Portrait Of A Gentleman With A Fly

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A fine early 17th-century portrait of a bearded continental gentleman with a fly on his collar. It’s almost certainly a fragment of a larger work as it’s an unusual landscape composition.

The fly on the gentleman’s collar is an intriguing mystery but we have two possible theories. The first relates to the eminent 14th-century Florentine master, Giotto di Bondone (1266-1337), who is said to have painted a fly on the face of a portrait by his teacher, Cimabue. This mischievous addition was so realistic, that when Cimabue noticed it, he immediately tried to swat the fly away. Since then, throughout the ages, many artists have demonstrated their skill by adding insects to their own portraits. Perhaps this is another example.

Or alternatively, the fly could be a clue as to the sitter’s profession… In the 17th-century, spies were also known as ‘flies’ due to their ability to gain access to private areas in a clandestine manner. This analogy is still preserved today with the phrase ‘a fly on the wall’.

Or perhaps you have your own ideas? Either way, it’s a fascinating portrait by a trained and skilful hand.

Oil on canvas
18⅓” x 12¾” / 46cm x 32.5cm
Year of creation
c. 1628
Very good. Restored and relined within the last 50 years. Craquelure in areas but the paint layer is stable.