Auction House

Auction: Old Master Paintings

06. December 2022, 3:00 pm

Object overview


Antonio Campi

(Cremona 1523 - 1587 Cremona )

„Portrait of a clock collector“
c. 1550
oil on canvas
110.5 x 77 cm


collection Wilhelm Ofenheim (1860-1932), Vienna;
private collection, Vienna


Stephan Poglayen-Neuwall, The Wilhelm Ofenheim Collection, in: Apollo. A Journal of the Arts, August 1930, p. 128, b/w-ill. IV (as "by an imitator of G.W. Moroni")

We are grateful to Prof. Marco Tanzi for his scientific support in the cataloguing.
Certificate by Prof. Marco Tanzi, Cremona, 24 October 2022, is enclosed.

Estimate: € 35.000 - 70.000
Result: € 89.600 (incl. fees)
Auction is closed.

The outstanding portrait was previously known to researchers only through a black-and-white illustration published in 1930. Marco Tanzi was now able to identify it as the work of Antonio Campi and described it as an authentic masterpiece and an important contribution to Cremonese portraiture in the 16th century.
Antonio Campi came from one of the most important artistic families in Cremona. He was the son of Galeazzo Campi (c. 1475-1536) and the brother of Giulio (1502-1572) and Vincenzo (1536-1591) Campi, with whom he had a significant influence on Cremonese painting. In addition to religious works, such as the altarpiece of the "Holy Family with St. Jerome and a Donor (Guibaldo Possevino)", dated 1546, Antonio Campi's activity as a sought-after portraitist is already documented in contemporary sources. In 1584, for example, Alessandro Lamo reports on a portrait by Campi depicting "Danese Filiodoni", the mayor of Cremona, senator and grand chancellor of the state of Milan. Also, in the book "Cremona fedelissima città et nobilissima colonia de romani..." published by Antonio Campi in 1585 and dedicated to his hometown, portraits of the leading figures are presented alongside views.

Based on the modelling of the facial features and the painterly realisation, this painting is particularly close to Campi's "Portrait of a Prelate" in the Gallerie Spada, Rome, and "Portrait of an Elderly Nobleman" in private ownership. These characteristic affinities are also visible in the "Portrait of a Young Man from the Piperari Family", although the one sitter looks dreamily into the void and the watch collector deliberately faces the painter and viewer 'as if looking into a camera'. An equally haunting gaze is found in the 'Portrait of an Elderly Man with Letter and Gloves', now in the Cleveland Museum of Art, Cleveland. (cf. M. Tanzi, Antonio Campi: il Ritratto di prelato n. 182 della Galleria Spada, in: Studi di Storia dell'arte in onore di Fabrizio Lemme, ed. by F. Baldassari, A. Agresti, Rome 2017, pp. 81-88, figs. 1,2,3 & 5).

Marco Tanzi dates the painting around the mid-16th century. However, he points out that it appears even more powerful and at the same time more sensitive than the works mentioned above, with a direct approach and no concessions to the idealisation of the sitter; truly executed according to nature, yet skilfully flattering ("Il Ritratto di collezionista di orologi di Antonio Campi è un dipinto allo stesso tempo più gagliardo e sensibile rispetto alle opere appena menzionate, con un approccio diretto e senza concessioni all'idealizzazione all'effigiato e contrassegnato sì dal vero di natura, ma come ancora attento alle lusinghe sofisticate della maniera. "). It shows the typical influences that shaped Cremonese painting: on the one hand, the exchange with artists from Bergamo, such as Lorenzo Lotto (1480-1557) and Giovanni Battista Moroni (c. 1520-1579); on the other hand, the openness to Flemish painting, so much so that the great art historian Roberto Longhi also referred to Cremona in the past as the "little Antwerp" of Lombardy in the 16th century.

In the three-quarter portrait, the sitter looks directly at the viewer as he is captured in the intimate moment when he carefully attends to his precious collection items and is about to open the table clock. He is dressed in sumptuous garb - a black beret and fur-lined robe while his silver-grey shirt with white lace at the neck and sleeves emerging from beneath. His gaze and gestures, as well as the skilful play of chromatics, set him apart from the grey and undefined background. The viewer's eye is drawn by the bright green velvet cloth to the proudly presented precious objects in the lower right corner of the picture.

The two rare watches are obviously representative of the respectable collection of a distinguished personality. The first is a spherical pomander clock - an early pocket watch that developed from a pomander. Probably the oldest completely preserved example can be found today in the Walters Art Museum - the so-called Melanchthon clock made in 1530. The second piece is a table clock with a horizontal dial, probably kept in a case for protection. Comparable clocks from the 16th century can be found, for example, in the Metropolitan Museum, New York (Inv. 29.52.4) or in the Louvre, Paris (Inv. OA 675).
Nuremberg is considered to be the major production centre of clocks and other scientific instruments in the early modern period. However, in addition to French production sites, northern Italy, specifically Cremona, was also home to some important clockmakers, astrologers, and manufacturers of scientific instruments. This portrait should therefore be seen not only as a painterly jewel of the art of portraiture, but also as a historical document of the development and appreciation of the clock as a collector's item.