RAFFAELLO Sanzio
(b. 1483, Urbino, d. 1520, Roma)

Portrait of Cardinal Bibbiena

c. 1516
Oil on canvas, 85 x 66,3 cm
Galleria Palatina (Palazzo Pitti), Florence

At around 1516 Raphael was much sought after by priests and cardinals who competed in the decoration of their mansions in Rome. Cardinal Bernardo Dovizi da Bibbiena undoubtedly had more contact with Raphael than any of his colleagues. Cardinal Bibbiena, the private secretary of Leo X, was the most powerful man at the papal court. He was, in addition, a cultured writer and humanist, and (like Leo X) a passionate scholar of classical antiquity. He even wrote a comedy, "La Calandria." His trust in Raphael is demonstrated by many important commissions. His niece even became engaged to Raphael, but she died before the wedding and Raphael remained unmarried.

Raphael painted a portrait of the Cardinal which clearly expressed his shrewd and malicious spirit and his taste for beautiful things and fine living. The attribution of the portrait (now in the Pitti Gallery) is not certain, but the composition and the characteristic use of white and red suggest Raphael's hand. However, the rendering seems more rigid than in the paintings certainly painted by Raphael. Some critics therefore attribute it to a pupil of Raphael, or suspect that it may be a copy of an original which might have been lost.