Portrait of a Gentleman
(Pompeo Girolamo Batoni)


The Grand Tour which brought Batoni’s sitters to Rome had no great importance until the beginning of the eighteenth century, when it became a conventional feature of a gentleman’s education. The young British noblemen who took the Tour usually spent several years travelling on the Continent, principally in Italy where they could collect antiquities and works of art to take home with them. By the middle of the eighteenth century, Rome had developed into the main centre of the European Grand Tour and had proved a powerful magnet for the increasing number of young Irishmen, Englishmen, and Scots travelling abroad.

For many British visitors on the Grand Tour, having their portrait painted by Pompeo Batoni in Rome was a feature of their travels and the results were eagerly awaited by relatives at home. The importance of British patronage to Batoni’s career as a portrait painter is shown by a survey of his oeuvre as it exists today. Of the approximately 270 surviving portraits, including autograph replicas and variant portraits of the same sitter, 200, or seventy five percent, depict British and Irish sitters. The majority, about 160, are English, followed by Irish, Scottish, and Welsh patrons. The effect that the patronage of these countless British tourists had on Batoni’s career cannot be overestimated. Between 1750 and 1760, for example, Batoni painted only about twenty subject paintings; yet he produced nearly sixty portraits of British sitters alone, and a similar ratio obtains over the following two decades, although with an ever greater concentration on portraits.

The present portrait is a fine example of Batoni’s Grand Tour portraiture and reveals, in the anatomical precision with which he delineates the features of the sitter, the crisp articulation of his hands, and the fresh and assured handling of paint, why he was the portrait painter in Rome. The subject, who remains unidentified but on the basis of his costume presumably British, wears a coat and matching waistcoat of green silk lined with lighter-weight green silk and trimmed with gold braid. He appears to be wearing his own lightly powdered hair which is styled formally (the curls set with pomatum) like a wig. By the 1760s, as Professor Aileen Ribero has noted (letter of 17th May 1985), it was permissible for a man of fashion to wear his own hair this way in lieu of a wig.

An unusual feature of the sitter’s dress is the treatment of the ‘solitaire’, the black ribbon from the bag of a wig which was brought round from the back and tied in front. More than two dozen of Batoni’s British sitters [1] chose to be depicted wearing a solitaire, but they invariably arranged the ribbon loosely knotted or dangling down the shirtfront. Amongst Batoni’s sitters, few (Karl Eugen, Duke of Wuttemberg, Clark, loc. cit. 1985, pl.166; the man traditionally identified as ‘Signor Basti’ in the company of Sir Sampson Gideon, later 1st Lord Eardley, idem. pl. 281 [see Fig. 1]; and the present sitter) actually tied the ribbon in a formal bowknot. However, as Professor Ribeiro has observed, the only non-British element evident in the sitter’s dress is the bow tie and, given the formal climate in Italy, it is not surprising that occasionally a gentleman would elect to tie the solitaire in this fashion. Further supporting the assumption of a British nationality for the sitter is the fact, suggested by Professor Ribeiro, that an English sitter would be more likely to wear his own hair instead of a wig.

As Batoni became faced in the 1760s and 1770s with the problem of a growing number of clients, he increasingly relied on a studio routine, which enabled him to order his sitters into easily repeatable attitudes. Throughout his subsequent career he varied these basic themes which he made use of with few really exact repetitions. The pose of the present sitter, portrayed at half length, standing three quarters to the right before a grey green background, resting his left arm on a pedestal and holding a hat in his right hand, was anticipated nearly two decades earlier in the portraits of Thomas Dawson, later Viscount Cremorne (Private Collection) and of an unknown gentleman formerly in the David Daniels Collection, New York (Clark, loc. cit. 1985, pls.135, 143) and more recently, with subtle variations, in the portrait of John Monck in the Geffrye Museum, London (idem. pl. 252). On the basis of handling and style, the portrait can be dated to about 1768. [2]


[1]Clark, op. cit. 1985, pls. 162, 167, 169, 177, 178, 179, 181.

[2] Clark, op. cit. 1985, pls. 286, 290, 295, 304, 305.

38 x 28 ¾ in. 96.5 x 73 cm
Oil on canvas

Galleria Frezzati, Venice, 1960; Private Collection, England.


A. M. Clark, Pompeo Batoni. A Complete Catalogue of his Works with an Introductory Text, E. P. Bowron, Oxford, 1985, p. 311, no. 317, pl. 288.


London, Matthiesen Fine Art Ltd., The Settecento: Italian Rococo and Early Neo-Classical Paintings 1700-1800, 4 Nov.-20 Dec. 1987, no. 15, colour pl. 16;

Colnaghi, A Collectors Miscellany: European Paintings 1600-1800, Winter 1990-1, p. 35, ill

Where is It?
Acquired by a Private Collector 2003
Historical Period
Neoclassicism - 1780-1820
Italian - Roman
1987-The Settecento: Italian Rococo and Early Neoclassical Paintings,1700-1800.
An exhibition held on behalf of Aids Crisis Trust (UK) and The American Foundation for Aids Research (USA). Introduction by Charles McCorquordale. Essays by Francis Russell, Edgar Peters Bowron, and Catherine Whistler. 200 pages, 31 colour plates, 88 black and white illustrations. £15 or $23 inc. p.& p.

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