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Robert Echols, “Giuseppe Caletti/Portrait of a Man as Saint George/c. 1620s,” Italian Paintings of the Sixteenth Century, NGA Online Editions, https://purl.org/nga/collection/artobject/239 (accessed April 21, 2019).

 

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Overview

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 Jacopo Tintoretto (Venetian, 1518 or 1519 - 1594) and Dosso Dossi (Ferrarese, active 1512 - 1542). The picture’s puzzling combination of qualities, which has led to such diverse attributions, may be best understood as the “retrospective romanticism” of a 17th-century artist looking back to Giorgione (Venetian, 1477/1478 - 1510) and Dosso through the lens of later painters. The most likely such artist is the 17th-century painter and printmaker Giuseppe Caletti, who was active from about 1620 until 1660.

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.

Entry

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 Dosso Dossi and was long known as The Standard Bearer. An attribution to Tintoretto and the current title were adopted in 1984, based on acceptance of the work by Tintoretto scholars at that time.[1] However, questions have remained about both the attribution and the subject.

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.[2] Behind him is what appears to be the body of a grotesque dragon, similar to the one in Titian’s Saint Margaret and the Dragon (Museo del Prado, Madrid, and other versions). While the dragon would suggest that the sitter is being presented as Saint George, his flag, bearing a white Latin cross on a red field, is not that of the dragon-slaying saint, which shows a red cross on a white field, but rather the banner of Saint John. This was the battle flag of the Order of the Knights of Malta [fig. 1].[3] Contrasting with the heroic narrative suggested by these accoutrements are the elegant, decorative costume of the subject and his aloof, pensive expression.[4]

The style of the picture is eclectic, combining elements of Giorgionesque ambiguity, some of the dash and decoratism of Dosso Dossi, and an elegance that evokes Emilian mannerism. Not surprisingly, its attribution has been the subject of considerable debate and has evoked the names of several major artists of the Cinquecento. The attribution to Dosso was affirmed by Bernard Berenson (1936), Giuseppe Fiocco and Raimond van Marle (manuscript opinions), and, tentatively, by Edoardo Arslan (1957), who later (1960) judged it “ferrarese, dossesco.”[5] Adolfo Venturi attributed the picture to Parmigianino.[6] Felton Gibbons (1968) assigned it to Niccolò dell’Abate, followed tentatively by Francis Richardson (1970); this attribution was refuted by Sylvie Béguin (1971) on the basis of x-radiographs, but revived by Egidio Martini (1991).[7] The attribution to Tintoretto was first advanced by Roberto Longhi (in a letter of 1929, and again in 1946), who considered it an early work. His attribution was followed by F. Mason Perkins (manuscript opinion, 1932), Wilhelm Suida (manuscript opinion 1935, 1940), Erich von der Bercken (1942), Rodolfo Pallucchini (1950), Amalia Mezzetti (1965), Federico Zeri (1969, 1972), Béguin (1971), Paola Rossi (hesitantly in 1969; fully in 1974, 1987, and 1994), and Fern Rusk Shapley (1979, after having attributed it to Dosso in 1968).[8] W. R. Rearick (1994) located the painting in the Bologna-Parma context around 1552 to 1555, tentatively attributing it to the Bolognese painter Girolamo Mirola, whose early works show the influence of Parma, especially Girolamo Bedoli.[9]

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 [fig. 2] reveals none of the underlying structure that is characteristic of Tintoretto’s portraits (as in A Procurator of Saint Mark’s). Nor does the romantic treatment of the subject find a counterpart anywhere in Tintoretto’s oeuvre. Although a revolutionary in his narrative paintings, Tintoretto was relatively conservative in his portraiture, sticking close to formulas developed by Titian in the 1530s.[10]

The approach to the subject does show some characteristics of Dosso, evoking such works as Saint George (J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles) [fig. 3] and the Standard Bearer (Allentown Art Museum). However, the Gallery’s painting is more delicate, the mood more pensive, closer to the elusive Giorgione than to the straightforward and less graceful Dosso. While the elegance and slender form of the figure are evocative of the portraits of Niccolò dell’Abate, such as the Man with Parrot (Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna), the pictorial technique is softer and more diffuse than Niccolò’s tightly focused precision. Niccolò’s physiognomies also tend to be more mannered and his colors more metallic than in the Gallery’s painting. Rearick’s attribution to Mirola has the appeal of accounting for the Emilian characteristics of the picture, but the relationship to Mirola’s firmly attributed works is too distant to be the basis of an attribution.

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 Pietro della Vecchia (Pietro Muttoni). Creighton Gilbert, in a brief comment, similarly linked the painting to a Dosso revival in the early Seicento. However, the best solution to the conundrum posed by the picture lies in another attribution that has received scant attention, reported by Gilbert to have been made orally by Fiocco, to the 17th-century painter and printmaker Giuseppe Caletti.[11]

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.[12] 

The National Gallery of Art painting shows especially striking similarities to some of Caletti’s etchings. For example, the male figure in The Lovers [fig. 4] is seen in a similar pose, in profile with one arm extended, and sports a similar ostrich feather fastened by a badge in his hat. In Caletti’s etching of David Considering the Head of Goliath [fig. 5], the protagonist’s pensive mood matches that of the sitter in the Washington picture. The treatment of the eyes, ears, nose, and hands is also consistent with etchings by Caletti of anatomical studies.[13] A distinctive characteristic of the Gallery’s painting, the deep shadowing of some of the drapery folds, especially those at the bottom center of the painting, reappears in all of Caletti’s works—paintings as well as etchings.[14] Otherwise, the paintings assigned to Caletti, while occasionally similar in mood to the Gallery’s picture, offer fewer direct comparisons than do his etchings.[15] Occasional similarities, such as the treatment of golden embroidery on fabrics or the sharply cut eyelids of some of his figures, seem insufficient to pin down an attribution of the Washington painting to the artist. Nevertheless, the specific connections with his etchings, as well as the more general connections to the sources upon which he relied, make a strong case for his authorship.[16] Caletti’s oeuvre as a painter may not yet be fully understood, and it is possible that further study may provide confirmation for this attribution. (For example, no portraits have yet been attributed to him.) In any case, the picture can be assigned more generally to a painter from the era of Guercino seeking to evoke the spirit of Dosso and other artists of the previous century. A date of circa 1620 to 1630 seems reasonable, since all of Caletti’s etchings mentioned above appear in a book published in the second half of the 1620s.

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.

Robert Echols

March 21, 2019

Provenance

(Count Alessandro Contini-Bonacossi, Rome);[1] sold March 1932 to the Samuel H. Kress Foundation, New York;[2] gift 1937 to NGA.

Exhibition History
1932
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.
1938
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.
1938
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.
1994
Jacopo Tintoretto--I Ritratti [Jacopo Tintoretto: Portraits], Gallerie dell'Accademia, Venice; Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna, 1994, no. 5, repro.
Technical Summary

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[1] and the x-radiographs show that originally the feathers of the sitter’s hat were taller and extended down the back of his head to the nape of his neck. They also show that originally there was a curtain where the flag is located. Perhaps most significantly, the x-radiographs reveal the presence of another, nearly complete portrait beneath the present one, oriented in the opposite direction [fig. 1]. Based on the x-radiographs, the handling of the paint in the portrait, especially in the treatment of the drapery, appears to be similar to that in the visible picture.

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

Bibliography
1936
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.
1940
Suida, Wilhelm. "Die Sammlung Kress: New York." Pantheon 26 (1940): 278, 280, repro., as by Tintoretto.
1941
Preliminary Catalogue of Paintings and Sculpture. National Gallery of Art, Washington, 1941: 58, no. 209, as The Standard Bearer by Dosso Dossi.
1942
Bercken, Erich von der. Die Gemälde des Jacopo Tintoretto. Munich, 1942: 148, as by Tintoretto.
1942
Book of Illustrations. National Gallery of Art, Washington, 1942: 243, repro. 99, as The Standard Bearer by Dosso Dossi.
1945
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.
1946
Longhi, Roberto. Viatico per cinque secoli di pittura veneziana. Florence, 1946: 67, as by Tintoretto.
1950
Pallucchini, Rodolfo. La giovinezza del Tintoretto. Milan, 1950: 107, fig. 182, as by Tintoretto.
1952
Morassi, Antonio. “Review of La giovinezza del Tintoretto, by Rodolfo Pallucchini.” Emporium 115 (1952): 240.
1957
Arslan, Edoardo. “Una Natività di Dosso Dossi.” Commentari 8 (1957): 260, as by Dosso Dossi.
1959
Paintings and Sculpture from the Samuel H. Kress Collection. National Gallery of Art, Washington, 1959: 170, repro., as The Standard Bearer by Dosso Dossi.
1960
Arslan, Edoardo. Le pitture del Duomo di Milano. Milan, 1960: 33 n. 44, as Ferrarese, “dossesco.”
1965
Mezzetti, Amalia. Dosso e Battista Ferraresi. Ferrara, 1965: 124, as by Tintoretto.
1965
Summary Catalogue of European Paintings and Sculpture. National Gallery of Art, Washington, 1965: 43, as The Standard Bearer by Dosso Dossi.
1968
European Paintings and Sculpture, Illustrations. National Gallery of Art, Washington, 1968: 36, repro., as The Standard Bearer by Dosso Dossi.
1968
Gibbons, Felton. Dosso and Battista Dossi: Court Painters at Ferrara. Princeton, 1968: 263-264, fig. 222, as by Nicolò dell’Abbate.
1968
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.
1969
Béguin, Sylvie, ed. Mostra di Nicolò dell'Abate. Exh. cat. Palazzo dell'archiginnasio, Bologna, 1969: 78, as by Tintoretto.
1969
Rossi, Paola. “Una recente pubblicazione sul Tintoretto e il problema della sua ritrattistica.” Arte Veneta 23 (1969): 266, as by Tintoretto.
1969
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.
1970
Béguin, Sylvie. "Review of Dosso and Battista Dossi: Court Painters at Ferrara, by Felton Gibbons." L' Oeil 183 (1970): 59, as by Tintoretto.
1970
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.
1971
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.
1972
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.
1973
Shapley, Fern Rusk. Paintings from the Samuel H. Kress Collection: Italian Schools, XVI-XVIII Century. London, 1973: 390-391, as Attributed to Dosso Dossi.
1974
Rossi, Paola. Jacopo Tintoretto: I ritratti. Venice, 1974: 25-26, 44, 130-131, fig. 21, as by Tintoretto.
1975
European Paintings: An Illustrated Summary Catalogue. National Gallery of Art, Washington, 1975: 110, repro., as The Standard Bearer by Dosso Dossi.
1979
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.
1985
European Paintings: An Illustrated Catalogue. National Gallery of Art, Washington, 1985: 391, repro., as by Jacopo Tintoretto.
1986
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.
1987
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.
1991
Martini, Egidio. “Alcuni ritratti e altri dipinti di Jacopo Tintoretto.” Arte documento 5 (1991): 107, note 6, as by Nicolò dell’Abbate.
1995
Rearick, W. R. “Reflections on Tintoretto as a Portraitist.” Artibus et Historiae 16, no. 31 (1995): 58-59, fig. 7, as by Girolamo Mirola.
1996
Hackenbroch, Yvonne. Enseignes. Florence, 1996: 124, fig. 133, as Attributed to Dosso Dossi.
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