The inclusion of a dragon in this intriguing painting suggests that the subject references Saint George, who according to legend tamed and slayed a dragon. However, the specificity with which the features of the sitter are represented indicates that the painting is a portrait. The man’s identity is unclear. A helmet rests near him. The flag’s design is that of the battle flag of the Order of the Knights of Malta. Contrasting with the heroic narrative suggested by these accoutrements are the elegant, decorative costume of the subject, his slender form, and his inscrutable expression.
The attribution of the painting has been the subject of considerable debate and has evoked the names of several major Italian artists of the 16th century, among them
Caletti often deliberately worked in the styles of Dosso and the great Venetians. The National Gallery of Art painting shows especially striking similarities to some of Caletti’s etchings.
This handsome picture has presented something of a puzzle since it first appeared on the art market. It entered the Gallery’s collection in 1937 with an attribution to
NGA Board approval October 4, 1984. The title The Standard Bearer was adopted on February 1, 1941; previously, from the time of acquisition, it was known as Portrait of a Man with a Flag.
The specificity with which the features of the sitter are represented indicates that the painting is a portrait. Beside the sitter rests a helmet, elaborately decorated with gilded relief.
The helmet, decorated in pseudoclassical style with relief ornament, including foliate scrolls, gilded in the style known as damascening (or the less expensive pseudodamascening), is similar to the “Morosini Helmet” in the Gallery’s collection, 1942.9.356. Armor of this type was a specialty of Milan from about 1530 to 1555. See Carolyn C. Wilson, Renaissance Small Bronze Sculpture and Associated Decorative Arts at the National Gallery of Art (Washington, DC, 1983), 144; Heroic Armor of the Italian Renaissance: Filippo Negroli and His Contemporaries (New York, 1998), no. 67, repro., as “Visored Burgonet by Master AP.”
The Latin cross, as distinct from the more familiar eight-pointed Maltese cross, appeared on the battle flag of the order. Today, the white Latin cross on a red field is the flag of the Sovereign Military Order of Malta. The white Latin cross on a red field appears in a near-contemporary series of paintings depicting the 1565 siege of Malta by Matteo Perez, now in the National Maritime Museum, Greenwich. A 1629 engraving by Joseph Furtenbach (Musée de la Marine, Paris) shows one of the order’s galleys bearing banners and flags with the same emblem. Pinturicchio’s frescoes in Siena Cathedral depict Niccolò Aringhieri wearing the emblem on his armor; see H. J. A. Sire, The Knights of Malta (New Haven and London, 1994), 88, repro., and pl. 3.
The medal holding the plumes on the sitter’s cap appears to depict a reclining, clothed female figure. Nothing further can be determined of its subject. See Yvonne Hackenbroch, Enseignes (Florence, 1996), 124.
The style of the picture is eclectic, combining elements of
Bernard Berenson, Pitture italiane del Rinascimento (Milan, 1936), 151; Edoardo Arslan, “Una Natività di Dosso Dossi,” Commentari 8 (1957): 260; Edoardo Arslan, Le pitture del Duomo di Milano (Milan, 1960), 33. Copies of undated manuscript opinions by Fiocco and Van Marle are in NGA curatorial files, as is a more tentative undated manuscript opinion by Berenson (“most likely Dosso, though hard to tell in the photo”).
Undated manuscript opinion, copy in NGA curatorial files.
Felton Gibbons, Dosso and Battista Dossi: Court Painters at Ferrara (Princeton, 1968), 263–264; Francis Richardson, “Review of Dosso and Battista Dossi, Court Painters at Ferrara, by Felton Gibbons,” Art Quarterly 33, no. 3 (1970): 311; Sylvie Béguin, “Nicolo dell’Abate: Étude radiographique,” Annales/Laboratoire de Recherche des musées de France (1971): 59–61; Egidio Martini, “Alcuni ritratti e altri dipinti di Jacopo Tintoretto,” Arte documento 5 (1991): 107 n. 6.
Roberto Longhi, Viatico per cinque secoli di pittura veneziana (Florence, 1946), 67; Wilhelm Suida, “Die Sammlung Kress, New York,” Pantheon 26 (1940): 280; Erich von der Bercken, Die Gemälde des Jacopo Tintoretto (Munich, 1942), 118; Rodolfo Pallucchini, La giovinezza del Tintoretto (Milan, 1950), 107; Amalia Mezzetti, Dosso e Battista Ferraresi (Ferrara, 1965), 124; Federico Zeri, “The Second Volume of the Kress Catalogue,” The Burlington Magazine 111 (1969): 456; Burton Fredericksen and Federico Zeri, Census of Pre-Nineteenth-Century Italian Paintings in North American Public Collections (Cambridge, MA, 1972), 201; Sylvie Béguin, “Nicolo dell’Abate: Étude radiographique,” Annales/Laboratoire de Recherche des musées de France (1971): 59–61; Paola Rossi, Jacopo Tintoretto: I ritratti (Venice, 1974), 130–131; Paola Rossi, “Paris Bordon e Jacopo Tintoretto,” in Paris Bordon e il suo tempo: Atti del convegno internazionale di studi, Treviso, 28–30 ottobre 1985 (Treviso, 1987), 29; Paola Rossi, in Jacopo Tintoretto: Ritratti (Milan, 1994), 82; Fern Rusk Shapley, Catalogue of the Italian Paintings (Washington, DC, 1979), 1:462–463. Copies of manuscript opinions by Longhi (1929), Perkins (1932), and Suida (1935) are in NGA curatorial files. Pierluigi De Vecchi listed a Saint George Killing the Dragon in the NGA among the “other works attributed to Tintoretto,” which includes wrongly attributed works; this is presumably the Gallery’s painting. See Pierluigi De Vecchi, L’opera completa del Tintoretto (Milan, 1970), 134, no. C13.
Rearick compared the Gallery’s painting to the Madonna and Child Enthroned with Saints Sebastian, Roch, and Two Bishop Saints (Gemäldegalerie, Akademie der Bildenden Kunst, Vienna), which has been tentatively attributed to Mirola. W. R. Rearick, “Reflections on Tintoretto as a Portraitist,” Artibus et Historiae 16, no. 31 (1995): 58–59.
None of these attributions to artists of the Cinquecento are convincing. As the catalog of Tintoretto’s paintings, especially his early works, has been clarified since the 1980s, it has become clear that the picture is not from that painter’s hand. This was especially apparent when it was juxtaposed with autograph works in the 1994 exhibition of Tintoretto portraits in Venice and Vienna. Tintoretto’s subjects almost always look directly out at the viewer and have a small, white catchlight in their eyes, absent here. His brushwork is looser and drier, and his portrait heads always convey a strong sense of physical structure, of the skull beneath the skin. In the Gallery’s picture the brushwork is carefully controlled, and the paint appears to have been more fluid when applied. X-radiography
On Tintoretto’s conservatism as a portraitist, see Miguel Falomir, “Tintoretto’s Portraiture,” in Tintoretto, ed. Miguel Falomir (Madrid, 2007), 98; and Frederick Ilchman, “The Titian Formula,” in Titian, Tintoretto, Veronese: Rivals in Renaissance Venice (Boston, 2009), 206. Contrary to Shapley, the portrait visible in the x-radiograph also shows a different, much more careful, controlled technique from that in Tintoretto’s portraits, such as A Procurator of Saint Mark’s (National Gallery of Art, 1952.5.79), where one can see the artist building up the skeletal structure of the head with bold, broad brushstrokes as he roughs the forms in. Shapley’s suggestion that the Gallery’s painting and the x-radiograph both show a similarity to Tintoretto’s self-portraits is equally unconvincing. See Fern Rusk Shapley, Catalogue of the Italian Paintings (Washington, DC, 1979), 1:463.
The approach to the subject does show some characteristics of Dosso, evoking such works as Saint George (J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles)
As a few scholars have recognized, the picture’s puzzling combination of qualities, which has led to such diverse attributions, is best understood as the “retrospective romanticism” of a 17th-century artist looking back to Giorgione and Dosso through the lens of later painters. Hans Tietze and Erica Tietze-Conrat, in a manuscript opinion in NGA curatorial files, placed the picture in this context, noting the similarity to a portrait of a young man as a halberdier attributed to
Creighton Gilbert mentioned the Washington painting only peripherally, noting that Fiocco agreed that there was a romantic revival of Dosso c. 1600, “personified by Giorgio Calletti [sic] to whom he attributes the Washington Standard Bearer generally considered Dosso’s.” Gilbert agreed that the Gallery’s painting is closely based on Dosso but found the connection to Caletti’s documented work “less clear.” See Creighton Gilbert, The Works of Girolamo Savoldo: The 1955 Dissertation with a Review of Research, 1955–1985 (New York and London, 1986), 476–477. The mistake about Caletti’s name was repeated by Fern Rusk Shapley, Catalogue of the Italian Paintings (Washington, DC, 1979), 1:463. Tietze and Tietze-Conrat, in the undated manuscript opinion in NGA curatorial files (also cited by Shapley), described the Gallery’s picture as “almost a companion piece” to the portrait of a man in a plumed hat attributed to Pietro della Vecchia (see Alberto Riccoboni, Quattrocento pitture inedite: Prima mostra Nazionale Antiquaria [Venice, 1947], no. 77). “[S]canning Tintoretto’s, and incidentally Dosso’s oeuvre,” they wrote, “we look in vain for such a complicated posture . . . for such an ornamental filling of space, for such retrospective romanticism.” Pietro della Vecchia’s technique is generally more fluid, his colors more saturated, and his chiaroscuro more dramatic than in the Gallery’s painting. Nevertheless, the pose and “retrospective romanticism” of the Portrait of a Man as Saint George are indeed similar to some of Pietro’s paintings. See, for example, the Portrait of a Philosopher (Chrysler Museum of Art, Norfolk, VA) and the Warrior Attacking a Youth (Galleria Doria Pamphili, Rome); in addition, the Standard Bearer (or Warrior with a Shield and Lance), known from the mezzotint by Prince Rupert of the Rhine, provides a particularly apt comparison. Bernard Aikema, Pietro della Vecchia and the Heritage of the Renaissance in Venice (Florence, 1990), 116–117, 148, 160; cat. nos. I.10, I.202, IV.3; figs. 56, 89, and 104.
Caletti was active from about 1620 until 1660. He signed some of his prints Ioseffo Cremonesi, implying that he was originally from Cremona, but his artistic career seems to have taken place almost entirely in Ferrara. Caletti’s style as a painter and draftsman reflects that of his contemporary Guercino, with whom he may have apprenticed. In addition, Caletti took inspiration from the painters of the previous century—in particular Dosso, who had been court painter in Ferrara for three decades, as well as Giorgione, Titian, and such Lombard painters as Altobello Melone and Romanino. Indeed, Caletti often deliberately worked in the styles of Dosso and the great Venetians. Whether he intended them to be deliberate forgeries or not, such paintings sold during his lifetime and in the years after his death on the antiquarian market as works by Giorgione, Dosso, and Titian. In the modern era, his paintings continued to pass as the work of these masters.
On Caletti, see Nicola Ivanoff, “Giuseppe Caletti detto il Cremonese,” Emporium 57 (1951): 73–78; Eugenio Riccòmini, Il Seicento ferrarese (Ferrara, 1969), 41–47; Nicholas Turner, “Some Drawings by Giuseppe Caletti, called il Cremonese,” in Scritti di storia d’arte in onore di Federico Zeri (Milan, 1984), 2:681–688; Valeria Barboni and Enrico Cortina, “A Booklet of Etchings by Giuseppe Caletti,” Print Quarterly 13 (1996): 127–135.
The National Gallery of Art painting shows especially striking similarities to some of Caletti’s etchings. For example, the male figure in The Lovers
The Illustrated Bartsch, ed. Walter L. Strauss, 166+ vols. (New York, 1978–), 44:349, no. 9 (134, The Lovers); 341, no. 1 (130, David Considering the Head of Goliath). See also Valeria Barboni and Enrico Cortina, “A Booklet of Etchings by Giuseppe Caletti,” Print Quarterly 13 (1996): figs. 77, 80. For the anatomical studies, see Barboni and Cortina 1996, 128, 129, fig. 70. John T. Spike, in Baroque Portraiture in Italy: Works from North American Collections (Sarasota, FL, 1984), 84, rectifies the incorrect attribution to Caletti of 14 plates of Ferrarese rulers (Bartsch nos. 11–24).
For example, David with the Head of Goliath, David Considering the Head of Goliath, Mary Magdalen (all locations unknown); see Eugenio Riccòmini, Il Seicento ferrarese (Ferrara, 1969), figs. 29, 30a, 30b.
The two Davids cited in the preceding note provide the best overall comparisons to the Washington picture among the paintings attributed to Caletti.
Early works by Guercino that share a somewhat similar pensive mood with the Washington picture include Et in Arcadia Ego (Galleria Nazionale d’Arte, Rome; 1618–1622) and the Return of the Prodigal Son (Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna; 1619). A figure in the latter was adopted for a David in a picture attributed to Caletti (Museo Civico, Ferrara). Altobello Melone’s Portrait of a Young Man (Harvard Art Museum/ Fogg Museum; c. 1527–1528) shows a sitter who similarly looks off into the distance.
The iconography of the picture remains ambiguous. Aside from the banner, there is no other indication that the sitter might be a Knight of Malta. The dragon suggests a reference to Saint George; perhaps the sitter was named Giorgio. Alternatively, if the picture did indeed have a Ferrarese origin, the fact that Saint George is the patron saint of Ferrara may have some connection to its subject. The overall mood of the picture, evoking Venetian and Ferrarese painting of a century before, may have been more important to the artist and patron than any specific references.
March 21, 2019
(Count Alessandro Contini-Bonacossi, Rome); sold March 1932 to the Samuel H. Kress Foundation, New York; gift 1937 to NGA.
- An Exhibition of Italian Paintings Lent by Mr. Samuel H. Kress of New York to Museums, Colleges, and Art Associations, travelling exhibition, 24 venues, 1932-1935, mostly unnumbered catalogues, p. 40 or p. 45, repro., as Portrait of a Man with a Flag by Dossi.
- Exhibition of Venetian Painting From the Fifteenth Century through the Eighteenth Century, California Palace of the Legion of Honor, San Francisco, June-July 1938, no. 24, repro., as Portrait of a Man with a Flag by Dosso Dossi.
- Special Exhibition of Venetian Paintings from the Samuel H. Kress Collection, Seattle Art Museum; Portland Art Museum, Oregon; Montgomery Museum of Fine Arts, Alabama, August-October 1938, no catalogue.
- Jacopo Tintoretto--I Ritratti [Jacopo Tintoretto: Portraits], Gallerie dell'Accademia, Venice; Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna, 1994, no. 5, repro.
The painting has been lined, but the original support is a medium-weight, plain-weave fabric. X-radiographs show shallow cusping along all four margins, but it is strongest along the bottom edge, indicating that the painting may have been cut down slightly, particularly along the top and sides. In addition, the top and left edges of the painting show fractured paint and losses consistent with edges that have been cut. Microscopic analysis reveals a white ground beneath the paint layer. There is some indication that a thin brown wash was applied as an imprimatura layer over the ground, but this has not been confirmed. Infrared reflectography at 1.5 to 1.8 microns
Infrared reflectography was performed with a Santa Barbara Focalplane InSb camera fitted with an H astronomy filter.
The paint layers are generally thin, with some impasto only in a few highlights. Transparent glazes were applied over white underpainting to create the bright reds and greens. The decorations on the banner are heightened with gold leaf. The texture of the paint has been flattened, probably as a result of excessive pressure during lining. Thin, branched cracks with small areas of loss at the junction are visible in normal light. There are numerous small areas of retouching throughout the painting. The largest areas of retouching appear around the head in the background, in the beard, along the junction of the cloak and sleeve, and on the lower edge of the cloak. The entire picture suffers from abrasion. The flatness and opacity of the dark cloak suggest that it may have been repainted. Overall, the varnish is discolored and cloudy. The painting was treated by Stephen Pichetto in 1932.
Joanna Dunn and Robert Echols based on the examination reports by Carol Christensen and Ina Slama and the treatment report by Joanna Dunn
March 21, 2019
- Berenson, Bernard. Pitture italiane del rinascimento: catalogo dei principali artisti e delle loro opere con un indice dei luoghi. Translated by Emilio Cecchi. Milan, 1936: 151, as by Dosso Dossi.
- Suida, Wilhelm. "Die Sammlung Kress: New York." Pantheon 26 (1940): 278, 280, repro., as by Tintoretto.
- Preliminary Catalogue of Paintings and Sculpture. National Gallery of Art, Washington, 1941: 58, no. 209, as The Standard Bearer by Dosso Dossi.
- Bercken, Erich von der. Die Gemälde des Jacopo Tintoretto. Munich, 1942: 148, as by Tintoretto.
- Book of Illustrations. National Gallery of Art, Washington, 1942: 243, repro. 99, as The Standard Bearer by Dosso Dossi.
- Paintings and Sculpture from the Kress Collection. National Gallery of Art, Washington, 1945 (reprinted 1947, 1949): 124, repro., as The Standard Bearer by Dosso Dossi.
- Longhi, Roberto. Viatico per cinque secoli di pittura veneziana. Florence, 1946: 67, as by Tintoretto.
- Pallucchini, Rodolfo. La giovinezza del Tintoretto. Milan, 1950: 107, fig. 182, as by Tintoretto.
- Morassi, Antonio. “Review of La giovinezza del Tintoretto, by Rodolfo Pallucchini.” Emporium 115 (1952): 240.
- Arslan, Edoardo. “Una Natività di Dosso Dossi.” Commentari 8 (1957): 260, as by Dosso Dossi.
- Paintings and Sculpture from the Samuel H. Kress Collection. National Gallery of Art, Washington, 1959: 170, repro., as The Standard Bearer by Dosso Dossi.
- Arslan, Edoardo. Le pitture del Duomo di Milano. Milan, 1960: 33 n. 44, as Ferrarese, “dossesco.”
- Mezzetti, Amalia. Dosso e Battista Ferraresi. Ferrara, 1965: 124, as by Tintoretto.
- Summary Catalogue of European Paintings and Sculpture. National Gallery of Art, Washington, 1965: 43, as The Standard Bearer by Dosso Dossi.
- European Paintings and Sculpture, Illustrations. National Gallery of Art, Washington, 1968: 36, repro., as The Standard Bearer by Dosso Dossi.
- Gibbons, Felton. Dosso and Battista Dossi: Court Painters at Ferrara. Princeton, 1968: 263-264, fig. 222, as by Nicolò dell’Abbate.
- Shapley, Fern Rusk. Paintings from the Samuel H. Kress Collection: Italian Schools, XV-XVI Century. London, 1968: 75-76, fig. 182, asThe Standard Bearer, Attributed to Dosso Dossi.
- Béguin, Sylvie, ed. Mostra di Nicolò dell'Abate. Exh. cat. Palazzo dell'archiginnasio, Bologna, 1969: 78, as by Tintoretto.
- Rossi, Paola. “Una recente pubblicazione sul Tintoretto e il problema della sua ritrattistica.” Arte Veneta 23 (1969): 266, as by Tintoretto.
- Zeri, Federico. "Review of Paintings from the Samuel H. Kress Collection. Italian Schools XV-XVI Century by Fern Rusk Shapley." The Burlington Magazine 111 (1969): 456.
- Béguin, Sylvie. "Review of Dosso and Battista Dossi: Court Painters at Ferrara, by Felton Gibbons." L' Oeil 183 (1970): 59, as by Tintoretto.
- Richardson, Francis. “Review of Dosso and Battista Dossi, Court Painters at Ferrara, by Felton Gibbons.” Art Quarterly 33, no. 3 (1970): 310, as by Nicolò dell’Abbate.
- Béguin, Sylvie. “Nicolo dell'Abate: étude radiographique.” Annales - Laboratoire de Recherche des Musées de France (1971): 59-61, repro. 60 and fig. 19, as by Tintoretto.
- Fredericksen, Burton B., and Federico Zeri. Census of Pre-Nineteenth Century Italian Paintings in North American Public Collections. Cambridge, Mass., 1972: 201, as by Tintoretto.
- Shapley, Fern Rusk. Paintings from the Samuel H. Kress Collection: Italian Schools, XVI-XVIII Century. London, 1973: 390-391, as Attributed to Dosso Dossi.
- Rossi, Paola. Jacopo Tintoretto: I ritratti. Venice, 1974: 25-26, 44, 130-131, fig. 21, as by Tintoretto.
- European Paintings: An Illustrated Summary Catalogue. National Gallery of Art, Washington, 1975: 110, repro., as The Standard Bearer by Dosso Dossi.
- Shapley, Fern Rusk. Catalogue of the Italian Paintings. 2 vols. Washington, 1979: I:462-464, II:pl. 330, 330A,B, as Self Portrait (?) as Saint George by Jacopo Tintoretto.
- European Paintings: An Illustrated Catalogue. National Gallery of Art, Washington, 1985: 391, repro., as by Jacopo Tintoretto.
- Gilbert, Creighton. The Works of Girolamo Savoldo. The 1955 Dissertation with a Review of Research, 1955–1985. New York and London, 1986: 476-477, as by Dosso Dossi revival, c. 1600.
- Rossi, Paola. “Paris Bordon e Jacopo Tintoretto.” In Paris Bordon e il suo tempo: atti del convegno internazionale di studi, Treviso, 28–30 ottobre 1985. Treviso, 1987: 29, as by Tintoretto.
- Martini, Egidio. “Alcuni ritratti e altri dipinti di Jacopo Tintoretto.” Arte documento 5 (1991): 107, note 6, as by Nicolò dell’Abbate.
- Rearick, W. R. “Reflections on Tintoretto as a Portraitist.” Artibus et Historiae 16, no. 31 (1995): 58-59, fig. 7, as by Girolamo Mirola.
- Hackenbroch, Yvonne. Enseignes. Florence, 1996: 124, fig. 133, as Attributed to Dosso Dossi.