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Portrait of Tommaso Inghirami, known as “Phaedra”

Raffaello Sanzio (Urbino 1483 – Rome 1520)

1510-11 ca.
Oil on panel
89.5 x 62.5 cm
1912, no. 171

The subject, dressed in a red with a white sash, and wearing a red cap, emerges in the foreground against a dark background that was originally a green drape, painted using the same bright contrasting colors that feature so characteristically on the Portrait of Julius II and that of Cardinal Bibbiena. This is Tommaso Inghirami, a scholar born in Volterra in 1470 and protégé of Lorenzo the Magnificent. Inghirami trained in Rome with historian and humanist Pomponio Leto before succeeding him in his university post. The nickname of Phaedra was earned by playing the leading role in Seneca's tragedy of the same name, during which he distinguished himself for his Latin oratory skills. The many official posts he received from the pope included Prefect of the Vatican Library in 1510, and the portrait by Raphael dates back to this period. Raphael has captured his subject’s absorbed attitude, while introducing an element of movement in the hand about to write, while at the same time he consults the book that is open on the lectern. Although he surrounds his subject with the elected, official atmosphere of his task, Raphael takes a profound look at his more authentic, human appearance and does not neglect to add subtle strokes of color and light to describe every line on the face, the newly shaved beard, the sagging  chin touching on the edge of his robe, the fleshy hands on the paper, and even the cross-eyed appearance for which he was well known.

There is another version of this portrait, also considered authentic, at the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in Boston.  

Text by
Anna Bisceglia
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