Among the most distinctive portraits by Diego Velázquez is one he painted of Francesco I d'Este (1610–58), the Duke of Modena, during the duke's visit to Madrid in 1638 to secure the support of Philip IV. The duke is shown in armor, wearing a red sash, his head turned toward the viewer. It is a work that conveys a quality of arrogance and sensuality, and is a high watermark in the history of baroque portraiture, while also illustrating the importance of Velázquez's portraits to Spanish diplomacy. In 1843 the painting was acquired by the Galleria Estense—one of the most prestigious of Italy's regional museums—in Modena, Italy, and it has never before been lent to an institution in the United States. This special, three-month loan coincides with the re-installation of the Metropolitan's collection of Old Master paintings. It not only makes accessible to an American public one of the least known of Velázquez's works, but also calls attention to the severe damage suffered throughout the Italian region of Emilia Romagna after a devastating earthquake in May 2012. The Galleria Estense has been temporarily closed due to the damage it sustained.
The exhibition is organized by The Metropolitan Museum of Art in collaboration with the Soprintendenza per i Beni Storici, Artistici ed Etnoantropologici di Modena e Reggio Emilia and the Galleria Estense.
Support is provided by the Consulate General of Italy in New York and Ferrero USA Inc. as part of the 2013 Year of Italian Culture in the United States, an initiative held under the auspices of the President of the Italian Republic, organized by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Embassy of Italy in Washington with the support of the Corporate Ambassadors Eni and Intesa Sanpaolo.