ZUCCHI, Jacopo
(b. ca. 1540, Firenze, d. ca. 1596, Roma)

Portrait of a Lady

1570s
Oil on panel, 49,5 x 37,8 cm
Galleria Nazionale d'Arte Antica, Rome

Jacopo Zucchi was an assistant to Giorgio Vasari, whose style he initially copied. In Rome, the light-dark painting of Caravaggio impressed him, while compositional solutions can in part be traced to Bartholomeus Spranger, who was resident in Rome.

This painting is an example of the Flemish-influenced style of portraiture of the second half of the sixteenth century that was dubbed the "international court style". Formerly given to Pulzone, the painting was attributed to Zucchi in 1974. It probably depicts Clelia Farnese, the illegitimate daughter of Cardinal Alessandro Farnese (b. 1556) who married Gian Giorgio Cesarini in 1570 and, when widowed shortly thereafter, Marco Pio di Savoia. Famous for her beauty, she was also the lover of Cardinal Ferdinando de' Medici. The large golden necklace that the young woman wears bears both the heraldic lily of the Farnese family and the bear, the heraldic device of the Cesarini. Thus while the portrait functions as a record of Clelia's features, it is more than anything else a socially coded message of status.

An autograph replica in a larger format was once in the Poggi collection in Rome and a portrait with similar iconography exists in the Spark collection in New York. The latter work shows a young woman with a different costume, but a similar hairstyle and the same precision in the rendering of the details of jewels and lace. The hypothesis has been advanced that Zucchi's two paintings, The Age of Gold and The Age of Silver (Uffizi Gallery, Florence) might be connected to the Palazzo Barberini painting and the Spark portrait. According to the theory, the allegorical panels may have been carried out for Cardinal de' Medici as covers to these two portraits of his lover. Zucchi would paint Clelia again on another occasion, depicting her as St Helen in his canvas of the Exaltation of the Cross in the Roman church of Santo Spirito in Sassia.