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.
On the surface, this appears to be simply a rather dark portrait of a sombre Venetian cardinal, although we don't know who he is. The painting is in very poor condition, with several layers of darkened varnish and losses of paint where the canvas was once folded. It has also been flattened, probably when it was lined.
Set against a very dark background, only the man’s face can be seen in any detail. He has a melancholy, distant look. His hair is thinning on top and his beard is greying. However, there is more to this painting 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, a small ruff collar and what appears to be a small wig with rolling curls. The wig – if that is what it’s supposed to represent – looks mid-eighteenth century in style, while the tunic suggests a late sixteenth-century date, creating something of a mystery. It seems more likely that this hidden portrait was painted in the sixteenth century and that what we are seeing is not a wig. Perhaps it was thought to be of poor quality or little interest and so the portrait of a serious and dignified cardinal was later painted on top of it, exactly following the outline of the head beneath.The remains of two lines of an inscription are visible in the X-ray images. The words are illegible but probably would have identified the original sitter and perhaps the office he held.
The folds of the cardinal’s crimson robes are painted in boldly swept lines of lead white with red lake in a manner that may have been intended to look like Tintoretto’s style. The painting was described as by Tintoretto when it was acquired in 1855 from the Barone Francesco Galvagna, who was the former president of the Accademia delle Belle Arti in Venice (the Venetian Academy of Fine Art). Galvagna had an impressive collection of Venetian old master paintings in his palace, and this was one of ten paintings the National Gallery bought from him. Unequal in quality and value to the other paintings (one of which was The Virgin and Child by the workshop of Giovanni Bellini), it was probably an extra picture that Galvagna added to the sale to make up the numbers.
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