Royal Collection Trust/© Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II 2014
Bernardo Buontalenti (1531-1608)
Bernardo Buontalenti delle Girandole (1531-1608) was an Italian architect from Florence who also painted and sculpted, designed masques (court entertainments), fireworks (Girandole means a Catherine-wheel) and other amusements for the Medici family. He is seen here holding one of the tools of his trade, a compass. He relished trompe l’oeil (optical illusion) and often incorporated it into his work, as in the new altar steps for S Trinità where the real steps were placed, invisible, at the side of the unusable trompe l’oeil carved ones. He designed dramatic grottoes for the Boboli Gardens with pumice-stone encrustations and hidden sources of light, fortifications, engineering works and a canal. He also experimented to try to discover the secret of Chinese porcelain. A contemporary credits him with inventing a famous and terrible cannon known as ‘Scacciadiavoli’ (Devil-destroyer).
This miniature is one of the collection of copies of 224 self-portraits by artists in the Uffizi Palace, Florence, that Lord Cowper, the art collector and patron, commissioned from Giuseppe Macpherson (1726-1780). He presented the miniatures to King George III in two batches, in 1773 and 1786. Macpherson followed the original self-portraits quite closely, but copied only the head and shoulders. He inscribed the artists’ names on the backs of the miniatures – several differ from those in the modern Uffizi catalogue, notably: Bazzi, Bellini, Campi, Annibale Carracci, Gabbiani, Masaccio, Metsys, Moroni, Pencz, Licinio, Schiavone and Spada. None of the miniatures is signed, apart from Macpherson’s own self-portrait, which is inscribed: Giuseppe Macpherson / Autore della serie (Giuseppe Macpherson / Author of the series).
Macpherson was born in Florence, the son of Donald Macpherson, a footman in the service of Alexander, 2nd duke of Gordon. He was a pupil of Pompeo Batoni and painted miniatures and enamel portraits in Italy, France and Germany, finally settling in Florence. A James Macpherson is recorded in London and Paris in 1754 but it is not certain that this is the same person. He was described in 1776 as having a special talent for painting on enamel and as being ‘almost the only painter in Europe who possesses this art to perfection’. He had a distinguished client list which included some of the crowned heads and dignitaries of Europe. In 1778, he was invited to add his own self-portrait to the famous painters in the grand duke’s collection as it ‘would do honour to Florence to enrich the collection with a work which shows that we still have some men of true merit’ according to Giuseppe Pelli, director of the Uffizi.