Sunday 4 June 2017

Senesino - Roubiliac

Bust of Francesco Bernardi called Senesino (1686 - 1756).
c 1735.
Louis Francois Roubiliac.

Metropolitan Museum, New York.
Purchased 2016.

and the Lead Bust on the London Art Market in 2012 formerly (and wrongly) identified by me as Senesino.

Some time ago I wrote a blog entry regarding a lead portrait bust which I believed might be that of the castrato Opera singer Francesco Bernardi called Senesino.

Whilst recently searching for something else I came across the photographs of the bust of Senesino now in the Metropolitan Museum, New York see below.

This bust had been purchased from the sculpture dealer Patricia Wengraf of London with a provenance of Maria Avanzati (Florence).

When researching the lead bust (illustrated below) I approached by e mail Elizabetta Avanzati in Siena who had contributed 'The Unpublished Senesino' in the Exhibition catalogue of March to October 2006 - 'Handel and the Castrati' about the Italian opera singers in London in the 18th Century, for the Handel House Museum in London.

Elizabetta Avanzati was a descendant of the Bernardi family and kept the family home in Sienna.

She responded that the bust could not have been of Senesino but not giving any reasons and so I consequently let the matter drop. She has since died.

The mysterious lead bust has been sold and as far as I know is now in a private collection.

Elizabetta Avanzati also made a tantalizing reference in The Unpublished Senesino' to a pocket or account book still with the family in Siena, which was kept by the singer, noting amongst other things his expenses incurred in London before he left London in 1736 and his sitting to Roubiliac for his bust.

The contents of this pocket book should prove fascinating both to shed more light on Senesino and Artistic lives in the 1730's. I very much look forward to hearing more.

All being well the contents of this pocket book will be published when the Metropolitan Museum gets around to putting their researches into the public realm in 2018.

Senesino left directions in his will that a marble bust should be used on his funerary monument in the crypt of a local church - the Chiesa dell'Osservanza, in Siena which was destroyed during World War II.

The house that Senesino retired to and kept an Anglophile household
Palazzo Bernardi Avanzati
Via Montanini


The Lead Bust formerly wrongly identified by myself as Senesino.

The lead bust on display in London in 2012, formerlyidentified by me as possibly that of Senesino and currently tentatively identified here as Farinelli, now in a private collection.

Doubt still remains - this bust lacks the prominent mole on his right hand (proper) cheek seen in most of his portraits.

This is a very fine and rare mid 18th Century lead portrait bust - one of a very small group of this type of bust. See the very fine busts of Dr Salmon and his wife and another male bust in the Victoria and Albert Museum

In the past these busts have been attributed to John Cheere (1709 - 1787) younger brother of (Sir) Henry Cheere but so far to my knowledge very little evidence to their authorship has come to light.


Dimensions 61.6 x 54.8 x 22.7cms. Bust only.
Marble Socle - a replacement.

Photographs courtesy Metropolitan Museum New York

see -

I am informed by Patricia Wengraf that this bust is not yet on public display but is due to be mounted when the Met opens its new English Gallery in 2018. I believe they will publish their researches into the bust illustrated above at that time.

Portrait of the opera singer, half-length in an oval frame, supported by a slab on which lies an open book of music for Giulio Cesare, wearing an embroidered coat and wig; after Thomas Hudson.  1735  Mezzotint

Francesco Bernardi called Senesino
with a book open of the music Giulio Cesare
After Thomas Hudson
Engraved by Alexander van Haeken
355 x 251 mm.
British Museum

(The painting by Hudson has disappeared - last mentioned in Hudson’s sale at Christies of 26 Feb 1785, the pair to this print of Farinelli, by van Haeken after Lucy was engraved at the same time (see illustration below).


Portrait, half-length in an oval frame directed to right, cocked hat under left arm, wearing a shoulder length wig with tied ends over each shoulder, and a plain coat open over pale waistcoat and frilled cravat; after Goupy. 1727  Mezzotint

Francesco Bernardi called Senesino.
by Elisha Kirkall.
after Joseph Goupy.
277 x 219 mm. (trimmed).

British Museum.

They say - The print is surely the one advertised in the Daily Post, 19 May 1727: 'This Day is publish'd, A curious Metzotinto print of Seigneur Senesino, the famous Italian Singer. Done from the Original Picture by Mr. Jos. Goupy. 

Sold by Mr. Regnier, Printseller in Newport-street the End of Long Acre.'

Note - Nicole Celeste Regnier was the third wife of Louis Francois Roubiliac 
Married 1758 - 9.

Francesco Bernardi called Senesino c. 1720.


Photograph of the Portrait of Senesino as Bertarido dressed as an Hungerian Hussar in Handel's Rodelinda act I Scene VI, first performed on 13 February 1725 in the Kings Theater London.

Portrait by John Vanderbank

Photographed by the author with grateful thanks to James Carleton Harris, the Seventh Earl of Malmsbury, Greywill House, near Basingstoke, Hampshire.

For Invaluable information on mid 18th Century Art Theatre and Music see
the Harris Family Papers.

For a very useful introduction to the subject see -

Music and Theatre in Handel's World, The Family Papers of James Harris 1732 - 1780 by Donald Burrows and Rosemary Dunhill published Oxford 2002.


Carlo Broschi, called Farinelli (1705 - 82).


The engraving after Amiconi.


Engraving by Wagner,


After Amiconi.


Portrait of Farinelli, half-length in an oval frame, directed slightly to right, arms at his sides, looking towards the viewer, wearing a frogged coat over a brocaded waistcoat, buttoned at the waist, with a frilled cravat and short powdered wig, the frame standing on a plinth with music scores, including 'Artaxerxes' lying in front of it; after Lucy; modern impression.  1735  Mezzotint

Portrait of Farinelli with the Music of Artaxerxes.

Alexander van Haeken after Charles Lucy.
355 x 253 mm.

British Museum.


Engraved by Grignion.
after Amiconi.

19 x 15.5 cms.

Victoria and Albert Museum.


Portrait miniature of Carlo Broschi, known as Farinelli, Christian Friedrich Zincke, ca.1735, London, England. Enamel:

Miniature described by the V and A (I believe in error) as Carlo Broschi called Farenelli.

Christian Friederich Zinke.(1683/4 - 1767).

43 x 39 mm.

c. 1735.

Victoria and Albert Museum.

see -

This attribution by the V and A is an obvious mistake - the miniature below is very different but bears a close relationship to other portraits of the castrati singer note particularly the mole on left hand side of his face which appears on nearly all depictions of Farinelli.

If not Farinelli could it be Senesino?

I have not yet been in contact with the museum with reference to this miniature.


Farinelli (1705 - 82).

William Prewitt (various spellings) pupil of Zinke.
c. 1733 - 5.

Miniature Enamel.

51 x 42 mm

Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge.




76 x 63.5 cms.

Lot 234 - 4 July 2013.

Portrait Courtesy Sotheby's.

see -



Bartolomeo Nazari.

Image Royal College of Music.


Jacabo Amigoni.


Satire with Farinelli holding a sheet titled 'La colpa mia non รจ' sits supported by a muse while a donkey brays: see BMSat for full description.  c1731-7 Etching


British Museum


Portrait of the singer; half length, facing front; wearing embroidered waistcoat, frill, wig and jacket; within an oval on a pedestal with open music book resting on loose music sheet.  1736<br/>Mezzotint

Gioacchino Conti Gizziello (Italian Castrato Opera Singer)
Alexander van Haeken
after Charles Lucy
354 x 258 mm.

British Museum

Porpora playing on an Organ. Description to follow.  1735 Etching

British Museum.

This engraving only tangentially relevant, appealed to my puerile sense of humour

BM says - "Satire on Nicola Porpora who was a rival to Handel in the 1730s. 

The composer, a gaunt man wearing a large brimmed hat from which hangs a sheet of music, is seated astride the back of a man kneeling on the floor; he plays a small organ that rests on the man's shoulders; an owl perched on the top of the organ sings, "Da - a - a - a - vido". 

The man supporting the organ is playing the pan pipes; his breeches have been pulled down and a youth provides the wind for his music with a pair of bellows inserted into his anus; he carries on his back a basket laden with further pairs of bellow. 

Three sheets of paper lying on the floor refer to Porpora's works, "Poly[fem]o", "A[rtaxer]xes" and "D[avi]d". 



Beggars Opera.

Image from Metropolitan Museum, New York.


Image - British Museum.

Inscription content: Lettered within image, above with title followed by a dedication to "those Generous Encouragers of Foreigners, and Ruiners of England ...", below with verses beginning, "Brittains attend - view this harmonious Stage ...", and on either side with two scrolls listing "... the rich presents Signor Farinello ye Italian Singer Condiscended to accept ..."


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