This painting belongs to a group of portraits by Jacopo Tintoretto and his studio that adhere to a similar compositional formula derived primarily from
Tintoretto employed workshop assistants throughout his career, and among them were a number of painters from beyond the Alps, some of whom were employed as landscape specialists. This particular landscape has notable similarities in style and use of color to the work of the Flemish painter Marten de Vos (1532–1603), who was in Venice at the very beginning of his career, from 1552 to 1556. Marten is said to have insinuated himself into Tintoretto’s studio in order to learn the master’s methods and occasionally painted landscapes for him. Based on comparison with Marten’s work both during and after his time in Venice, the landscape in the Gallery’s portrait can be attributed to Marten during his years in Venice.
See Frederick Ilchman, “The Titian Formula,” in Titian, Tintoretto, Veronese: Rivals in Renaissance Venice (Boston, 2009), 206.
Paola Rossi, Jacopo Tintoretto: I ritratti (Venice, 1974), cat. nos. 17, 65. On the Stuttgart painting, see also Miguel Falomir, ed., Tintoretto (Madrid, 2007), 226–228, cat. no. 10. On the Besançon painting, see also Le Tintoret: Une leçon de peinture (Milan, 1998), 118, 119, repro. The pose of the sitter in the NGA painting is also extremely close to a supposed portrait of Jacopo Sansovino by Tintoretto, probably a studio work (Uffizi, Florence); Rossi, Jacopo Tintoretto, cat. no. 1; see also Titien, Tintoret, Véronèse: Rivalités à Venise (Paris, 2009), fig. 98. (Despite its inscription, this painting is unlikely to represent Sansovino, who was born in 1486, and would have been 60 in 1546, the earliest likely date for the painting. This painting clearly shows a much younger man and the features of the subject do not resemble those of Sansovino as depicted by Tintoretto late in life. The inscription was probably added at some later date, reflecting the presence of architecture and sculpture in the portrait.)
Paola Rossi, Jacopo Tintoretto: I ritratti (Venice, 1974), cat. no. 139; see also Miguel Falomir, in Tintoretto, ed., Miguel Falomir (Madrid, 2007), 266–269, cat. no. 25. X-radiography reveals that the Soranzo portrait was originally a portrait of a different sitter, inscribed MDLII/ANLXXV (1552/age 75 years). The face, but not the body and costume, was changed to represent Soranzo, the inscription altered to read MDLIII/AN.XXXV (1553/age 35 years), and the monogram of Soranzo, LS, added. The fact that Tintoretto could paint the young Lorenzo Soranzo in the same costume he had used for an elderly man raises the possibility that the almost identical costume in the Gallery painting is not particular to this sitter but was either painted from a studio prop or adapted from a sketch used in the Soranzo portrait (or even from the Soranzo portrait itself, possibly still in the studio).
If, in contrast to these other portraits, the Gallery’s painting seems rather flat, the face lacking a sense of underlying facial structure and the brushwork lifeless, a possible explanation may be that Tintoretto’s distinctive hand has been obscured by the painting’s condition over the centuries. X-radiography
The only apparent dissent in the literature comes from Bernard Berenson, Italian Pictures of the Renaissance: Venetian School (London, 1957), 1:183. However, his assistant Nicky Mariano reported in a letter to NGA curator Michael Mahoney dated May 18, 1964, in NGA curatorial files, that the ascription of the picture to Tintoretto’s workshop was based on an error and that the painting “looks very fine.”
The landscape visible through the window in the upper left is much more detailed than the generic views in the Stuttgart and Besançon pictures. It may represent a specific location on the Venetian terraferma with which the sitter had associations, although even if this is the case it may not be topographically accurate. In any case, it has not been identified, and without other clues about the sitter, it may not be possible to do so.
Nevertheless, the landscape provides important clues about the creation of the painting. Its style and pictorial technique differ from those in the landscapes in other Tintoretto portraits, but resemble the background of the Crucifixion
Robert Echols, “Giovanni Galizzi and the Problem of the Young Tintoretto,” Artibus et Historiae 31 (1995): 72; Erasmus Weddigen, “Jacopo Tintoretto und die Musik,” Artibus et Historiae 5, no. 10 (1984): 113 n. 129, had previously noted the similarity of the landscape in the Padua Crucifixion to those of Marten de Vos. Carlo Ridolfi, Le maraviglie dell’arte, overo Le vite de gl’illustri pittori veneti, e dello stato (Venice, 1648), 2:75, wrote of Marten: “Giovinetto venne questi à Venetia tratto dalla fama de’ Pittori valorosi, e vedute le opera del Tintoretto insinuatosi nella casa di quello, vi studio lungamente e si fece pratico nel compor le inventioni; & alcune volte gli servì, come si disse, nel far de’ paesi.”
Armin Zweite, Marten de Vos als Maler: Ein Beitrag zur Geschichte der Antwerpener Malerei in der zweiten Hälfte des 16. Jahrhundert (Berlin, 1980), 263, 270–271, 274, cat. nos. 4, 18, and 27, figs. 4, 23, 35.
Paola Rossi, Jacopo Tintoretto: I ritratti (Venice, 1974), 131, dated the portrait to c. 1548 on the basis of the similarity to the Stuttgart painting. Fern Rusk Shapley, Catalogue of the Italian Paintings (Washington, DC, 1979), 1:464, dated it to about 1550. Hans Tietze, Tintoretto: The Paintings and Drawings (New York, 1948), 381, and in an undated manuscript opinion in NGA curatorial files, dated it to c. 1570, as did Pierluigi De Vecchi, L’opera completa del Tintoretto (Milan, 1970), 112.
The current title was adopted by the National Gallery of Art in 2018. There is no basis for the previous title identifying the sitter as a Venetian senator, for he is not depicted wearing the robes associated with that office.
Indeed, despite the Gallery’s previous title, most authors continued to use the more generic title of Portrait of a Man or Portrait of a Gentleman; see Hans Tietze, Tintoretto: The Paintings and Drawings (New York, 1948), 381; Bernard Berenson, Italian Pictures of the Renaissance: Venetian School (London, 1957), 1:183; Paola Rossi, Jacopo Tintoretto: I ritratti (Venice, 1974), 21.
March 21, 2019
Purchased 1839 in Bologna by William Buchanan [1777-1846], London. R.P. Nichols, Esq., by 1868. Robert Stayner Holford [1808-1892], Dorchester House, London, by 1887; by inheritance to Sir George Lindsay Holford [1860-1926], Dorchester House; (his estate sale, Christie, Manson & Woods, London, 15 July 1927, no. 111); purchased by Hopkins, London. Leopold Hirsch [d. 1932], London; (his estate sale, Christie, Manson & Woods, London, 11 May 1934, no. 136); purchased by (J. and S. Goldschmidt, Frankfurt, London, and New York). (Galerie Étienne Bignou, Paris); sold 14 December 1934 to Chester Dale [1883-1962], New York; gift 1943 to NGA.
- National Exhibition of Works of Art, Leeds, 1868, no. 136a, as A Venetian Senator.
- Exhibition of Works by the Old Masters. Winter Exhibition, Royal Academy of Arts, London, 1887, no. 139, as Portrait of a Man.
- Exhibition of Venetian Art, New Gallery, London, 1894-1895, no. 162, as Portrait of a Man.
- The Chester Dale Bequest, National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C., 1965, unnumbered checklist.
Exhibition History Notes
 Algernon Graves, A Century of Loan Exhibitions 1813-1912, 5 vols., London, 1913-1915: 3:1312, 1313, lists two additional loans of Tintoretto portraits made by R.S. Holford: 1867, lent to the British Institution, A Gentleman, no. 129; 1870, lent to the Royal Academy, A Portrait, 44 1/2 x 35 1/2 in., no. 50. Because of the ambiguity of the title and the similarity of dimensions between the NGA painting and Tintoretto's Gentleman aged Twenty-Eight (Staatsgalerie, Stuttgart), which was also in the Holford collection at that time, it is not possible to determine which was lent.
The picture is on a single piece of medium-weight, plain-weave fabric. The painting has been lined, and truncated cusping along the margins implies that the picture has been trimmed slightly at the top and bottom and possibly at the right. The full proper left hand may originally have appeared in the painting. Microscopic examination indicates that there is a thin white ground overall, covered by imprimatura layers of various tones, varying from black under the sky and gray in the landscape to ocher under the head. X-radiographs show that the folds of the draped fabric at the right were originally in a somewhat different configuration. They also show an unexplained area of lead white extending from the top of the sitter’s head out to the left, descending across the wall and window casing and ending roughly at the edge of the fur collar, which may indicate that the head was reworked. A thicker area of lead white outlines the sitter’s head at the right and the structure of the sitter’s head was sketched in with bold strokes of lead white
The picture has suffered a large amount of flake loss along the right margin, as much as 6 inches into the picture, and a lesser amount at the top. There are smaller flake losses all around the picture, mostly in the lower half. The paint film overall is abraded, most visibly in the sky, landscape, and drapery highlights, where the dark underlayers are exposed, as well as in the cheeks, nose, and forehead of the sitter. These areas have been retouched and the sitter’s mustache has been thickened. Excessive pressure during the lining process has led to some weave enhancement. The thick varnish has become milky and discolored and obscures the reading of the costume. Numerous deeply discolored residues of earlier coatings are also evident.
A photograph from the 1927 sale catalog in NGA curatorial files shows that at that time the curtain was painted over as a dark, flat surface. Evidently the painting was restored between 1927 and 1934, because the curtain is visible in a photograph in the 1934 auction catalog,
London, Christie, Manson & Woods, The Collection of Important Pictures by Old Masters, British Portraits, Engravings and Drawings, the Property of Leopold Hirsch, Esq., May 11, 1934, no. 136.
Robert Echols and Joanna Dunn based on the examination reports by Catherine Metzger and Joanna Dunn
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- Thode, Henry. Tintoretto. Bielefeld, 1901: 80.
- Stoughton Holborn, Ian Bernard. Jacopo Robusti, called Tintoretto. London, 1903: 102-103.
- Berenson, Bernard. The Venetian Painters of the Renaissance. 3rd ed. New York and London, 1906: 136.
- Benson, Robert H. The Holford Collection, Dorchester House. 2 vols. Oxford, 1927: no. 80, pl. 74.
- Berenson, Bernard. Italian Pictures of the Renaissance: A List of the Principal Artists and Their Works with an Index of Places. Oxford, 1932: 560.
- Washington Times-Herald (18 July 1943): C-10.
- Tietze, Hans. Tintoretto: The Paintings and Drawings. New York, 1948: 381.
- Berenson, Bernard. Italian Pictures of the Renaissance. Venetian School. 2 vols. London, 1957: 1:183.
- Paintings other than French in the Chester Dale Collection. National Gallery of Art, Washington, 1965: 9, repro.
- Summary Catalogue of European Paintings and Sculpture. National Gallery of Art, Washington, 1965: 128.
- European Paintings and Sculpture, Illustrations. National Gallery of Art, Washington, 1968: 115, repro.
- Rossi, Paola. “Una recente pubblicazione sul Tintoretto e il problema della sua ritrattistica.” Arte Veneta 23 (1969): 268.
- De Vecchi, Pierluigi. L’opera completa del Tintoretto. Milan, 1970: 112, no. 184.
- Fredericksen, Burton B., and Federico Zeri. Census of Pre-Nineteenth Century Italian Paintings in North American Public Collections. Cambridge, Mass., 1972: 201.
- Rossi, Paola. Jacopo Tintoretto: I ritratti. Venice, 1974: 29, 131, fig. 30.
- European Paintings: An Illustrated Summary Catalogue. National Gallery of Art, Washington, 1975: 340, repro.
- Shapley, Fern Rusk. Catalogue of the Italian Paintings. 2 vols. National Gallery of Art, Washington, 1979: I:464-465, II:pl. 331.
- European Paintings: An Illustrated Catalogue. National Gallery of Art, Washington, 1985: 392, repro.