This painting’s inscription can be found in the letter resting on the table. It tells us that this man is Alessandro Alberti, and this portrait was painted in Venice when he was 30.
A member of the entourage of the personal representative of the pope in Venice, Alberti came from the same Florentine noble family as the celebrated architect and humanist Leon Battista Alberti and corresponded with Pietro Aretino, a prominent author, poet, and playwright. Here, the richly costumed Alberti is portrayed in a confident stance. The courtly aspect of the image is further emphasized by the subsidiary figure of the page, who is occupied in lacing Alberti’s breeches to his doublet.
In a 1548 letter to Alberti, Aretino mentioned that Alberti had his portrait painted by Gian Paolo Pace, who worked as a portraitist in Padua. This painting may be that portrait. The painting’s inscription likely once preserved the artist’s name and the work’s date, but that portion of the inscription has been effaced.
Despite the circumstantial information provided by the
See Provenance and also Otto Mündler, “The Travel Diaries of Otto Mündler 1855–1858,” ed. Carol Togneri Dowd, Walpole Society 51 (1985): 131–132, 327; Elvira Grifi, Saunterings in Florence: A New Artistic and Practical Handbook for English and American Tourists (Florence, 1896), 385, as “Paolo Veronese, Portrait (1557)”; Wilhelm von Bode, The Art Collection of Mr. Alfred Beit (Berlin, 1904), 5–6, 55 (recording the falsification of the signature).
On this basis, Ettore Camesasca connected the portrait with a letter written by Pietro Aretino to Alessandro Alberti in 1548, in which the author mentions that Alberti, in common with the Venetian patricians Niccolò Tiepolo and Daniele Barbaro, had had his portrait painted by
For Aretino’s letter, see Ettore Camesasca, ed., Lettere sull’arte di Pietro Aretino, commentate da Fidenzio Pertile (Milan, 1957), 2:220–221; Pietro Aretino, Lettere, ed. Paolo Procaccioli (Rome, 2000), 4:319–320, no. 521. For other mentions of Pace in Aretino’s correspondence, see Aretino, Lettere, ed. Procaccioli (1999), 3:332–334, no. 377; 354, no. 405; 375–376, no. 441; 468–469, no. 615. For the attribution to Pace, see Camesasca, Lettere sull’arte di Pietro Aretino (1960), 3:396–397. It was accepted by Rodolfo Pallucchini, Tiziano (Florence, 1969), 1:221, 223, but was rejected by Fern Rusk Shapley, Paintings from the Samuel H. Kress Collection: Italian Schools, XVI–XVIII Century (London, 1973), 26–27 (see also Fern Rusk Shapley, Catalogue of the Italian Paintings [Washington, DC, 1979], 1:355–357); Enrico Maria Dal Pozzolo, “La ‘bottega’ di Tiziano: Sistema solare e buco nero,” Studi Tizianeschi 4 (2006): 80–81; and by Bernard Aikema and John Martin, in Le botteghe di Tiziano (Florence, 2009), 346.
Burton Fredericksen and Federico Zeri, Census of Pre-Nineteenth-Century Italian Paintings in North American Public Collections (Cambridge, MA, 1972), 152, 509, 647; Maria Grazia Ciardi Duprè, “Gian Paolo Lolmo,” in I pittori bergamaschi, vol. 4, Il Cinquecento (Bergamo, 1975), 34.
Mattia Biffis, “Di Zuan Paolo Pace, chierico e laico,” Studi Tizianeschi 7 (2012): 48–67. See also Giulio Zavatta, “Alfonso Gonzaga di Novellara committente di Giovanni Paolo Pace, e il tentative di acquisto di un dipinto di Tiziano tramite il miniature Antonio Bernieri da Correggio,” Studi Tizianeschi 8 (2012): 99–109.
In his 2012 article, Biffis also established for the first time the identity of Alessandro Alberti. It was already clear from Aretino’s correspondence that a gentleman of this name was the recipient of nine letters from him between November 1544 and October 1550, and Alberti is mentioned in a further four letters to other correspondents. From these it emerges that he was a “creato”—in other words, a member of the entourage—of Giovanni della Casa, apostolic legate to Venice during this period of six years.
Pietro Aretino, Lettere, ed. Paolo Procaccioli, 6 vols. (Rome, 1997–2002), 3:129, no. 111; 4:96, no. 134, 105, no. 152, 135, no. 195, 212, no. 339, 261, no. 419, 306–307, no. 494, 314–315, no. 509, 319–320, no. 521, 357–358, no. 558, 363–364, no. 594; 5:374–375, no. 471, 466, no. 592; 6:146–147, no. 148.
For Biffis the circumstantial evidence surrounding the presence of Alberti in Venice fit the Gallery’s portrait perfectly, and he fully endorsed Camesasca’s identification of Pace as its author. He further plausibly argued that the falsified name of “Paolo Cagliari” on the sheet of paper was inspired by the original signature “Gian Paolo Pace,” which was probably effaced by some unscrupulous dealer in the 19th century, with the probable purpose of transferring the authorship of the portrait from a minor, unknown artist to one of the most famous of Venetian painters. A problem, however, with accepting Pace’s authorship is that the other three surviving paintings by him—the Giovanni dalle Bande Nere and the pair of Spilimbergo portraits—bear very little stylistic resemblance to that of the Alessandro Alberti. These other portraits are much closer in style to Titian, whereas on the purely visual evidence, the Alberti has been variously thought to be Flemish,
Ferdinando Bologna, “Un doppio ritratto di Tiziano, inedito,” Arte Veneta 11 (1957): 70 n. 3, attributed the portrait to the Bruges painter Pieter Pourbus (c. 1523/1524–1584), by comparison with a signed Allegory of Love in the Wallace Collection, London (no. 531). But the stylistic relationship is only very general, and Pourbus is not known to have visited Italy.
Fern Rusk Shapley, Paintings from the Samuel H. Kress Collection: Italian Schools, XVI–XVIII Century (London, 1973), 26–27 (also Fern Rusk Shapley, Catalogue of the Italian Paintings [Washington, DC, 1979], 1:355–357), who lists a number of other inconclusive attributions proposed by earlier scholars, labeled the portrait “Parmese School.” She suggested that a point of departure both for the style and the composition is provided by the Portrait of Camilla Gonzaga, Countess of San Secondo and Her Three Sons (Prado, Madrid), begun by Parmigianino in the late 1530s and completed after his death by a follower; it is true that the Alessandro Alberti resembles the Prado portrait in the three-quarter-length format, with the boy placed in intimate proximity to the adult, and in the precise description of the elaborate courtly costume. David Brown (letter to Peter Humfrey of Feb. 8, 2001) has also pointed out that the pose of the page appears to derive from that of Christ in Correggio’s Madonna della Scodella of 1530 (Galleria Nazionale, Parma). Further, in type this figure closely resembles the sitter in Girolamo Mazzola Bedoli’s Parma Embracing Alessandro Farnese of c. 1555 (Galleria Nazionale, Parma). Yet Shapley was certainly right to exclude Bedoli, whose work retains the sinuous rhythms of Parmigianino combined with a certain softness of surface, as the author of the Gallery’s portrait; and the supposed Parmese connection ignores the fact that the Alessandro Alberti was painted in Venice.
Bernard Aikema and John Martin, in Le botteghe di Tiziano (Florence, 2009), 346, considered it to be in the style of Bergamo.
See note 7 above.
For many scholars it may still be difficult to accept that the Alessandro Alberti, on the one hand, and the Giovanni dalle Bande Nere and the Spilimbergo portraits, on the other, are by the same artist. Further, it cannot be excluded that the purportedly apocryphal date of “1557,” now removed, in fact recorded a correct date—especially since it can be argued that the costume worn by the sitter corresponds better to the fashions of the later 1550s than to 1544/1545.
Fern Rusk Shapley, Paintings from the Samuel H. Kress Collection: Italian Schools, XVI–XVIII Century (London, 1973), 26–27; Fern Rusk Shapley, Catalogue of the Italian Paintings (Washington, DC, 1979), 1:356; and letter from Jane Bridgeman to Peter Humfrey, Sept. 11, 2000.
March 21, 2019
center left on folded paper: Alessandro Alberti l'anno XXX / della sua eta ... / s [or l] ritrasse nel 15 ... / In Venetia. (Alessandro Alberti the thirtieth year of his age...portrayed in 15...In Venice)
Marchese Torrigiani, Palazzo Torrigiani, Florence, by 1856; his heirs, until 1895/1896; possibly Stefano Bardini [1836-1922], Florence. Alfred Beit [1853-1906], London, and Tewin Water, near Welwyn, Hertfordshire, by 1904; by inheritance to his brother, Sir Otto John Beit, 1st bt. [1865-1930], London and Tewin Water; by inheritance to his daughter, Mrs. Arthur Clifford Howie Bull [1899-1982, née Alice Angela Beit], Tewin Water, and Bryndewen, Gwent, Wales; (Bull sale, Christie, Manson & Woods, London, 25 October 1946, no. 49, as by Veronese, "possibly by a painter connected with Parmigianino"); (William Sabin, London). (Count Alessandro Contini Bonacossi, Florence); sold July 1948 to the Samuel H. Kress Foundation, New York; gift 1952 to NGA.
The support consists of a single piece of fabric. Although the tacking margins have been cut, cusping is visible along the edges, indicating the present dimensions are probably close to the original. The imprimatura is a warm dark brown in color and lies on top of a white gesso ground. The x-radiographs suggest that the first sketching was applied with paint containing lead white. The upper layers were applied opaquely and brought to a meticulous finish, unlike most Venetian paintings of the period; similarly un-Venetian is the way in which the background color neatly abuts the outline of the figures. Surprisingly, the x-radiographs exhibit bold and vigorous strokes executed with a wide brush in the background, the page’s costume, and the tablecloth, all of which contrast with the meticulous finish of the rest of the surface. Many compositional changes are evident. Most notable are the two pairs of eyes and two ears for the page, indicating that his head was first sketched in more to the right of the present viewing position. His body position also appears to have been changed, and Alberti’s proper left pant leg was painted in with detail before it was covered with the page’s torso. Alberti’s arms were originally sketched in straighter and his proper right arm was closer to his body. His red mantle originally extended more outward on both sides at the bottom. In addition, a number of alterations of detail were made, as in the white book ties, which were once longer. Examination of the inscription shows that all the surviving letters are original, since a craquelure of the same age traverses the brown paint of the inscription and the original paint layer below; there is not enough information, however, to reconstruct any of the removed letters, which presumably gave the artist’s name and the date. Despite a certain amount of retouching, the general condition of the painting is good. Stephen Pichetto lined the painting in 1948, and Mario Modestini inpainted it and applied a varnish two years later.
Peter Humfrey and Joanna Dunn based on the examination report by Susanna Griswold
March 21, 2019
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English and American Tourists. Florence, 1896: 385.
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- Zavatta, Giulio. “Alfonso Gonzaga di Novellara committente di Giovanni Paolo Pace, e il tentative di acquisto di un dipinto di Tiziano tramite il miniature Antonio Bernieri da Correggio.” Studi Tizianeschi 8 (2012): 100.
- Moskowitz, Anita F. "The Photographic Archive of Stefano Bardini: A Few Case Studies of Its Utility." Source: Notes in the History of Art 37, no. 4 (Summer 2018): 239-240, 239 fig. 1a, 244 n. 6.