This exquisite neo-classical bust in white marble by the celebrated Spanish sculptor José Àlvarez Cubero (1768-1827) represents the greatest and most influential of the Italian Romantic composers of the nineteenth century, Gioachino Rossini (1792-1868). The illustrious composer is depicted as an attractive young man, bare-chested, with soft facial traits and a prominent forehead. His abundant curly locks extend along his cheeks to form lush sideburns that form a frame around his gentle face.
Circa 1819 Àlvarez Cubero sculpted his first bust of Rossini for the Infante Sebastián Gabriel de Borbón y Braganza (1811-1875). This bust, now in the Museo del Prado (fig. 1), carries the name of the sitter at the back, together with the signature of the sculptor, a very unusual feat for Àlvarez Cubero.
The present and hence second bust was known to exist (Sanchez 2011, 172-173; Azcue 2011, 331 ff.), but has only recently been rediscovered in a private collection in Germany. It is almost identical to the one at the Prado Museum and was executed by Àlvarez Cubero for his Maecenas, Carlos Miguel Fitz-James Stuart y Silva, the 14th Duke of Alba (1794-1835, cf. Sanchez 2011, 172 ff.).
After the sudden death of Àlvarez Cubero some of his works made for the Duke of Alba were brought from his studio in Rome to Spain. A document dated 6th August 1828 in the archives of the Duke mentions a marble bust of Rossini together with a corresponding plaster: "pertenecientes al S.r Duque de Berwik: Una Venus con un amorcito sacandola una Espina; Un Busto que representa al Maestro de Musica Rossini; Otro de igual representacion en Yeso; Una Estatua que representa la Marquesa de Ariza difunta".
 Translation: "belonging to the Duke of Berwick: A Venus with an angel removing a thorn; A Bust that represents the Master of Music Rossini; Another one of equal representation in gesso; A Statue representing the deceased Marquise of Ariza". SeeAzcue 2011, 331 ff.
However, when the 14th Duke died in 1835, the inventory and catalogue of the works acquired by him fail to mention a marble bust and only refer to the plaster bust of Rossini. A subsequent inventory from 1870 also only mentions the plaster version. This plaster is most probably the one currently held at the Museo de la Real Academia de San Fernando (fig. 3.).
Thus, somewhere between 1828 and 1835 the marble bust of Rossini made by Àlvarez Cubero for the Duke of Alba's collection must have changed hands. One plausible possibility is that this marble portrait was actually handed over by the Duke in 1831 to Rossini.
The Duke was a fond admirer of the illustrious composer from Pesaro and they became close friends after having met each other on several occasions, as shown in the Duke's diaries. They met for the first time in 1814 when Rossini and his future wife, the Madrilenian mezzo-soprano Isabel Angela Colbrán (1784-1845), were presented to the Duke at a party at the Bolognese salon of Madame Martinetti. They met again for a second time in 1816 in Naples, where Colbrán had meanwhile become the diva of the San Carlo Theatre and Rossini its leading composer. In 1821 the Duke even stayed for certain while at the residence of Colbrán in Bologna on his way to Paris (Sanchez 2011, 172-173).
The library of the Palacio de Liria, the Madrid residence of the Dukes of Alba, holds several autographs of Rossini's works and printed works complete with friendly dedications to the Duke. Their relationship was so close that in 1820, through his wife, Rossini even lent an enormous amount of money to the Duke, who was constantly spending huge sums on innumerous works of art for his extraordinary collection. In the archives of the Liria Palace there's a letter in immaculate Spanish, dated 17th February 1831, in which the composer friendly reminds the Duke of his outstanding debt of 16,000 ducats together with all due interests.
Later in 1831 Rossini visited the Duke in Madrid mainly in order to settle the outstanding debt. According to a very plausible hypothesis by Leticia Azcue Brea, head curator of sculpture of the Museo del Prado, the bust was given to Rossini as a compensatory gift on that occasion. In the 20th century, it resurfaced in a private collection in Germany.
 "V.E., please do not forget that on September 2, 1820, Mrs. Isabel Colbrán, my wife, made a loan to [you, the] V. E., of 16,000 ducats of Naples at the interest [rate] of that kingdom and in the manner and form that the laws there prescribe. This capital, the fruit of our efforts, was entrusted to you […] for the particular friendship and affection that you have always showed me… ", cf. Barreiro Lastra, H., Presencia de Rossini en Madrid: febrero de 1831. Antecedentes y derivanciones, unpubl. doctoral thesis, Madrid 2006.
Commissioned by the 14th Duke of Alba, Carlos Miguel Fitz-James Stuart and delivered before 1828
Likely to have been given to Rossini on his visit to Madrid in 1831
Private Collection Germany, acquired in the 1980s
Art Loss Register: S00148478
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