Lombard painter 15th century - inv. 3505
The condition of the painting is not very good due to various cracks and areas of raised colour.
A long-standing tradition claims that the portrait represents cardinal Ascanio Maria Sforza, brother of duke Ludovico Il Moro and commendator, that is the beneficiary of revenue from the abbey of Chiaravalle Milanese. Ascanio was born in 1455 and became cardinal in 1484; two years later he was delegated by pope Innocent VIII to administer the diocese of Cremona, while in 1488 he was the promoter of the new cathedral in Pavia. It is possible that the portrait was commissioned on one of these occasions, although its identification remains uncertain: other known images in fact portray him in old age and with completely different facial characteristics.
The panel shows a man in profile, dressed in the purple robes characteristic of cardinals. His face is serious and impenetrable, but its features are described realistically, a typical characteristic of Lombard portrait painting. His prominent nose is slightly beaked, the eye socket deep and sunken with the shadow below of a greenish hue; he has a thin upper lip and the slight hint of a double chin is visible above the folds of his neck. Shadows emphasise his cheekbones, jaw-line, hollow of the ear and curve of his nose.
For the hard, almost metallic, quality of the drawing and the rigorous presentation in profile – inspired by images of Roman emperors on antique coins – the panel can be placed in the portrait tradition of Andrea Mantegna and Vincenzo Foppa. The Portrait of a Man (inv. 1592), attributed to Andrea Mantegna, and the Portrait of Giovanni Francesco Brivio (inv. 1648) by Foppa, both in the Poldi Pezzoli Museum, furnish two perfect comparisons. Stylistically, there is a particularly strong link with the latter, to the extent that this possible portrait of Ascanio Maria Sforza had previously been attributed to Foppa, although a recent hypothesis believes it is a copy after a lost original.