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Giovanni Battista Caselli, Poet from Cremona
Anguissola, Sofonisba
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Anguissola, Sofonisba

Cremona (Italy), 1535 - Palermo (Italy), 1625

See author's file

Giovanni Battista Caselli, Poet from Cremona

1557 - 1558. Oil on canvas.
On display elsewhere

The identification of this elderly gentleman sitting at a desk in his study is borne out by the inscription on the fore edge of the book he is writing in, which displays the words "rime del casellio". Giovanni Battista Caselli was a poet and medal engraver who enjoyed certain prominence in Cremona during his lifetime, though there is little reliable information about him today. Nevertheless, Caselli’s social significance in the mid-sixteenth century would explain why his portrait was included in the gallery of distinguished men decorating the cubicolo (bedroom) of the home of the canon Pietro Antonio Lanzoni, il Tolentino. As was customary in the period, the picture gallery featured likenesses of emperors, philosophers, orators, and poets, and also included prominent people of contemporary Cremona, members of artistic and literary circles which canon Lanzoni likewise frequented. Sofonisba and her sister Lucia Anguissola (c. 1537-c. 1565) were involved in the project. Both young women were celebrities in the city: their family background, sex, and excellent portraiture skills earned them a reputation locally. Lucia was commissioned to execute the no longer extant portrait of the poet and military architect Benedetto Ala. Sofonisba was entrusted with this picture of Caselli, which was painted shortly before she left for the Spanish court and attests to the degree of artistic maturity she had attained by then.

The composition, structure, colouring, and even the dimensions and format are similar to those of the portrait of An Old Man (Stamford, The Burghley House Collection, PIC 323). Sofonisba painted around the same time. Both works show the subject seated in his study, a setting whose only spatial reference is the writing desk draped with a patterned Anatolian rug of the type known as "Holbein" or "Lotto" carpet. Indeed, both likenesses display parallels with Venetian and Lombard models, especially a few works by Lorenzo Lotto (c. 1480-1556/57), such as the Portrait of a Dominican Friar (possibly Marcantonio Luciani) in the Musei Civici in Treviso, signed by Lotto in 1526.

Sofonisba demonstrates she is a keenly observant painter capable of describing details such as the books and Caselli’s hands and head with subtle realism. The execution is based on meticulous drawing and precise, neat dabs of paint that define the sitter’s facial features and, above all, convey his psychological depth. The poet’s intense but constrained expression indicates that Sofonisba used the models of her master Bernardino Campi (1522-1591) but improved on them. Comparison with the portrait of Castellano Cotta in the Museo Civico in Cremona, executed by Campi around 1542, reveals the connection and also the qualitative leap achieved by Sofonisba, who possessed an astounding ability to engage the spectator with the sitter.

The poet looks up from his work -writing praise for the Virgin- and points with his left hand to the small picture of the Virgin and Child with the infant Saint John hanging on the background wall. The text is written in Italian in elegant humanist miniscule. On top of the other books piled on the table is a small armillary sphere that was concealed by a portable crucifix until the canvas was cleaned in 2011. This overpaint, which must have been applied after the contents of Tolentino’s gallery were dispersed at an unknown date, extended to the table covering and the clothing worn by Caselli, who, as revealed by X-radiography, originally sported a shirt and a dressing-gown, a comfortable garment worn around the house. The gown was painted over with a brown coarse woollen cloak and Caselli thus became Saint Peter the Apostle. This is how he is identified in the inventories of the Marquis of Leganés, who must have acquired the painting during his stint as governor of Milan from 1635 to 1641. The attribution to Sofonisba was maintained in these inventories: "Saint Peter writing and a Virgin with the Son and Saint John, by the hand of a Genoese woman who was lady-in-waiting to the Infanta Doña Isabel, three palms high and two thirds of a vara wide, the lady [being] Sofonisba". The Leganés Collection later passed to that of the Count of Altamira (1753), where it was allocated number 377 (visible at the lower edge of the canvas), and in 1856 it appeared in the collection of José de Madrazo.

Ruiz Gómez, Leticia, 'Sofonisba Anguissola. Giovanni Battista Caselli, poeta de Cremona' En:. Historia de dos pintoras: Sofonisba Anguissola y Lavinia Fontana, Madrid, Museo Nacional del Prado, 2019, p.127 nº.19

Technical data

Inventory number
Anguissola, Sofonisba
Giovanni Battista Caselli, Poet from Cremona
1557 - 1558
Height: 77.7 cm; Width: 61.4 cm
Pietro Antonio Tolentino, 1568; First Marquis of Leganés collection, 1637; Count of Altamira collection, 1753; José de Madrazo collection, 1856; Marquis of Salamanca collection, 1868; acquired by the State for the Prado Museum in 2012

Bibliography +

Zava, F., Orationes IV. Epistolae libri VIII et carmina., III, Cremona, 1569, pp. 85-86.

Catálogo de la galería de cuadros del Sr. José de Madrazo, Imprenta de Cipriano López, 1856.

Pillet, Charles, Catalogue des tableaux anciens composant la Galerie de M. le M. de Salamanca, Paris, 1867.

Sacchi, F., Notizie pittoriche cremonesi, Cremona, 1872, pp. 17, 334.

Ilustración artística: periódico semanal de literatura, artes y ciencias, Ilustración artística, 412, 1889.18.11, pp. 380.

López Navío, José Luis, La gran coleccion de pinturas del Marqués de Leganés, Analecta Calasanctiana, XVI, 1962, pp. 259-330 [285].

Guazzoni, V., Donna pittrice e gentildonna. La nascita di un mito femminile del Cinqueccento, En Sofonisba Anguissola e le sue sorelle (cat. exp.), Leonardo Arte, 1994, pp. 65-66.

Pérez Preciado, J. J., El marqués de Leganés y las artes (Tesis doctoral inédita), Universidad Complutense de Madrid, 2009.

Ruiz Gómez, Leticia, Sofonisba Anguissola 'Giovanni Battista Caselli, poeta de Cremona', Mº de Educación, Cultura y Deporte, Madrid, 2013, pp. 36-38.

Sebastián Lozano, Jorge, Sofonisba Anguissola. Una mirada femenina en la corte. En:, Fundación Amigos Museo del Prado, Madrid, 2013, pp. 185-206 [188-189].

Mena Marqués, M.; Albarrán, V., Azúa, F. de, La belleza cautiva. Pequeños tesoros del Museo del Prado, Museo del Prado - Obra Social ''La Caixa'', Barcelona, 2014, pp. 77.

Prado captive beauty: treasures from the Prado Museum, Mitsubishi Ichigokan Museum, 2015, pp. n.101.

Ruiz Gómez, Leticia, 'Sofonisba Anguissola. Giovanni Battista Caselli, poeta de Cremona' En:, Historia de dos pintoras: Sofonisba Anguissola y Lavinia Fontana, Museo Nacional del Prado, Madrid, 2019, pp. 127 nº.19.

L'ora dello Spettatore : come le immagini ci usano, Campisano Editore,, 2020, pp. 160-162 nº 7.

Other inventories +

Inventario colección del I Marqués de Leganés. Núm. 357.

Inv. Nuevas Adquisiciones (iniciado en 1856). Núm. 2833.

Inscriptions +

+ . 377 . +
Inscribed in white. Front, lower central area

Front, lower left corner

Inscribed in brown color. Front, left side

Vergine sagra madre unica [...] / Di quel chi regge e [...] la mia / [...]rro a te ch[e] senza te no [...] / Poi che al ben far, non ho che mi [...] / Tu sei colei che sempre s’asotiglia / In porger gratie al stato nostro / Per tanto l’alma mia chi ua in dis[...] / Qualche rimedio in suo secorso [...] / Tu fatta fosti, per salute nostra / Con te potra mai Dio gratia / Volendo tu se in te sol si dir[...] / Peró uolgi tuo figlio a perdona[...] / Ogni mio errore e al ri[...] / Accio possia al mio [...]
Inscribed in black. Front, left side

José A de Rebollo [rúbrica]
Inscribed. Back, Upper area

Exhibitions +

Sofonisba - History's forgotten miracle
03.09.2022 - 22.01.2023

The Moment of the Beholder: the Visual Agency of Painting between the 16th and the 18th Centuries
26.11.2020 - 05.04.2021

Historia de dos pintoras: Sofonisba Anguissola y Lavinia Fontana
22.10.2019 - 02.02.2020

Meta-painting. A Journey to the Idea of Art
15.11.2016 - 19.02.2017

Captive Beauty. Treasures from The Prado Museum
10.10.2015 - 31.01.2016

Captive Beauty. Small Treasures at the Prado Museum
16.07.2014 - 05.01.2015

Location +

Niva - Nivaagaard Collection (Temporary Exhibition)

Displayed objects +

Instruments, Astronomy





Update date: 09-11-2022 | Registry created on 28-04-2015

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