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Valencia museum displays only known Botticelli portrait in Spain
16 June 2021 @ 20:28

THE ONLY known portrait held in Spain painted by Renaissance master Sandro Botticelli is now on display in Valencia after having been loaned by the family which has owned it since 1929.

Michele Marullo Tarcaniota (1453-1500), poet, military man and humanist of Greek origin who emigrated to Florence and lived under the patronage of the powerful ruling Medici family, surrounded by major artists, writers and humanist scholars of the time, married the erudite poet Alessandra Scala.

He was a great friend of Botticelli's and they shared long, frequent intellectual discussions and debates, in the manner of the era.

When Marullo was on his way home from a trip to Volterra on April 12, 1500, on his horse in a torrential rain storm, he drowned crossing the river Cecina.

His picture shows a high level of realism and detail in features, expression and depth of feeling; exactly what the most learned artists during the Renaissance sought to achieve and studied for, and which meant their portraits – considered at the time to be the art form of the highest calibre and prestige, and the subject of lucrative commissions from the wealthy and powerful – were very valued and allowed them to make a decent living.

The portrait of Marullo appears on a fairly small tableau, of 49 x 36 centimetres (1'7” x 1'2”), showing the head and shoulders of a man dressed in black with long black hair and a black cap, against a background of ash-blue, with a sombre, severe expression, turned slightly to the left, and very dark eyes with golden flecks which illuminate them, and lips outlined very clearly and incisively.

It was bought by Valencia-based collector Francesc Cambó 92 years ago, and the owner has always called it 'the pearl' of his range of prestigious artworks, of which he had numerous.

Among other major institutions, politician and philanthropist Cambó loaned his collection, including Botticelli's Marullo portrait, to Madrid's El Prado museum and to the MNAC in Barcelona.

The Botticelli was then inherited by Francesc's daughter Helena Cambó – along with Cambó's 'philanthropic spirit', which she and her husband passed onto their own children, according to the present owner and grandson of the original buyer, Rafael Guardans Cambó. 

Rafael says his family has always been particularly fond of the Marullo portrait, but that in keeping with his grandfather's attitude, considers it his duty to allow the general public to enjoy it, too.

Doing so, and especially so that local residents can see it 'without having to travel beyond the Comunidad Valenciana', is an 'honour' for the Guardans Cambó family, says Rafael.



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