(Bassano del Grappa 1557 - Venice 1622)
Portrait of a Man
Oil on canvas, 97.5 x 74.5 cm
This three quarter length portrait shows a nobleman stood behind a red cloth draped table, a small sheet of paper lies next to his right hand. Despite his anonymity, his social standing is alluded to by the ruffled collar, known as a “lattuga” (lettuce), a garment commonly worn by politicians in Spain during the second half of the 1500s and early decades of the 1600s, and the golden hilt of the sword hanging by his side. The motion of the sitter, accentuated by the nature of the three quarter length composition, draws the viewer’s eye to the piece. The identity of the gentleman further intrigues due to the look of slight uneasiness upon his face. The introspective, personal feeling to the work is caused partly by its rendering on an earthy green background which also gives the piece its luminosity.
The signature and date constitute an important reference point for studying the activity of the painter. Living in Venice from 1588 until his death, Leandro had learnt his trade in his father’s workshop at Bassano, the birth city of Jacopo (who died in 1592) and his sons Francesco and Leandro. During the last decade of the 1500s, during which this painting is dated, Leandro executed numerous beautiful portraits showing the painter to be one of the main protagonists of the Italian art scene during the late 1500s in his own right and more than just part of the family workshop.
References to the noble and pompous air to the portraiture of Jacopo Bassano and Domenico Tintoretto, evident in the Portrait of Doge Marini Grimani in the Gemäldegalerie, Dresden, executed a little before Leandro was nominated Cavaliere di San Marco (1595), can be seen in Leandro’s earlier work. Here, however, he parts from that style to produce a more intimate and private painting, more similar to that characterised by the Portrait of Tiziano Aspetti in the British Royal family’s collection, dated around 1592-93 (C.Kryza-Gersch, Leandro Bassano’s portrait of Tiziano Aspetti, in “The Burlington Magazine”, CXL, 1998, pp. 265-267).
Upon his arrival in Venice, Leandro established a dialogue with Jacopo Palma il Giovane (1548-1628) and comparisons can be made between their work. These similarities can be seen above all in certain portraits produced by Palma in the last two decades of the 1500s, such as the Portrait of a man with a beard and letter in hand at the Art Institute of Chicago or the Portrait of a collector from the Birmingham City and Art Museum. The influence of Carracci can also be seen in these. While Palma il Giovane always remained faithful to the teachings of Titian in the similar straightforward manner evident in the Portrait of Titziano Aspetti, Leandro chose to incorporate the methods of others, not necessarily only Venetians: the northern masters and El Greco above all, but also Federico Barocci.
The painting offers a more naturalistic style to much of the portraiture from the 16th century, a trend that continued into the 1600s paving the way for such artists as Domenico Fetti (Rome 1588/89 – 1623 Venice), an artist for whom a work such as this could have certainly served as an influence