The critical consensus that this is a copy, of inferior quality, of Veronese’s Portrait of Agostino Barbarigo in the Cleveland Museum of Art [fig. 1] [fig. 1] Veronese, Portrait of Agostino Barbarigo, after c. 1571, oil on canvas, Cleveland Museum of Art, Gift of Mrs. L. E. Holden, Mr. and Mrs. Guerdon S. Holden, and the L. E. Holden Fund 1928.16 is certainly correct. It is further confirmed by the underdrawing, of a type uncharacteristic of the master, revealed by the infrared reflectogram. The fact that the Gallery’s version is slightly longer in format than the Cleveland picture prompted W. R. Rearick to suggest that the latter originally showed the sitter in full length. The Cleveland portrait has indeed been cut at its lower edge, as well as down both sides, and the visual evidence suggests that, as in the Gallery’s copy, the picture originally included the sitter’s right hand, clasping his baton of command. Arguably lending support to Rearick’s suggestion is another copy of the portrait that appeared on the New York art market in 1997, since although of mediocre quality, it shows the sitter in ankle length. Yet apart from the fact that full-length independent portraits of Venetians remained rare throughout the 16th century, it is significant that in this case the copyist has shifted the position of the arrow from the horizontal to the diagonal, as if to accommodate it to an elongated format. On balance, it seems likely that the sitter was always meant to be shown in half-length; indeed, the Washington picture, although itself trimmed on all four sides, may provide a fairly accurate idea of the original format of the Cleveland original, as well as confirm that the now very abraded area of the sky to the right was once streaked with clouds. Insofar as it is possible to judge from its own damaged condition, the rather hard, unpictorial handling of the surfaces in the Gallery’s picture suggests that it was not executed under Veronese’s supervision in his shop, but by a later follower, perhaps in the 17th century.
The sitter of the Cleveland portrait was convincingly identified as the Venetian admiral Agostino Barbarigo (1516–1571) by Gyorgy Gombosi in 1928 and independently by Francis M. Kelly in 1931. Barbarigo was killed at the naval battle of Lepanto in October 1571, when he was shot in the left eye by a Turkish arrow, and he was immediately proclaimed to be a heroic martyr, who had played a central role in achieving victory for the allied Christian fleet. In his posthumous portrait, Veronese accordingly showed him in armor, displaying the instrument of his death like a saint with his attribute. It is easy to imagine that in the years and decades following the battle there was considerable demand among Barbarigo’s family and admirers for replicas of the portrait. Another version, reduced to a bust (Szépmüvészeti Múzeum, Budapest), was attributed by Rearick to Veronese’s younger brother Benedetto Caliari, but was accepted as an autograph Veronese by John Garton.
March 21, 2019