A soberly dressed man turns to look at us, his arm leaning on a large red book with gilded corner pieces and a central boss. Although the Latinised name ‘Leonardus Salvaneus’ was added to the portrait later, this may be a true record of his identity.
The inscription on the ornate book translates as: ‘in addition the special rights of a citizen of Bergamo’. The book may concern the special rights granted in 1561 to the city of Bergamo by Venice, which ruled Bergamo at that time. The man probably played a part in negotiating Bergamo’s privileges.
The picture is in poor condition. The black paint is particularly damaged and there are residues of old yellowing varnish in many areas. Some of the retouching – where the paint surface has been repaired in the past – has badly discoloured. This is particularly visible in the face, which now appears blotchy.
A soberly dressed man turns to look at us, his arm leaning on a large red book. The portrait is inscribed with the Latinised LEONARDUS SALVANEUS; this lettering does not appear to be original, but it may be the name of the sitter. There is another name slightly below, which has been covered, the first part of which is HIERONAMO. The lettering is all in the same style, so it is possible that the person who added the names just made an initial mistake.
If the inscription does identify the sitter, his actual name was probably Leonardo Salvagno. The Salvagni family came from Bergamo, but died out at the end of the seventeenth century. Their possessions passed down to the Thiene family from Vicenza, who later owned this painting.
The ornate book on which the man leans is decorated with golden corner pieces and a central boss with a coat of arms above it. The Latin inscription on the front of the binding translates as: ‘in addition the special rights of a citizen of Bergamo’. The book may concern the special rights granted to the city of Bergamo by the city state of Venice in 1561. Venice ruled Bergamo at that time, and it is likely that the man portrayed played a part in negotiating Bergamo’s privileges. The book’s cover boards are unusually thick for a sixteenth-century volume. This suggests the pages may be made of parchment, which would require a stronger binding than paper for a book of this size.
It is difficult to make out the sitter’s clothes because the black paint is damaged. There appears to be a purse below his left hand. The cut of his beard and the shape of his hat – and the angle at which it is worn – suggest a date of about 1570 or later.
It is not just the black areas that are in poor condition. The paint surface was crushed in the process of lining, when another canvas was applied to the back of the original canvas to strengthen it. This also caused the extensive crackle in the blacks. There are residues of old yellowing varnish in many areas which are especially noticeable in the white ruff, cuffs and folded paper the man holds. Some of the retouching – where the paint surface has been repaired in the past – has badly discoloured. This is particularly visible at the edges of the painting and in the face, which now appears blotchy.
Despite the damage, the portrait is very clearly by Moroni. The painting of the book and the approach to the ruff are highly characteristic of him, as is the way the background is swept around the contours of the figure. The imperfect foreshortening of the right arm and the impression that the head may be too large for the body are also typical of Moroni’s portraiture. The head was probably the only part painted from life.
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