Jacopo Bassano (1510 - 1592)
A portrait of a Procuratore
Oil on canvas
- Lucien Bonaparte's Collection (as Portrait of Doge Priuli, Tiziano);
- Virginia Museum, Richmond (as Portrait of Doge Lorenzo Priuli).
(Canvas) 24 in. (H) x 19 in. (W)
(Frame) 30.25 in. (H) x 26 in. (W)
The painting is a portrait of a man half-length, on a black background. It is a three-quarter portrait, according to a custom very common in the genre of portraiture in the sixteenth century. The man is wearing a decorated dark red velvet jacket, lined with ermine on the front. There can also be seen a dark stole draped over the sitter’s right shoulder and a black cap. The face is fully illuminated, and framed by a long, bushy gray beard. The beard is darker on the cheeks and almost white on the front. The sitter’s crimson jacket is in velvet, decorated with large floral motifs - concentric corollas of flowers – and it is edged with ermine.
In the catalogue of the collection of paintings of Prince of Canino Lucien Bonaparte (1775-1840), we can read that the painting was known as “Portrait of Doge Priuli” and attributed to Titian. The attribution to Titian, however, is no longer sustainable. Already in 1972, Federico Zeri, in his census of Italian paintings from America collections, and reporting the painting in the collection of the Museum of Richmond, Virginia, he did not confirm the name of Vecellio, preferring the term “Venice school, 16th century”.
The portrait has recently been confirmed as the work of Jacopo Bassano, by the Bassano academic Dr. Bernard Aikema, and is a significant addition to the corpus of that artist. The masterful handling of paint and the absolute naturalism are signatures of the work of Jacopo. The skill of the naturalistic rendering of the face (thin shadows in the area of the eyes, the light on one temple and the blue vein that is visible under the left eye) can be attributed to Bassano’s paintings of the late period. There are also features that you can find in his other portraits. The half-length in three-quarter pose is one that identifies almost all Bassano’s portraits, just as the dark background and the lack of contextual details (no objects, even the hands are excluded) that isolate the face and bring it to the fore.
The role of Jacopo Bassano as a portraitist has been the subject of considerable academic discussion. Just one signed portrait exists, and the attribution of the other portraits included in the artist’s catalogue raisonne is based exclusively on stylistic evidence. The account book that records all commissions for Jacopo and his father up to the 1550s, registers little more than a dozen portraits over two decades. The number of those works was increased gradually by critics, basing their attributions on the analysis of touch, colors and on the identification of his basic naturalism. In more than one of these portraits, for example in the Portrait of a Man at the Getty Museum in California, all the attention is concentrated on the face, without the insertion of the arms and hands and environmental details, and with the help of contrasting dark clothes.
The approach of these portraits is internalized, staking everything on the sitter and the expressiveness of his presence. A methodology that derives directly from Lorenzo Lotto and, more obviously, from Titian. A deep interpretation of a single personality and subject, supported by superb observation skills and the rendering of naturalistic reality.
A formal analysis of the painting allows us to date the work to the fifth decade of the sixteenth century. This was a period during which the work of Jacopo Bassano is faithful to a certain realism, and doesn’t yet display the gradual disintegration of form of the following decades. In comparison, it is appropriate to look at parts of other contemporary works by the artist, such as the hyper-realism in the rendering of the faces (especially San Giuseppe) in the different versions of the Flight into Egypt (the one in the Civic Museum at Bassano del Grappa, and that in Toledo. The comparison with the Adoration of the Magi in the National Gallery in Edinburgh is also interesting, with the male faces in the foreground, the old man and the kneeling person behind. Also, the heads of the old men in the Last Supper of the Galleria Borghese in Rome and in the Miraculous Draught of Fishes, now in Washington.
More striking is the comparison with the portraits. In addition to that of the podesta Bernardo Morosini, in the Staatliche Museen of Kassel, recognized by Rearick in 1980 (the portrait of the mayor, who held the city of Bassano from 1541 to '42, is documented in Libro secondo) One might sensibly suggest the Portrait of Cardinal, now in Szépművészeti Múzeum in Budapest (also present in Bonaparte collection): the same black background, the same refined attention to details in the face, the same half-length, and the same lack of descriptive elements.
The painting is initially registered as Portrait of Doge Priuli (and assigned to Titian); Federico Zeri finds it cataloged with the same words in the inventory of the Museum of Richmond, even with the clarification that this is the Doge Lorenzo Priuli. In the sixteenth Century, there are two Doges from the Priuli family, the brothers Lorenzo (1489-1559), elected doge in 1556, and Girolamo (1486-1567), elected after him.
What prevents us from identifying this painting as a portrait of a Doge is the dress worn by the subject, the crimson red decorated velvet jacket. This type of garment, with the stole, also velvet but darker in color, and the cap, allows us to make some considerations that may affect the social status of this man. The color of this velvet, decorated with giant caper flowers, was the exclusive prerogative of members of certain social categories and specifically of precise political offices. This dress, therefore, including the scarf on the shoulder, also velvet decorated with plant motifs, and the hat, appears to be the traditional "vesta" or "toga" worn by procurators and senators.
There are a number of portraits of procurators and senators portrayed by Tintoretto, which are wearing this type of garment, and in the catalogue of Jacopo Bassano, there are two portraits of senators of the same type: one now in Berlin, Portrait of senator, Staatliche Museen, Gemäldegalerie, and the Portrait Bernardo Morosini. The Doge, in his official portrait, was always represented with the robe, which identified him as such, which was different from that worn by our sitter, and above all wearing distinctive headgear, the “corno ducale”. This cannot, therefore, be a portrait of Doge. It is instead certainly a portrait of a senator, or procurator, and is likely to date from the mid-1540s.
*We are grateful to Dr. Bernard Aikema for confirming the attribution of this painting to Jacopo Bassano.