Unknown Young Nobleman

Jacob Ferdinand Voet
1639 – circa 1700

Unknown Young Nobleman

Oil on canvas: 27 3/4 x 22 1/4 inches, 69.4 x 55.6 cm



  • Private collection, France until 2015

Never before documented, this newly discovered portrait of a young nobleman displays such a luminous quality and sensitivity that it is no surprise that Jakob Ferdinand Voet became one of the most prominent and fashionable portrait painters in Europe. It was painted circa 1670 – 1675, in the Roman period of the artist’s career, when Voet was at the height of his powers, much in demand as the most fashionable painter for the Italian nobility.[1] He frequently painted his sitters dressed in luxurious chamber robes (or ‘banyan’), as seen here. His bravura portrayal of the flowing grey and gold silk embroidered robe is typical, with a resplendent pink silk lining to match the sitter’s pink bowtie – artfully asymmetrical. It is a confection of texture, continued in the frothy lace cravat, and the sitter’s softly curling hair. The young man’s face is equally sensitively rendered with soft highlights to the nose and eyes, and a pink blush to his cheeks, while the seriousness of his expression is in contrast to his youthfulness. Voet subtly individualizes the young man’s features, with his rather long face and blondish eyebrows.

The coat-of-arms, upper left, is an unusual conceit, otherwise not found in the artist’s portraits, and presumably an emblem the family consciously wished to display. It may even have been an addition to the portrait. Unfortunately, the arms cannot easily be deciphered, and to date the young sitter’s identity has not been established. Nonetheless, a ram’s head with golden horns (in gold leaf) is just visible, above a visored helmet – presumably a reference to familial military prowess. Professor Francesco Petrucci has suggested that the sitter may either have belonged to a noble Italian family or have been a young English or French nobleman travelling to Rome for the Grand Tour.[2]

Flemish by birth, Voet’s artistic ambition led him to Rome and latterly Paris, where his stylish technique and attention to detail in costume was eagerly endorsed by the most fashionable and eminent sitters. The artist’s phenomenal success was in part also due to his renowned affability, enabling him to obtain the favour of new patrons and to maintain his professional relations with all the major families of the Roman nobility. He travelled extensively in Italy, executing numerous commissions in Como and Milan and it is probable that he also travelled to Genoa, and certainly to Florence, Modena and Parma.[3] His tenure in Rome, from 1663 to 1679, was consistently marked by great patronization from the Papal court and the local aristocracy, such as the Mancini and Colonna families. [4]

Voet had a highly successful international career, mainly working in Italy but spending the last years of his life as pittore del Re - official portraitist to the Sun King Louis XIV in Paris.[5] With such international production, his reputation even surpassed that of Pierre Mignard, Carlo Maratta, Giovanni Maria Morandi and Baciccio, his main rivals in the genre. Voet is perhaps best remembered for his series of Les Belle Romane – that is, entire galleries of portraits of the most enchanting women of Rome. Inspired by the Mancini sisters, these portraits from 1672 onwards included sitters from the Chigi, Savoia and Massimo families, as well as other celebrated Italian dynasties. The paintings were so popular that Voet was repeatedly asked to reproduce replicas and versions.

Voet spent the final years of his life in France where he executed numerous portraits of the court nobility. In Paris, he obtained the title of ‘painter to his most Christian Majesty’ and his career appeared to be further on the ascent when he died suddenly at his home on the Quai de Guer, near Pont Neuf on 26 September 1689.


[1] We are grateful to Professor Francesco Petrucci for authenticating and dating the present portrait.

[2] Professor Francesco Petrucci, private correspondence dated 21st October 2015.

[3] A series of letters from the Odescalchi archive, published by Marco Pizzo, show that Voet’s sojourn to Lombard lasted about a year in 1680. Furthermore, from the correspondence of Francesco Maria della Porta with Livio Odescalchi, it becomes clear that Voet was even summoned by Charles II of Spain to execute court portraits some time between February and early May 1680. See: Marco Pizzo, ‘Livio Odescalchi e i Rezzonico. Documenti su arte e collezionismo alla fine del XVH secolo’ in Fondazione Giorgio Cini - Saggi e memorie di storia dell'arte, 1732.

[4] His production of ecclesiastical portraiture was prodigious, including ‘rows’ of fourteen cardinals and the official image of the Odescalchi Pope, Innocent XI.

[5] Cristina Geddo, ‘New Light on the Career of Jacob-Ferdinand Voet’, from The Burlington Magazine, vol. 143, no. 1176 (March 2001), p. 138.

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