Here sits a young boy absorbed in his reading, perhaps slowly working his way through the pile of books on the shelf next to him. The boy is the young orator and writer, Cicero, identifiable by the engraving on the stone bench behind him. His face appears to be calm with a hint of quiet satisfaction and pleasure derived from the book in his hand. The painting is the sole surviving fresco from the courtyard of the Banco Mediceo in Milan. Founder of the Sforza dynasty, Francesco Sforza gifted the Palazzo to Cosimo de’Medici, who later funded its lavish restoration. Although no other images from this commission survive, The Young Cicero Reading may have been part of a larger group of works showcasing the Liberal Arts. Due to Cicero’s reputation in the art of oratory, it is safe to assume that this image represents Rhetoric. Master of the Lombardy Quattrocento, Vincenzo Foppa was chosen to fresco the courtyard. Although Foppa was a reputable artist of the period, few of his works survive. The Young Cicero Reading is the only surviving secular work by Foppa.
Vincenzo Foppa, The Young Cicero Reading, c.1464, 101.6cm x 143.7cm, The Wallace Collection, London.
This image stands out during this time of heightened anxiety, stress, and confusion. The boy here sits alone, yet he shows no air of loneliness or solitude. The greenery behind him brings a sense of calm and tranquillity, as many might be experiencing now through parks or private gardens. Perhaps the young Cicero can remind us that although life can feel rushed and strained during times of chaos, sometimes the best that one can do is be still and sit with a good book.