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Italian, Venetian, Portrait of a Bearded Cardinal

Key facts
Full title Portrait of a Bearded Cardinal
Artist Italian, Venetian
Date made about 1580 and later
Medium and support Oil on canvas
Dimensions 64.8 × 53.9 cm
Acquisition credit Bought, 1855
Inventory number NG2147
Location Not on display
Collection Main Collection
Portrait of a Bearded Cardinal
Italian, Venetian

We do not know who this man is. Set against a very dark background, only his face can be seen in any detail. The folds of his crimson cardinal’s robe are painted in boldly swept lines that may have been intended to look like the style of Tintoretto. The painting is in very poor condition, with several layers of darkened varnish. However, there is more to it than meets the eye.

Beneath the bearded cardinal, X-ray images have revealed a portrait of a younger beardless man wearing a braided and buttoned tunic, and a small ruff collar. This hidden portrait probably dates from the late sixteenth century. Perhaps it was thought to be of poor quality or little interest and so the serious and dignified cardinal was later painted on top of it, exactly following the outline of the head beneath.

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