Anton Francesco degli Albizzi, 1525
Sebastiano del Piombo, Italian (Venetian), c. 1485/86–1547
Oil on canvas
Canvas: 58 × 38 7/8 in. (147.3 × 98.7 cm) Frame: 67 × 52 3/4 × 2 7/8 in. (170.2 × 134 × 7.3 cm)
The Samuel H. Kress Collection
Habits of Mind
- DEVELOP GRIT Develop endurance / grit / desire to rework ideas / open to a range of ideas and solutions/ possess self-discipline and self-confidence
Discussion through works of art encourage how to approach ambiguous and complex ideas, thoughts, and feelings. The MFAH offers a democratic space where students and teachers can develop, practice and articulate these habits of mind. Remember that the quality of the conversation is what is important, not finding the artist’s “answer.” Slow down and take the time to make careful observations. Talk about what you notice, and try to avoid jumping to conclusions and interpretations. Be sure to give enough time for silent looking and thinking.
• Draw conclusions to describe the attributes of the person depicted.
• Write dialogues for the subjects of the painting using correct punctuation and grammar
Connecting to the Work of Art
Anton Francesco degli Albizzi was a Florentine diplomat and a member of a prominent family. The ambitious Albizzi supported Florence’s powerful ruling family, the Medici. Later he became their adversary, and in 1537, he was publicly beheaded for treason by Cosimo I de’ Medici. Albizzi probably commissioned this portrait from Sebastiano del Piombo while visiting Rome in the 1520s.
In this work, Sebastiano combines formal grandeur with a suggestion of the sitter’s personality. The large figure of Albizzi dressed in rich clothes dominates the canvas. Note how Albizzi’s sleeves seem to extend beyond the edges of the painting, further enhancing his stature and monumentality. The forceful gesture of his right hand suggests control and strength. The turn of the head and the dark, piercing eyes hint at a sharp intelligence.
During the Renaissance (1400-1550), portraits became an important subject in art, reflecting the belief in the importance of the individual and his or her relationship to other people. The term used to describe this is “humanism,” a concept that emphasizes the worth of each individual and the importance of each person’s contribution to society. The Renaissance world view, which saw people as capable of achievement and of controlling their own destinies, is mirrored in the development of portraits.
Sebastiano del Piombo, originally named Sebastiano Luciani, was probably born in Venice and received his early training there before arriving in Rome in 1511. Sebastiano soon became a close friend and protégé of Michelangelo. Sebastiano’s style, as seen in this work, combines the rich, sensuous textures of Venetian painting with the sculptural grandeur of Michelangelo’s style. He soon attracted the attention of Pope Clement VII. In 1531, the Pope awarded Sebastiano the position of Piombo, or keeper of the papal seals, changing his name to Sebastiano del Piombo. Regardless of his title, he was always referred to simply by his first name, Sebastiano.
In his own time, as he is today, Sebastiano was greatly admired as a portraitist. Giorgio Vasari, author of The Lives of the Artists published in 1556, wrote:
…Sebastiano, who had no equal in portrait painting… painted a portrait of the Florentine Anton Francesco degli Albizzi, who happened to be then in Rome on some business and he made it such that it appeared to be not painted but really alive; wherefore Anton Francesco sent it to Florence as a pearl of great price.¹
Giorgio Vasari, Lives of the Most Eminent Painters, Sculptors and Architects,vol. 2, translated by Gaston Du C. de Vere (New York: Harry N. Abrams, Inc. 1979), p. 1313.
• Discuss the person portrayed in the work of art. What might they have been thinking as they posed for their portrait? Why?
• If the subject in the work of art could talk, what might they say?
• How do portraitists give information about the personalities of their subjects?
• Divide the class into groups. Discuss the portrait and have students determine as much information as they can about the individual character.
• Using these visual clues, complete a character analysis.
• Have each group develop dialogues and dramatic presentations to share with the class.
Subject Matter Connection
A student who is accomplished in language arts needs to feel liberated to express himself or herself freely. Much of literature analysis is a “gray area” open to various interpretations; what matters is that students have the ability to overcome the fear of that ambiguity and the fear of failure so that they can critically evaluate works of literature in depth. Similarly, various literature genres–such as fantasy or science fiction–ask readers to stretch basic beliefs. By analyzing Anton Francesco degli Albizzi, students can practice analysis where more than one answer could be accurate based on existing prior knowledge regarding this work.
Resources Available to Order
The Learning Through Art program is endowed by Melvyn and Cyvia Wolff.
The Learning Through Art curriculum website is made possible in part by a grant from the Institute of Museum and Library Services.
All Learning and Interpretation programs at the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, receive endowment income from funds provided by the Louise Jarrett Moran Bequest; Caroline Wiess Law; the William Randolph Hearst Foundation; The National Endowment for the Humanities; the Fondren Foundation; BMC Software, Inc.; the Wallace Foundation; the Neal Myers and Ken Black Children’s Art Fund; the Favrot Fund; and Gifts in honor of Beth Schneider