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Pietro Maria Rossi, Count of San Secondo
Parmigianino. Girolamo Francesco Maria Mazzola
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Parmigianino. Girolamo Francesco Maria Mazzola

Parma, Emilia-Romagna, 1503 - Casalmaggiore, Cremona, Lombardy, 1540

Parmigianino. Girolamo Francesco Maria Mazzola See author's file

Pietro Maria Rossi, Count of San Secondo

1535 - 1538. Oil on panel.
Room 049

Educated as a young man in France and Florence, in 1527 Pier Maria Rossi (1504-1547), Seventh Count of San Secondo, was in the service of Clement VII but that same year entered the employment of Charles V. Vasari recounts that Parmigianino (to whom this work has been unanimously attributed following its restoration) escaped from Parma to San Secondo in around 1538 in order to avoid problems relating to the commission for the Steccata.The present portrait must have been painted between 1535 and 1538, when the Count returned home. Depicted as totally abstracted, his gaze lost in the middle distance, the imposing figure of the Count is firmly outlined against a costly brocade.The use of notably delicate shadowing brilliantly avoids the effect of a silhouette often found in figures set against backgrounds of this type.This is the only portrait by Parmigianino to use a gold background and its presence seems deliberate given that this device had fallen out of use in painting since the mid-15th century. The parapet emphasises the wealth and distinction of this aristocratic sitter, but it also has medieval connotations as Pier Maria Rossi was both a Renaissance and feudal lord, ready to place his sword at the service of the pope, emperor or king of France in order to maintain the independence of his domain and to augment the prestige of his own line.This is indicated by the motto on his medal which reads:‘AUT TE CAPIA[M] AUT MORIAR’, in which he is shown running and in armour, on the point of seizing Fortuna’s long hair. The Count’s military status is referred to by the sword and statue.The latter has traditionally been identified as Mars, god of war. It is clear, however, that the Count was more than a fighting figure, as otherwise he would be depicted in armour or at least accompanied by armour, as we see with another portrait of a feudal figure by Parmigiano, namely the Count of Fontanellato. Pier Maria III is presented as a gentleman who cultivated arms, as well perhaps as letters, as the books in the unusual lateral opening indicate. In the known copies of the painting, one of the books has the word ‘IMPERIO’ written on it, in a clear reference to Charles V, whom the Count served at the time this portrait was executed. In 1539 Charles confirmed the Count’s privileges to his domains over the claims by the city of Parma. Strangely, the inscription on the book is not to be seen in the Prado painting, from which the copies derive. The statue, which faces the Count and which, like him, holds the hilt of its sword, seemingly about to unsheathe it, has also been identified with Minerva in relation to two drawings of that goddess by Parmigianino. The figure’s anatomy, however, clearly indicates that it is a slender young man who cannot easily be identified as Mars, who is generally depicted with a beard and cuirass. He may be the cunning Perseus, recognisable by his cape and scimitar (the sword seems slightly curved), and by the Corinthian helmet of Pallas Athene, which made the wearer invisible and which the goddess gave to the young Perseus, according to some versions. Below the statue is a relief of Hercules, grandson of Perseus through both the male and female line, and who also used a scimitar to kill the Lernaean Hydra with the help of Iolaus (possibly the young man who accompanies him). Hercules symbolised the use of force controlled by intelligence, a quality that would be appropriate for the Count and which, aside from any association of Hercules with Charles V, would explain his presence in the portrait.

Museo Nacional del Prado, El retrato del Renacimiento, Madrid, Museo Nacional del Prado, 2008, p.228/229

Technical data

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Inventory number
Parmigianino. Girolamo Francesco Maria Mazzola
Pietro Maria Rossi, Count of San Secondo
1535 - 1538
Height: 133 cm; Width: 98 cm
Colección Real (Real Alcázar, Madrid, cuarto bajo-pieza inmediata de la Aurora, 1700, nº 274; Palacio Real Nuevo, Madrid, tercera pieza de la Furriera, 1747, nº 181).

Bibliography +

Carrari, V., Dell'historia de'Rossi parmigiani., Parma, 1583, pp. 216.

Inventario. Palacio Real de Madrid.1686. Vol. III. I Pinturas., Madrid, 1686, pp. 55.

Affó, I., Vita del graziosissimo pittore Francesco Mazzola detto il Parmigianino, Parma, 1784, pp. 81.

Pezzana, A., Storia della città di Parma continuata da Angelo Pezzana., IV, Roma, 1852, pp. 53.

Madrazo, Pedro de (1816-1898), Catálogo de los cuadros del Museo del Prado de Madrid /, Libreria de la Viuda de Hernando y Cª, Madrid, 1893, pp. 62-63.

Frizzoni, G., I capolavori della Pinacoteca del Prado a Madrid, Archivio storico dell'arte, 1893, pp. 313.

Rizzi, C., Di alcuni quadri del Parmigianino già esistenti in Parma., Archivio storico per le provincie parmensi, 1895, pp. 19-23.

Berenson, Bernard, North Italian Painters of the Renaissance, G. P. Putnam's Sons, Nueva York-Londres, 1907, pp. 279.


Frohlich-Bum, Lili, Parmigianino Und Der Manierismus, Anton Schroll & Co., Viena, 1921, pp. 34.

Blume, F., Some unpublished portraits by Parmiggianino., The Burlington magazine, 1925.

Venturi, Adolfo, Storia dell' arte italiana, U. Hoepli, Milan, 1926, pp. 668.

Copertini, G., Il Parmigianino., I, Parma, 1932, pp. 212, 221-223.

Berenson, Bernard, The Italian Painters of the Renaissance, Oxford University Press Humphrey M., Londres-Oxford, 1932.

Berenson, B., Pitture italiane del Rinascimento. Catalogo dei Principali artisti e delle loro opere con un indice dei luoghi., Cecchi, Milan, 1936, pp. 373.

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Quintavalle, Armando Ottaviano, Il Parmigianino, Istituto Editoriale Italiano, Milan, 1948, pp. 102,125,202.

Berenson, Bernard, Italian pictures of the Renaissance: a list of the principal, Phaidon, Londres, 1968, pp. 320.

Fagiolo Dell'Arco, Maurizio, Il Parmigianino. Un Saggio Sull'Ermetismo Nel Cinquecento, Mario Bulzoni Editore, Roma, 1970, pp. 287.

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Rossi, P., L'opera completa del Parmigianino, Milán, 1980, pp. 105.

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Museo Nacional del Prado, Museo del Prado. Inventario general de pinturas (I) La Colección Real, Museo del Prado, Espasa Calpe, Madrid, 1990, pp. 870.

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Other inventories +

Inv. Felipe V, Palacio Nuevo, 1747. Núm. 181.
PINTURAS EXISTENTES ANTIGUAS [...] En la tercera pieza [...] {10399} 181 / Otra [pintura] en tabla de vara y media de alto y vara y quarta de ancho de vn retrato de medio cuerpo del Conde de San Segundo original del Parmesano = 5000 rs

Inv. Testamentaría Carlos II, Alcázar de Madrid, 1701-1703. Núm. 274.
Quartto Vajo [...] Pieza ynmediata de la Aurora [...] 274 / Ytten ottra Pinttura del mismo tamaño [vara y media de altto y siette quarttas de ancho] en tabla de Vn rettratto del Conde de San Sigundo Con marco tallado y dorado tasada en Zien Doblones ... 100

Catálogo Museo del Prado, 1872-1907. Núm. 332.
332.- Retrato de un personaje desconocido, probablemente de Lorenzo Cibo, primo de Clemente VII y capitan de su guardia. / Alto 1,33. Ancho 0,98.-Tabla.-(compañero del siguiente.) / Hombre de arrogante figura y de unos 35 años de edad, bien plantado y de hermosa y varonil fisonomía. Está representado de pie, un tanto vuelto hácia su izquierda. Tiene la barba crecida y el cabello corto, de color castaño claro, tez sonrosada, ojos azules, nariz labrada, forrado de martas, y calzas blancas acuchilladas. Su mano izquierda descansa en el puñpo de la espada, y la derecha en la cintura...

Inv. Real Museo, 1857. Núm. 867.
Parmeggianino. / 867. Retrato de un personage desconocido. / Tiene la barba crecida, y el cabello castaño claro corto; viste gaban ceniciento forrado de hermosas pieles de marta; la mano izquierda descansa en el puño de la espada, y la derecha en la cintura. El fondo es un tapiz de brocado. Por un lado se descubre un variado pais, y sobre un balaustre de marmol varios libros dorados, y una estatuita de Marte sobre un pedestal. (C.L.) (tabla). Alto 4 pies, 9 pulg; ancho 3 pies, 6 pulg.

Inv. María Luisa Gabriela de Saboya, Alcázar de Madrid, 1703. Núm. s. n..
De la pieza inmediata del aurora se sacaron las pinturas sgtes. [...] [55] Itt. Otra pintura del mismo tamaño en tabla de un retrato del Conde de Sn. Segdo. con marco tallado y dorado colocada en otra pieza.

Inscriptions +

Inscribed in white. Front, lower right corner

Inscribed in orange. Front, lower left corner

Inscribed in yellow. Front, lower left corner

Exhibitions +

The Renaissance Portrait
03.06.2008 - 07.09.2008

Location +

Room 049 (On Display)


Displayed objects +


Update date: 09-04-2022 | Registry created on 02-12-2015

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