This fine 18th century work is after the original in the Uffizi Palace, Florence. Spada depicts himself in all his finery, he holds a sword and his pallette and an outifit that would have cost a fortune. The alert, bearded artist looks prosperous and self-satisfied. His head and fashionable starched ruff are suavely painted.
‘Spada’ means sword, and he carries one in this self portrait. Around 1609, he visited Rome and Malta where he discovered the work of Caravaggio. In 1617, he travelled to Parma where he worked for the Farnese family and was influenced by the work of Correggio.
Leonello Spada trained as a painter in his native city of Bologna and was later associated with the Accademia degli Incamminati, through which he came into contact with the art of the Carracci, whose work would strongly influence the development of his style. Spada was already a successful painter by the first years of the seventeenth century and was praised for his naturalism. Towards the end of the decade he travelled to Malta, most probably via Rome and Naples, to fresco the Magistral Palace of the Order of Malta at the request of the Grand Master Fra’ Alof de Wignacourt, a key figure in the biography of Caravaggio, whose full-length portrait of the Grand Master is in the Louvre, Paris.
Whether or not he met Caravaggio in person, Spada would have encountered his oeuvre, which clearly left a strong impression. His mature style is characterised by a continued assimilation of the Carracci’s language and the reuse of caravaggesque elements, but without the complexity or drama of the Lombard master. This aspect is perfectly and positively described, by Malvasia: ‘temprando l’ombre rigorose del Caravaggio, più grazioso anche e corretto di lui dimostrossi’ (loc. cit.) but because of this he received the rather unflattering nickname scimmia del Caravaggio (Caravaggio’s ape). Having returned to Bologna by 1611, Spada was busy fulfilling commissions for important patrons such as Maffeo Barberini (the future pope Urban VIII), Alessandro d’Este and Ranuccio Farnese. He moved to Parma in 1617 in order to decorate the newly founded Farnese Theatre, and remained there until the end of his life.