In this austere three-quarter length portrait, Giovanni Vincenzo Imperiale sits upright in a high-back chair and looks directly out at the viewer with a penetrating gaze. His black gown and black four-cornered beret identify him as a senator of the Genoese republic, a position of great respect and responsibility that he assumed the very year Anthony Van Dyck executed this portrait. Giovanni Vincenzo probably commissioned the painting to commemorate his appointment, which he holds rolled up in his left hand. He sits before a window with a view of Genoa's harbor, identifiable by the lighthouse glowing among the hills on the far shore. Van Dyck must have included this view as a reference to Giovanni Vincenzo's distinguished naval career—he had previously been admiral of the Genoese fleet.
Van Dyck has aptly communicated Giovanni Vincenzo's illustrious past and imposing demeanor with a remarkable sense of naturalism. Although the Genoese senator's attire is somber and his gaze is steely, he also seems relaxed, as he rests his hands comfortably in his lap. Unfortunately, the painting does lack depth of form, particularly in the robe. Thick layers of discolored varnish and overall abrasion have compromised the painting's appearance and diminished the richness of the black robe that must have existed. Despite the imperfect state of preservation, the conceptual framework is entirely consistent with Van Dyck's work. Giovanni Vincenzo's austere presence, so indicative of his position of authority, is one that Van Dyck, with his intimate knowledge of Renaissance portrait tradition, was able to convey with a surety unmatched by his contemporaries.
upper right under coat of arms: IO:VINCs:IMPs: / ANN:SAL:1626 / AET:SVAE:44.
The sitter, Giovanni Vincenzo Imperiale [1582-1648], Genoa; by inheritance to his nephew, Gian Giacomo Imperiale [1627-1663], Villa dell'Albero d'Oro, Terralba, near Genoa; by descent to Marchese Cesare Imperiale Lercari; (Lawrie & Co., London); purchased June 1902 by (M. Knoedler & Co., New York); sold 24 February 1905 to Peter A.B. Widener, Lynnewood Hall, Elkins Park, Pennsylvania; inheritance from Estate of Peter A.B. Widener by gift through power of appointment of Joseph E. Widener, Elkins Park; gift 1942 to NGA.
- Exhibition of Portraits by Van Dyck from the Collections of Mr. P.A.B. Widener and Mr. H.C. Frick, M. Knoedler & Co., New York, 1909, no. 8.
- Van Dyck a Genova: Grande pittura e collezionismo, Palazzo Ducale, Genoa, 1997, no. 90, repro, as by Genoese (?) follower of Van Dyck.
- Hofstede de Groot, Cornelis, and Wilhelm R. Valentiner. Pictures in the collection of P. A. B. Widener at Lynnewood Hall, Elkins Park, Pennsylvania: Early German, Dutch & Flemish Schools. Philadelphia, 1913: unpaginated, repro.
- Paintings in the Collection of Joseph Widener at Lynnewood Hall. Intro. by Wilhelm R. Valentiner. Elkins Park, Pennsylvania, 1923: unpaginated, repro.
- Paintings in the Collection of Joseph Widener at Lynnewood Hall. Intro. by Wilhelm R. Valentiner. Elkins Park, Pennsylvania, 1931: 118, repro.
- Works of Art from the Widener Collection. Foreword by David Finley and John Walker. National Gallery of Art, Washington, 1942: 7.
- Paintings and Sculpture from the Widener Collection. National Gallery of Art, Washington, 1948 (reprinted 1959): 75, repro.
- Walker, John. National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C. New York, 1963 (reprinted 1964 in French, German, and Spanish): 310, repro.
- Summary Catalogue of European Paintings and Sculpture. National Gallery of Art, Washington, 1965: 47.
- European Paintings and Sculpture, Illustrations. National Gallery of Art, Washington, 1968: 39, repro.
- European Paintings: An Illustrated Summary Catalogue. National Gallery of Art, Washington, 1975: 120, repro.
- Walker, John. National Gallery of Art, Washington. Rev. ed. New York, 1984: 263, no. 335, color repro.
- European Paintings: An Illustrated Catalogue. National Gallery of Art, Washington, 1985: 145, repro.
- Wheelock, Arthur K., Jr. Flemish Paintings of the Seventeenth Century. The Collections of the National Gallery of Art Systematic Catalogue. Washington, D.C., 2005: 61-65, color repro.