mannerist style.

Francesco Salviati, originally Francesco de’ Rossi, was the son of a Florentine velvet weaver. He trained with several painters, culminating in an apprenticeship under the acclaimed Andrea del Sarto (1486–1531). His reputation as a promising young artist earned him an invitation to continue his studies in Rome, where he was sponsored by Cardinal Giovanni Salviati (1490–1553), whose name Francesco adopted thereafter. While Rome would remain his artistic haven, Salviati’s influence as a leading figure of the Florentine–Roman school of painting led him to travel across Italy and even to the French court of Fontainebleau. His oeuvre was strikingly diverse and not confined to a single medium or style, demonstrating his skill in frescoes, altarpieces, and engravings, depicting religious and mythological scenes whilst also being an accomplished portraitist. Salviati’s work had a significant impact on the development of the Mannerist style and helped shape the transition from the High Renaissance to the Baroque in Italian art.

During his time in Venice between 1539 and 1541, Salviati formed friendships with Titian (1485/90?–1576) and authors Pietro Aretino (1492–1556) and Paolo Giovio (1483–1552), prominent members of the intelligentsia at the time. Their friendship is documented in a collection of letters between Aretino and Giovio, which reveals a diplomatic effort by Giovio to persuade Alfonso d’Avalos, Marchese del Vasto (1504–1546), to entrust Salviati with the production of a series of twelve portraits of Roman emperors. This series sought to emulate Titian’s famous ensemble of emperors painted between 1538 and 1540 for Federico Gonzaga, Duke of Mantua (1500–1540), as a sign of his allegiance to the emperor of the modern era, Charles V. When the Marchese’s attempt to engage Titian for a second series proved unsuccessful, Giovio suggested Salviati as an apt alternative. To reassure the Marchese of Salviati’s talent, Giovio likely proposed that the artist present him with the first painting from the series as a sample of his work. This initial canvas, the Portrait of Marcus Aurelius, beautifully captures Salviati’s burgeoning interest in portraiture and signature Mannerist style.

The monumental proportions of Marcus Aurelius’ arms and hand, coupled with the sculptural richness of the all’antica armour, reveal Salviati’s inspiration was drawn directly from the ancient busts of the emperor. Salviati succeeds in conveying a nuanced delicacy through the hint of a smile and highly arched keen eyes, effectively breathing life into the ancient emperor. As the initial canvas for a series of portraits meant to create a visual link between the Marchese’s own position of power and the Roman emperors, thereby transporting the legacy of ancient Rome into the contemporary world, Salviati’s animated depiction of the emperor Marcus Aurelius undeniably meets the brief. Yet, despite the accomplished initial portrait, the series remained incomplete. In 1541, instead of moving to Milan to paint the remaining eleven canvases, Salviati returned to Rome, likely because the patronage in the papal city held more attractive prospects.

Salviati’s Portrait of Marcus Aurelius offers a glimpse into the Marchese’s ambitious decorative program, which would have been a marvel of the day. It also provides visual evidence of one of the most interesting episodes of artistic patronage in the Italian Renaissance courts, richly described in contemporary correspondence.

Spotlight on Francesco Salviati

Exploring the Portrait of Marcus Aurelius and an unfinished legacy

In this Spotlight, we focus on the Italian Mannerist painter Francesco Salviati (1510–1563) and his fascinating Portrait of Marcus Aurelius.

Francesco Salviati, Portrait of Marcus Aurelius, c. 1540

Francesco Salviati, originally Francesco de’ Rossi, was the son of a Florentine velvet weaver. He trained with several painters, culminating in an apprenticeship under the acclaimed Andrea del Sarto (1486–1531). His reputation as a promising young artist earned him an invitation to continue his studies in Rome, where he was sponsored by Cardinal Giovanni Salviati (1490–1553), whose name Francesco adopted thereafter. While Rome would remain his artistic haven, Salviati’s influence as a leading figure of the Florentine–Roman school of painting led him to travel across Italy and even to the French court of Fontainebleau. His oeuvre was strikingly diverse and not confined to a single medium or style, demonstrating his skill in frescoes, altarpieces, and engravings, depicting religious and mythological scenes whilst also being an accomplished portraitist. Salviati’s work had a significant impact on the development of the Mannerist style and helped shape the transition from the High Renaissance to the Baroque in Italian art.

During his time in Venice between 1539 and 1541, Salviati formed friendships with Titian (1485/90?–1576) and authors Pietro Aretino (1492–1556) and Paolo Giovio (1483–1552), prominent members of the intelligentsia at the time. Their friendship is documented in a collection of letters between Aretino and Giovio, which reveals a diplomatic effort by Giovio to persuade Alfonso d’Avalos, Marchese del Vasto (1504–1546), to entrust Salviati with the production of a series of twelve portraits of Roman emperors. This series sought to emulate Titian’s famous ensemble of emperors painted between 1538 and 1540 for Federico Gonzaga, Duke of Mantua (1500–1540), as a sign of his allegiance to the emperor of the modern era, Charles V. When the Marchese’s attempt to engage Titian for a second series proved unsuccessful, Giovio suggested Salviati as an apt alternative. To reassure the Marchese of Salviati’s talent, Giovio likely proposed that the artist present him with the first painting from the series as a sample of his work. This initial canvas, the Portrait of Marcus Aurelius, beautifully captures Salviati’s burgeoning interest in portraiture and signature Mannerist style.

The monumental proportions of Marcus Aurelius’ arms and hand, coupled with the sculptural richness of the all’antica armour, reveal Salviati’s inspiration was drawn directly from the ancient busts of the emperor. Salviati succeeds in conveying a nuanced delicacy through the hint of a smile and highly arched keen eyes, effectively breathing life into the ancient emperor. As the initial canvas for a series of portraits meant to create a visual link between the Marchese’s own position of power and the Roman emperors, thereby transporting the legacy of ancient Rome into the contemporary world, Salviati’s animated depiction of the emperor Marcus Aurelius undeniably meets the brief. Yet, despite the accomplished initial portrait, the series remained incomplete. In 1541, instead of moving to Milan to paint the remaining eleven canvases, Salviati returned to Rome, likely because the patronage in the papal city held more attractive prospects.

Salviati’s Portrait of Marcus Aurelius offers a glimpse into the Marchese’s ambitious decorative program, which would have been a marvel of the day. It also provides visual evidence of one of the most interesting episodes of artistic patronage in the Italian Renaissance courts, richly described in contemporary correspondence.