This is the earliest surviving example of a life-size, full-length portrait on canvas or panel painted in Italy. We are not certain of the sitter’s identity, but he may be Gerolamo II Avogadro of Brescia (who died in 1534). He was the father of Conte Faustino Avogadro, who is shown in a portrait by Moretto’s pupil, Moroni, which is also in the National Gallery’s collection. Here, he may once have been looking towards a companion portrait.
The man’s costume is sober but luxurious. He wears a Spanish-style black brocade cape, slashed mauve sleeves and breeches, and a red felted-wool cap that was a speciality of Brescia. His enamelled gold cap badge represents Saint Christopher carrying the infant Christ. His hand rests on a very early example of a rapier. Just behind and above its hilt is part of the hilt of a dagger, presumably one held in the left hand for parrying when fencing.
This painting was once in the Avogadro family collection and it was suggested that it might represent Gerolamo II Avogadro of Brescia (who died in 1534). He was the father of Conte Faustino Avogadro, who is shown in the full-length portrait by Moretto’s pupil, Moroni. However, an Avogadro inventory of 1734 describes this painting as being of a member of the Conforto family, so the man’s identity remains uncertain.
The portrait is dated 1526 in Roman numerals on the step below the man’s foot, and it is characteristic of Moretto’s early work. The distinctive yellow streaks in the marble can also be seen in his earliest documented painting, the organ shutters originally for the old cathedral in Brescia, now in S. Maria in Valvendra, Lovere, Bergamo.
This is the only full-length portrait by Moretto to have survived. In fact, it seems to be the earliest surviving example in Italy of a life-size, full-length, independent portrait on panel or canvas. Such portraits were unusual in Italy but not in northern Europe. Life-sized, full-length portraits were frequently included as part of fresco decorations in north Italian palaces or villas. Although painted on canvas, this portrait could have formed part of such a decorative scheme.
The man is leaning against the pedestal of a column. Behind him is a low wall with an arched opening revealing a landscape. The greens of the trees have darkened and it is hard to be sure whether the landscape was originally meant to be this yellow. The arch echoes the curve of the man’s shoulders and draws our attention to his eyes, which look away from us. It is possible that he was once looking towards a companion portrait.
His Spanish-style black brocade cape and slashed mauve sleeves and breeches are both sober and luxurious and his red cap is typical of Brescia. The city’s sumptuary laws, which controlled the wearing of luxury items, specified that men could only wear these berette made of local felted wool. The enamelled gold cap badge represents Saint Christopher carrying the infant Christ. The image is surrounded by Greek letters which have not been explained, but which may have invoked the protection of the saint. The tight cap of gold thread and silk underneath the man’s red cap was designed to be worn beneath a helmet to cushion it, but was fashionable and widely adopted by those without a military life. The glove on his right hand, turned down and apparently ragged at the cuff, is similar to that found in Titian’s Man with a Glove of about the same date (Louvre, Paris).
The man’s hand rests on a very early example of a rapier. Just behind and above its hilt is part of the hilt of a dagger, presumably one held in the left hand for parrying when fencing.
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