Rafaello Menicucci

 
Artist
Creation date
Materials
oil on canvas
Dimensions
31-1/2 x 25-5/8 in.
Credit line
Delavan Smith Fund
Accession number
56.72
Collection
Currently On View

The French painter Valentin de Boulogne was a member of the first generation of Caravaggio followers in Rome.  In this, his only known portrait, Valentin provides a superb characterization of an arrogant and rather unsavory character. 

Rafaello Menicucci, a jester attached to the court of Pope Urban VIII, was a notorious social climber who was obsessed with the idea of his own fame. Nicknamed "Count," Menicucci holds a drawing of a fortified tower inscribed "Castle of the Count" in his honor.

Probably Cardinal Jules Mazarin [1601-1661], Rome.{1 } (Unknown dealer, Vienna);{ 2}(Galerie Sanct Lucas, Vienna) by 1937.{3} Benedict Nicolson [1914-1978], London;{4} (The Arcade Gallery, London) by 1955;{5} purchased by the John Herron Art Institute, now Indianapolis Museum of Art, in 1956 (56.72){6}.

{1}Jean-Pierre Cuzin, in his article “Pour Valentin,” Revue de l’art, 28 (1975), p. 54 attributes the painting to Valentin de Boulogne based on an inventory of Mazarin’s collection where it is listed as no. 1270. See “Inventaire inédit dressé après la mort du Cardinal Mazarin en 1661” in Gabriel-Jules de Cosnac, Les Richesses du Palais Mazarin, Paris 1885, p. 342, where the description of the painting matches the IMA’s painting perfectly, although the sitter’s name is misspelled there as “Mevicurcio.” The history of the painting’s attributions and theories about the identity of the sitter are related in Anthony F. Janson with A. Ian Fraser, Indianapolis Museum of Art: 100 Masterpieces of Painting, Indianapolis, 1980, pp. 68-70 (ill.).
{2 }A letter from Robert Herzig of the Galerie Sanct Lucas, dated 20 July 1961, states “we bought it from another Viennese dealer.” See IMA Historical File (56.72).
{3}See the catalogue, Galerie Sanct Lucas, Ausstellung Italienische Barockmalerei, May – June 1937, cat no. 114 (ill.).
{4}A letter from Nicolson, editor of The Burlington Magazine, dated 23 May 1956, confirming his previous ownership, is retained in the IMA Historical File (56.72).
{5} See the catalogue, The Arcade Gallery, The Flamboyance of Italian Baroque Painting, 17 June-15 July 1955, cat. no. 6 (ill.).
{6}See IMA Temporary Receipt No. 6274, dated 11 May 1956.
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Indianapolis Museum of Art: Highlights of the Collection (2005)

This portrait by Valentin de Boulogne depicts Rafaello Menicucci, the notorious jester of Pope Urban VIII Barberini (ruled 1623–44). Nicknamed Conte, “Count,” Menicucci holds a paper depicting an old castle seemingly named Rocca del Conte in his honor. The castle was not an actual possession of his, but a joke aimed at avid, vain men with pretensions to aristocratic status. The target of Menicucci’s satire may have been Urban VIII, who took possession of the medieval town of Casteldurante in 1631 and renamed it Urbania, after himself. Another target may have been the pope’s nephew Taddeo Barberini, who became “prince of Palestrina” after purchasing that principality in 1630 with Church funds.

Born in France, Valentin arrived in Rome shortly after Caravaggio’s death and worked in a modified version of Caravaggio’s dark, unidealized style, even as other French artists in Rome evolved toward a more classical aesthetic. He enjoyed the patronage of the Barberini circle, including another papal nephew, Cardinal Francesco Barberini, who was politically allied with France. In 1661, Valentin’s portrait of Menicucci was recorded in the inventory of Jules Mazarin, the Italian-born minister of France. It was probably displayed in the great library assembled for Mazarin by Gabriel Naudé, whose 1627 treatise on libraries recommends portraits as appropriate decoration.

Blame me not, Sir, though I bark harsh!
—Menicucci to Urban VIII, supposedly, in a political satire published in London in 1642