This is an oil painting of the famous castrato, Carlo Broschi, better known as Farinelli, one of the greatest opera singers of the 18th century. Born in 1705, Farinelli moved to Naples at the young age of 12 to study singing. As a castrato, Farinelli possessed a high soprano voice that was said to be full, rich, bright and well-modulated with pure intonation. Farinelli would have performed heroic, leading roles in operas. At the age of 15, he made his stage debut and his fame quickly spread across Italy and Europe. His travels took him to London, where he achieved incredible success earning over £5000 (an incredible amount in modern money) in one season. He stayed in London until 1737 when he would travel to Spain. He would retire at the height of his fame, when he became the Chamber Musician to King Philip the fifth. The queen believed Farinelli’s voice would relieve the melancholia from which her husband suffered. Perhaps to symbolize his larger-than-life persona, the painting is very large, measuring approximately 1 metre in width and 1.5 metres tall. Farinelli’s appearance is regal, and his body, which is positioned in the centre of the frame, occupies quite a bit of the space in the painting. He carries himself to his full height, which must be substantial given that he towers above an ornate harpsichord for scale. Farinelli is wearing a grey wig, which contrasts sharply with his dark, delicately arched eyebrows. His wig is very fine indeed, and features dense curls at his crown. A large single pearl earring dangles from underneath the right hand side of the wig. His face is round with full pouting lips and his cheeks look as if they might have had rouge applied to them. It is believed that this portrait was painted at some time during his employ at the court of the King Phillip of Spain, when he would have been 34 years old. However, perhaps as a result of his lack of testosterone, Farinelli’s appearance does not suggest that of a fully matured man. Due to the rosy cheeks and pouting lips, he looks very much like an adolescent boy. Farinelli wears a blue court musician’s uniform over a golden coloured vest, which is bursting open due to his protruding belly. His magnificent midnight blue coat is embellished with a black velvet collar and lining, and also features elaborate gold braiding around the edges with an elaborate gold frogging to fasten the coat. A white cravat covers his neck, and presumably, his lack of Adams Apple. His left hand, which is dressed in a white glove, is resting proudly on his hip, and holds the edge of his coat open to display a golden brocade vest with very fine embroidery of vines and red roses. Farinelli’s other hand rests on a decorated harpsichord with gilded scrolls at the sides. His fingers are long and delicate and drape over the edge of the instrument. There is also a little brown dog pictured on the lower right hand side of the frame. He is painted in muted colours, and is peering out meekly from the shadows. Many believe that this little dog represents Farinelli’s position of loyal servant to the King.
The artist, Bartolomeo Nazari was born near Bergano in 1693. He was active as a portrait painter, and was employed in the court of the Holy Roman Emperor Charles VII. He is particularly well known as a painter of both professional and amateur musicians.