Portrait group: The singer Farinelli and friends
- oil on canvas
- 172.8 × 245.1 cm
- Accession Number
- International Painting
- Credit Line
- National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne
Felton Bequest, 1950
- Gallery location
- 17th to 18th Century European Paintings Gallery
Level 2, NGV International
This striking portrait presents the renowned Italian castrato Carlo Broschi, called Farinelli (1705–82) in Madrid in the early 1750s, at the culmination of a brilliant career. Farinelli sits at the centre of an intimate circle of friends, including Teresa Castellini, the prima donna of the Madrid opera; the Abate Metastasio, Farinelli’s lifelong friend and the librettist for many of his most famous performances; and the artist, who stands behind Farinelli in the act of ‘completing the portrait’.
The poem (here set to music) that Farinelli places in Castellini’s hand is one of Metastasio’s most famous compositions. Amigoni’s painted transcription records an otherwise unknown musical setting for it, penned by none other than Farinelli himself. Metastasio’s poem describes the sadness of a lover’s departure, and Amigoni’s inclusion of this text might refer to Castellini’s intention at this time to leave Spain. (She and Farinelli were certainly close. She had been his favourite pupil, as well as, so the rumours suggested, the focus of an impossible love on his part.) Yet the poem might be better understood as an expression of the mood of this group as a whole. As itinerant professionals serving the European courts, all four friends would have identified with Metastasio’s emphasis on the strains created by the tyranny of departure. By commemorating the group’s companionship, even as they consider the inevitability of separation, Amigoni celebrates the capacity of true friendship to withstand all.
Jacopo Amigoni was a Venetian painter who worked throughout Europe during the first half of the eighteenth century. In 1747 he accepted the appointment as court painter to Ferdinand VI of Spain, almost certainly at the suggestion of Farinelli, who had been engaged by the king in 1737.