Portrait of a Cardinal with a Letter (Milo)
Gaspare Traversi (1722-1790)
18th century, Oil on canvas
This portrait is of Cardinal Gian Giacomo Milo, a fiduciary of Pope Benedict XIV. He is depicted, with spontaneous immediacy, in the act of removing his biretta: as if he were greeting the viewer or paying homage to an eminent person. In his left hand, he holds a scroll with the painter's dedication. Soft brushstrokes blur the white hair framing the elderly face, and the artist’s technical skill is evident in the rendering of the slightly sagging skin. The tight collar is depicted by a thin glaze and the cape, or mozzetta, that undulates over his chest is outlined in the manner typical of this painter. The oval frame encloses a small, intimate, and simple universe, and we can glimpse two volumes on the left, a metaphor for the intellectual fervour of a century of great thinkers, including the cardinal himself. Traversi manages to imbue the courtly setting of an official portrait with a domestic quality: the generic formula of abundant, elegant drapery, columns, and refined objects are eschewed, in favour of a more intimate setting. The solemn bearing and prestige of the figure are wonderfully combined here with a spontaneity of gesture and the close rapport between the sitter and the painter is evident.