Allegorical Portrait of Charles V Receiving the World. PARMIGIANINO (PARMA 1503-1540 CASALMAGGIORE) Ca. 1530
THE FIRST MODERN ALLEGORICAL RULER-PORTRAIT:
CHARLES V RECEIVING THE WORLD
PARMIGIANINO (PARMA 1503-1540 CASALMAGGIORE)
Allegorical Portrait of Charles V Receiving the World.
Oil on canvas.
68” x 47”, 173cm x 120cm; 85” x 63 ¼”, 216cm x 160.5cm framed.
PROVENANCE: Cardinal Ippolito de’ Medici; collection of the Dukes of Mantua until at least 1630; with Samuel Woodburn (1786-1853) in London by 1840; Christie’s, London, May 15, 1854 and following days as lot 188; with William Angerstein, Esq. (1811-1897) in London before 1883; his sale at Christie’s, London, February 23, 1883 as lot 245 where acquired for £47 by Mr. Lesser; collection of Sir Francis Cook, 1st Baronet (1817-1901) at Doughty House, Richmond, Surrey, and thence by descent to Sir Francis Cook, 4th Baronet (1907-1978); with Sestieri in Rome by 1956; with Rosenberg & Stiebel, Inc. in New York by 1963; Sotheby’s, New York, January 27, 2011 (lot 131) where acquired by Graham Arader (present owner).
CONDITION: Very good with small color abrasions and some irregular craquelure; canvas relined (during restoration in the 1950s?) with tears next to Charles’s chin and his temple covered up; small pentimento in the placement of the child’s right hand, as well as the hand and left arm of the allegorical Fama.
EXHIBITIONS: Manchester: Art Treasures of the United Kingdom, 1857, no. 210; The Rose Art Museum (Brandeis University, Waltham MA): Major Masters of the Renaissance, 3 May–9 June 1963, no. 14; Vassar College (Poughkeepsie, NY) 16 October–15 November 1964, no. 11; Oklahoma Museum of Art: Masters of the Portrait, 4 March–19 April 1979, no. 1; Pinacoteca Nazionale (Bologna), National Gallery of Art (Washington, DC) and Metropolitan Museum of Art: The Age of Correggio and the Carracci, 10 September–24 May 1987, no. 62; Bundeskunsthalle (Bonn) and Kunsthistorisches Museum: Kaiser Karl V (1500-1588), 25 February–10 September 2000, no. 79; Galleria Nazionale (Parma) and Kunsthistorisches Museum: Parmigianino e il manierismo europeo, 8 February 8–14 September 2003, no. 2.2.23; Musée du Luxembourg (Paris): Titien. Le Pouvoir en face, 13 September 2006– 21 January 2007, no. 4.
Vasari reports on the genesis of the present painting in both the 1550 and 1568 editions of Le Vite:
When the Emperor Charles V was at Bologna to be crowned by Clement VII, Francesco (Mazzola), who went several times to see him at table, but without drawing his portrait, made a likeness of that Emperor in a very large picture in oils, wherein he painted Fame crowning him with laurel, and a boy in the form of a little Hercules offering him a globe of the world, giving him, as it were, the dominion over it.
Its identification is corroborated by the mention of the painting as being “un quadro grandissimo.” Vasari continues:
This work, when finished, he showed to Pope Clement, who was so pleased with it that he sent it and Francesco together, accompanied by the Bishop of Vasona, then Datary, to the Emperor; at which his Majesty, to whom it gave much satisfaction, hinted that it should be left with him. But Francesco, being ill advised by an insincere or injudicious friend, refused to leave it, saying that it was not finished; and so his Majesty did not have it, and Francesco was not rewarded for it, as he certainly would have been.
The accounts in Le Vite provide an explanation for the unevenness of the painting’s technical execution. As it was not a commission, the work remained non finito, based on an autograph design by Parmigianino (Morgan Library IV,43). The iconography serves the glorification of the Habsburg rule after Charles’s coronation in Bologna on February 24, 1530. It presents the Emperor as the Sword of Christendom and defender of the Christian globe handed to him by the infant Hercules. Centered on Jerusalem, whose cross potent and four crosslets Or were incorporated into the imperial arms in 1520, the globe extends, in a visual pun, to the Pillars of Hercules. Charles adopted as his impresa the Pillars with the motto “Plus Ultra,” the inversion of the “Non Plus Ultra” (nothing more beyond) inscribed, by Renaissance tradition, upon them. Rosenthal (1971) glosses: “according to most historians and emblematists of the mid-sixteenth century, Charles’ device was invented... to foretell the extension of his rule ‘beyond the Columns of Hercules’ into the New World.”
Parmigianino depicted the impresa on the sheath of the Emperor’s sword. He thus creates a quasi-mythological subtext that in conjunction with the allegory of Fame aligns the Spanish rule with the hegemony of the antique Roman Empire. Beyond the political meaning connected with Charles’s coronation as Holy Roman Emperor, the iconography also calls for a Ulyssean interpretation that rests on the legendary adventurer’s aspirations to travel beyond the Straits of Gibraltar. Charles V is portrayed as the ruler of the world and the head of an empire on which the sun never sets. Parmigianino, conjuring all the symbolism he can muster, has created what Michael Thimann calls “the first modern allegorical ruler-portrait.”
Selected references: Vasari 1550/68; Borenius 1913; Frohlich-Braun 1921; Copertini 1932; Longhi 1958; Freedberg 1966; Berenson 1968; Popham 1971; Eisler 1983; Gould 1992; Chiusa 2001; Checa 2002; Morselli 2002; Vaccaro 2002; Sgarbi 2003; Fornari Schianchi 2003; Ekserdjian 2006; Thiman 2006, Christiansen-Falciani 2021 (illustrated).