This grand gallery presents the Frick’s treasures of sixteenth-century Italian art. Monumental bronze portrait busts that have for many years been easy to miss, displayed in the darkly lit corners of the Frick’s Garden Court, are here brought into the light and reunited with painted portraits of their day. One of these busts—Jonghelinck’s imposing Duke of Alba depicted nearly to his waist—is not actually Italian: the sculpture, while following Italian prototypes, was made by a Flemish artist and depicts a Spanish patron, testifying to the movement of artists, patrons, and works of art across national borders. Viewers may get a sense from Jonghelinck’s sculpture that the duke was not particularly jovial; indeed, he was one cruel religious tyrant of European history.
Painted portraits by Titian and Bronzino shape their sitters’ masculine identities with attributes and accessories that signal strength, wealth, and virility: a heavy gold chain, for example, a sword, a codpiece. There is no clue, for example, in Titian’s portrait of Pietro Aretino, that the sitter was not only a celebrated literary figure but also a wicked blackmailer and pornographer. Paolo Veronese’s grand, sumptuous Allegories offer meditations on virtue and vice and wisdom and strength, weighty topics for the powerful and wealthy classes who had access to portraits and paintings like these.
At the center of the room, Sangallo’s sixteenth-century bronze St. John Baptizing may offer some hope. Made to perch atop a holy water font in a church in Prato, the saint offered solace to the Christian faithful who dipped their fingers into the holy water upon entering the church: sinners who repent will be forgiven. Here, in this room, Sangallo’s gaunt, ascetic Baptist presents an alternative to the models of masculine power that surround him.