An Unknown Portrait of the Famed Castrato Farinelli Turns Up in Sydney
By Carlo Vitali

andante - 9 June 2002

Courtesy of Dr. Leo Schofield AMA hitherto unpublished portrait of the legendary castrato singer Carlo Broschi, known by the stage name Farinelli, has come to light. The painting is part of the collection of Dr. Leo Schofield, a well-known media anchorman and patron of the arts in Sydney, Australia.

Schofield, driving through Sydney one night, spotted the painting in the window of Christie's, where it was up for auction. "I was immediately captivated by it, pulled my car over and went to look at it," he says. "I fell in love with it immediately. I loved its bravura, its operatic quality and the confident pose of the sitter."

Schofield was immediately sure that the painting, which was dirty but otherwise in good condition, dated from the Italian Baroque. He also suspected that it depicted Farinelli, being familiar with a painting of the singer from his days as head of the Melbourne Festival. "Having seen the full length Amigoni portrait of Farinelli from the Bucharest collection years ago in an exhibition in Venice," he says, "and being, of course, extremely familiar with the group painting in Melbourne [in the National Gallery of Victoria], I was pretty sure the subject was Farinelli. And so I became the owner."

The canvas, measuring 103 centimeters by 82 centimeters, shows a young man wearing a classical costume and a powdered wig; he is bearing a long spear and is pointing with his right hand to a truncated boar's head. A rocky cliff and a stormy sky in the background complete the scene. This setting is clearly related to one of Farinelli's favorite roles, that of Epitide in Zeno's libretto Merope (1711), the plot of which bears some resemblances to the Greek myths of Oedipus and Meleagrus, and which was set to music by more than 20 composers in the 18th century, including Francesco Gasparini, who first set the work in 1711, Tomaso Albinoni and Giuseppe Scarlatti. During his public career, Farinelli sang the role three times.

For the singer, the most rewarding of the three appearances was doubtless the first, which took place in the small Tuscan city of Lucca, a fashionable spa where a glittering collection of international high society once flocked during the summer and where Farinelli sang the role with music by his brother, Riccardo Broschi. His letters report that some of his patrons there were prepared to pay him as much as 100 golden sequins for a single aria on demand. Moreover, he confesses to being deeply in love with a young ballerina, who was to follow him shortly afterwards to Venice. Farinelli preserved a souvenir of that happy season until his death, in the shape of a portrait described in the post-mortem inventory of his gallery, taken in 1783, as: "Nr. 104. A painting in its gilded frame, being the portrait of the Testator painted at Lucca in 1734. [...] Said painting is located in the armory. Estimated 40 [Bolognese] Lire."

It seems likely that the Sydney painting depicts Farinelli in Lucca, although there are slight discrepancies — it is bigger than the painting listed in the inventory, for one. Other mysteries remain: who was the painter? And who commissioned the portrait? These questions are currently under investigation at the Centro Studi Farinelli, a scholarly society founded in 1998 within the ancient Accademia Filarmonica of Bologna as a tribute to the singer — a former member.

© andante Corp. June 2002. All rights reserved.

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