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Francesco Trevisani (1656-1746)
Cardinal Pietro Ottoboni
1700
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The Italian Pietro Ottoboni (1667-1740), who became a cardinal in 1689, was the most important patron of the arts in early 18th-century Rome. He gathered around him the most prominent musicians, writers, architects and artists of his day, including the young composer George Frideric Handel as well as Francesco Trevisani, who painted this portrait.

Cardinal Pietro Ottoboni is shown wearing a crimson biretta (hat) and robe, the cardinal dress of the Roman Catholic Church. The red of the robe is dazzling and the texture of the cloth is smooth; it shines and shimmers in contrast with the ornate lace below. The lighting is extremely dramatic, by only illuminating the main objects, the artist creates an intense focus on the subject and emphasises the contrast between the light skin of the cardinal's face, the deep red of his robes and the blackness of the background.

While the lighting makes the portrait more dramatic, do you think it also makes it seem more intense and powerful? How does that correspond with the subject and any power he might have?
The sitter is looking directly at us with an expression that seems both attentive and patient. He is holding a piece of paper, perhaps a letter, in his right hand. However, the cardinal seems to be holding the letter up higher than seems natural: perhaps to indicate that he is reading it, perhaps to highlight its importance by contrasting it against the black background, or perhaps to create a more dynamic composition.
Placed in such a dominant position, what do you think the letter is meant to symbolise or tell us about the Cardinal? Is he a bright and educated man?
While holding the letter, the cardinal is leaning on the corner of a table. Next to it, more paper is placed under a large and elaborately carved inkwell holding a delicate feather. Perhaps he has just written the letter and is reading it for a last time or perhaps he has just received it and is about to reply. In front of the inkwell, against the very edge of the canvas, is a highly-decorated golden bell which could be used to call someone to take the letter away once it is written. Despite the dark background, the scene feels luxurious, showing opulent fabrics and ornate gold and silver furniture and objects surrounding the cardinal.
Francesco Trevisani's life and works spanned two centuries and two major styles in art: the Baroque, belonging to the 17th century, and the Neoclassical style of the 18th century. Admired for his competent portraits incorporating elements of both, Trevisani became internationally known as the greatest Roman painter of his generation. His patrons ranged from Roman popes and cardinals to leaders of the European courts. King Louis XIV of France is said to have owned no fewer than 25 of his paintings.
Election of a New Pope
Cardinals are nominated by the Pope, leader of the Roman Catholic faith, and make up the Pope’s Council, electing a new Pope when a vacancy occurs. As we know from the 2005 election of Benedict XVI, the process by which the vote takes place is guarded with great secrecy and the election of a new Pope is indicated by the emission of white smoke from a chimney on the Sistine Chapel. Pupils could use this image to trigger discussion of these events.
Francesco Trevisani (1656-1746)  Cardinal Pietro Ottoboni   1700
Materials and technique: Oil on canvas
Dimensions: 134.3 x 98.5 cm
The Bowes Museum: B.M.70
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