The identity of the man in this bust-length portrait is unknown but it appears to be a true likeness with little attempt at flattery. The top of the man’s head is visible through his thinning hair, and the texture of his skin and beard have been meticulously painted. Although he frowns, the wrinkles at the corners of his eyes make him appear kindly and careworn. Leandro Bassano often employed this simple bust-length format and frowning expression in his portraits.
The paint surface is very damaged, especially on the face and collar. A partially legible Latin inscription at bottom left suggests that the sitter may have been a successful poet or musician and that he wrote or performed for princes. The style of his dress, particularly the large, loose collar, indicates that the portrait was painted in the last years of the sixteenth century, when Leandro Bassano was most in demand as a portraitist in Venice.
The identity of the man in this bust-length portrait is not known but it appears to be a true likeness of the sitter with little attempt at flattery. His hair and beard are grey and his forehead lined. The top of his head can be seen through his thinning hair, and the texture of his skin and the hairs of his beard have been meticulously described. He seems to frown but the wrinkles at the corners of his dark brown eyes suggest that he often smiled, and make him appear kindly although careworn.
Leandro Bassano often employed this simple bust-length format and frowning expression in his portraits. The descriptive painting technique seen here, with short strokes of slightly dry impasto in the higher areas of hair, beard and collar, is also typical of his work. The paint surface has been very damaged by abrasion, especially on the face and collar.
When the painting is viewed by infrared photography and infrared reflectography, the remains of a Latin inscription appear at bottom left. The parts that are still legible translate as: ‘This man was born to be... a follower of Apollo... Orpheus... pleasing to princes...ready to...’ As well as being Greco-Roman god of the sun, Apollo was god of music, poetry and art. Orpheus was a poet and musician in Greek mythology who could charm all living things and even stones with his music. The inscription suggests that the sitter in this portrait may have been a successful poet or musician and that he wrote or performed for royalty.
He appears against a plain grey background wearing a very dark brown tunic with a large, white collar. The lack of ornament on the clothes and background directs all our attention to the sitter’s face and perhaps express something of his character. The style of his dress, particularly the large, loose collar, points to a date in the last years of the sixteenth century. That was the time when Leandro Bassano was most in demand as a portrait painter in Venice. The doge of Venice, Marino Grimani, made Leandro a knight in April 1596 after he had painted his portrait, which is now in Dresden.
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