Portrait of Cardinal Leopold de' Medici
Giovan Battista Foggini (Florence 1652 - 1725)
The marble depicts Leopold de' Medici (1617-1675) in cardinal's robes, seated on a padded seat while holding a document in his hands. The work is characterised by a vigorous twisting of the body and an accurate rendering of the details of the cardinal's habit. The sculptor seems to challenge the hardness of the marble, thanks to a realistic execution of the smallest details, such as the lace that adorns the cassock, the long hair in ringlets that frames the face, with a perfect balance between the softness of the modelling, evident for example in the long sideburns, the accurate rendering of somatic details and courtly idealisation, which is moreover consistent with the refined personality of the character represented, who was celebrated as the 'Prince of Collectors'. The son of Cosimo II de' Medici and Maria Magdalena of Austria, the cardinal was a man of vast culture, a great collector and art lover, but also a promoter of scientific studies. He was responsible for the acquisition of a large number of works, many of which are still on display in the Uffizi, but above all for starting the famous collection of self-portraits. The sculpture was commissioned by Cosimo III, Leopold's nephew, who wanted to emphasise the self-portraits he had inherited from his uncle by displaying them in a special room in the Gallery. The room, known as the Sala degli Autoritratti (Self-Portrait Room), had a ceiling decorated by Pier Dandini with the Allegory of Tuscany being crowned by Virtue and accompanied by the Arts and Sciences. As a supreme tribute to Leopold, in the centre of the room, Cosimo III had Giovan Battista Foggini himself build a tribune, richly decorated in polychrome marble, to hold the effigy of his uncle. The tribune, which was located in the west corridor of the Uffizi in correspondence with the better known Buontalenti tribune in the opposite wing of the building, was completed in 1707, and in the following years was described with great admiration by many visitors. Evidence of the hall and tribune, later dismantled, remains in four drawings now in the Österreichische Nationalbibliothek in Vienna. A preliminary terracotta version of the cardinal's statue is instead kept in the Skulpturensammlung und Museum für Byzantinische Kunst in Berlin (inv. no. 2163). The career of Giovan Battista Foggini, one of the foremost Baroque sculptors in Florence, received great support from both Cosimo III de’ Medici and his son Grand Prince Ferdinando, as both entrusted him with prestigious commissions for both sculpture and designs for the precious semiprecious stone artefacts later produced by the Galleria dei Lavori.
R. Balleri, in Leopoldo de' Medici principe dei collezionisti, catalogo della mostra (Firenze, Gallerie degli Uffizi, Tesoro dei Granduchi, 7 novembre 2017 – 28 gennaio 2018) a cura di Valentina Conticelli, Riccardo Gennaioli, Maria Sframeli, Livorno, Sillabe 2017, pp. 242-243