National Gallery of Art - THE COLLECTION
image of Cardinal Bandinello Sauli, His Secretary, and Two Geographers Sebastiano del Piombo (artist)
Venetian, 1485 - 1547
Cardinal Bandinello Sauli, His Secretary, and Two Geographers, 1516
oil on panel
overall: 121.8 x 150.4 cm (47 15/16 x 59 3/16 in.) framed: 153.7 x 181.6 x 10.2 cm (60 1/2 x 71 1/2 x 4 in.)
Samuel H. Kress Collection
On View
From the Tour: Venice and the North
Object 3 of 6

A tiny inscription on the bell identifies the seated man as Bandinello Sauli. Appointed cardinal by Pope Julius II in 1511, Sauli stood at the height of his considerable influence when this group portrait was painted. Two years later this noted patron of letters was dead and disgraced, having been implicated in a plot to poison Pope Leo X. A small fly at his knee may have been added after Sauli's death to signal the impermanence of life. (It is so realistic that printers have sometimes mistakenly removed it from modern photographic reproductions.) The fly is less in the scene than on it, as if it had landed on the painting. Such virtuosic tricks called attention both to the painting as an object itself and to the artist as its creator.

Sebastiano moved to Rome from his native Venice in 1511 and was eventually made Keeper of the Papal Seal (piombo, in Italian). When he completed this painting, it was the most ambitious easel portrait ever attempted in Rome. The composition, however, remains a bit awkward, seeming more like two double portraits than one unified, natural grouping. Its artificiality is underscored by the rhetorical gesture of the man on the right, his finger raised as if to emphasize a point in their discussion of geography or exploration. This figure might be the humanist scholar Paolo Giovio, a historian who became famous for his own portrait collection.

Full Screen Image
Artist Information
Exhibition History

«back to gallery»continue tour