An elderly man in a lynx-lined jacket looks up from the large book he has been reading. He sits at a table covered with a Mamluk carpet, on which a gilded clock and two letters rest.
The letters are both inscribed identically in Italian: ‘To the most Reverend Monsignor Giuliano with the most honourable (dignified) office of apostolic protonotary directed to Borgo di Ognissanti, Padua.’ Protonotaries attend the pope in his ceremonial duties and witness papal bulls (a type of public decree issued by a pope).
Clocks were relatively rare in sixteenth-century Venetian households. The clock appears to have been an addition as it is painted over a bell. It was probably included simply as a luxury item, although it would also have brought to mind the passing of time. It is rendered with a more palpable sense of its material presence, the pigments built up more carefully, than the rest of the picture; it may have been added by a different artist.
An elderly man in a lynx-lined jacket looks up from the large book he has been reading. He sits at a table covered with a so-called para-Mamluk carpet – that is, one probably made in Anatolia but incorporating patterns from Mamluk tradition – on which a gilded clock and two letters rest.
The painting has been trimmed, making the bottom of the image and the shape of the table hard to read. The carpet below the green band may have been intended to look as though it was hanging over the edge of the table, and the letters to look as if they project into our space. The letters are both inscribed identically in Italian (as spoken in the north-east of Italy): ‘To the most Reverend Monsignor Giuliano with the most honourable (dignified) office of apostolic protonotary directed to Borgo di Ognissanti, Padua.’
A portrait medal in the Museo Civico, Brescia, circumscribed with raised letters as ‘IOANNES IULIANVS PROTONOTARIUS APOSTOLICUS’, appears to be of the same man but when he was younger. Sanudo, who wrote a famous diary recording events in sixteenth-century Venice, mentions a ‘Reverendo domino Zuan Zuliani’ on 12 September 1504, saying that he was chamberlain of the pope and son of the late Marco Zulian. The Zulian were a distinguished patrician family reputedly from Aquileia who had settled in Venice by 844.
Clocks were relatively rare in Venetian households at the time, and table clocks like this one only began to appear in the sixteenth century. This is a striking clock with a 24-hour dial and a moving hand, and an aperture for the phases of the moon which shows the moon as about half full. The clock hand is the longest of the sun rays and points at the section marked XVI, which is 4.30pm. The clock case is probably supposed to be made of gilt bronze. Indeed, real gold leaf was used for the clock but not for the gilt book clasps, nor for the gold setting of the ring on the little finger of the man’s left hand. The classical design of the fluted Corinthian pilasters on the clock suggest that it was made in Italy.
The two pieces of paper and the clock were painted over the carpet, and in the place occupied by the clock there was once a bell. The clock appears to have been an addition: it is rendered with a more palpable sense of its material presence than the rest of the picture, the pigments built up more carefully, which suggests it may have been added by a different artist. The fact that the clock replaced a bell suggests that it was included as a luxury item rather than a symbol, although it would have brought to mind the passing of time.
The painting was believed to be by Lotto when it was sold to the National Gallery in 1881 by an art dealer in Venice. However, portraits by Lotto tend to be more idiosyncratic. The carpet here is also painted more superficially than the many examples we have by Lotto, such as his portrait of the della Volta family, and the artist’s account book makes no reference to his having painted a portrait of Zulian during his time in Venice in the 1530s.
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