The sitter is identified as the Mantuan poet and writer on medicine Battista Fiera (about 1465 - 1538) by an old tradition; this picture was the source for an engraved portrait of Fiera that appeared as the frontispiece to his 'Coena' ('The Supper') in 1649.
The inscription - once legible on the parapet (and still partially visible in infra-red photographs) - was recorded on the reverse of the picture, presumably when its legibility was deteriorating. This picture was probably painted within a few years of Costa's arrival in Mantua in 1507. Costa suffered from syphilis in about 1507-8, and may have sought the services of the Gonzaga court physician (possibly painting this portrait in return for treatment received), who seems to be about the right age for the portrait to have been painted in these years. The man in this portrait appears to have just turned away from the darkness surrounding him to take a look at us. His lips are slightly parted as though he might speak.
An inscription on the back of the panel names him as Battista Fiera, doctor at the court of Mantua as well as a poet, though we can’t be sure it’s him. Costa had become court artist in 1506 and the painting was once thought to have been made when their two residencies coincided. But the way that Costa has given shape and three-dimensionality to the man's features is much closer to his painting style in the 1490s. Fiera was interested in the city's artists and artistic projects. He mentioned Mantegna (Costa's predecessor as court artist) in a poem about the best way to represent the concept of justice in painting, and also wrote about his admiration for Costa.
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Portrait (supposed to be of Battista Fiera)
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