National Gallery of Art Return to Exhibition
introductionhistorical climatesacred images and storiespictures of women
 allegories and mythologiesportraits of men technical photographs artist's materials
Portraits of Men
Sebastiano del Piombo, Man in Armor
image: Enlarge

Giorgione and his circle evolved a revolutionary type of dramatic male portrait, in which patrician young men are shown acting the part of a lover, poet, musician, or gallant soldier. Previously, Venetian portraits had emphasized the sitter's social and economic station in life. The Giorgionesque portrait reveals instead the sitter's private self, often touched with melancholy and a sense of yearning. The softly shaded style and the dreamy demeanor of the young man depicted in Palma Vecchio's Portrait of a Poet typify this approach.

Sebastiano del Piombo, Man in Armor
image: Enlarge

Venetian painters' interest in conveying an individual's state of mind was likely inspired by Leonardo da Vinci, who visited Venice in 1500 and may have brought with him drawings demonstrating his new language of pose, gesture, and expression. Leonardo's influence may be detected in Sebastiano del Piombo's Man in Armor, in which the soldier's menacing glance and jutting shoulder forcefully convey his potentially aggressive mental state. Sebastiano's virtuoso handling of oil paint to depict metallic sheen demonstrates that he was also familiar with the work of Jan van Eyck and his followers. Flemish paintings were prized by collectors in Venice, where they were widely available as a result of the city's trade with northern Europe.

Titian, Man with a Glove
image: Enlarge
Audio (2:14 mins., MP3 3.09MB) | Transcript
Audio Tour©2006 Acoustiguide Inc.

Of all the Venetian portraitists, none had more lasting influence than Titian, who experimented with the Giorgionesque type of poetic portraiture but invested its mood of reverie with greater realism. The youth depicted in his Man with a Glove seems simultaneously real and ideal. Though his identity is unknown, he possibly belonged to the court of Federico Gonzaga in Mantua, whose most illustrious member, the author and diplomat Baldassare Castiglione, visited Titian's studio in Venice in 1523. In his book Il Cortegiano, Castiglione described the perfect courtier as one who possessed nobility and grace, impressed others with his talent, and, above all, avoided affectation so as to appear natural. According to Castiglione, dress should "always tend more toward the grave and sober rather than the foppish. Hence, I think that black is more pleasing in clothing than any other color." In its restraint, naturalism, and understated elegance, the Man with a Glove epitomized the new courtly ideal of dress and deportment. As such, it set a standard for portraiture that would be emulated by European artists for centuries.

rightarrow (6 of 8) rightarrow

terms of use | home | Go to our page on Facebook Go to our page on Twitter