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

Portrait of a Cardinal

Oil on wood, 79 x 61 cm
Museo del Prado, Madrid

The red cape and hat identify the figure as a cardinal, but his identity has remained unknown. It might be Cardinal Francesco Alidosi, whom the humanist Bembo described with the cutting words, "Faith meant nothing to him, nor religion, nor trustworthiness, nor shame, and there was nothing in him that was holy."

This painting was once considered a work of the mature painter. But it has recently been dated 1510-1511 on the basis of its composition which resembles those of the Portraits of Agnolo and Maddalena Doni and the Mute Woman. The pose is identical: the figure is turned three-quarters out and the arm nearest the viewer defines the lower limit of the picture space. The Cardinal's right eye is particularly striking in its three-dimensional modelling, and its clear expression. The convex shape of the eyeball is clearly defined in its socket, the eyelid coming down at a slight angle over the moistly gleaming pupil. The sitter's gaze is so direct it is difficult to meet it. This unknown figure was probably one of the more important people in the papal court, for his portrait - with the same penetrating look - is to be found on the left-hand side of the Disputa in the Stanza della Segnatura.

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