This lavishly dressed sitter, wearing a coat lined with lynx or snow leopard fur, is the Brescian nobleman and humanist Fortunato Martinengo (1512–1552). Ancient gold and silver coins and a bronze oil lamp in the shape of a foot on the table allude to his scholarly interests, and perhaps also to a pilgrimage to Jerualem that he planned to make. His pose, with his head resting on his hand, is associated with melancholy. The inscription in Greek on his cap means: ‘Alas, I yearn too much.’ It is unclear whether he longs for knowledge, for a person, or for the pilgrimage.
The portrait can be dated by the clothing to around 1540–5, when the sitter was around 30 years old. It may have been commissioned by Fortunato or his brothers as a memento before he undertook the dangerous journey to the Holy Land in 1541. In 1542 he married Livia, daughter of Count Nicolo d'Arco.
For more than a century this portrait has been the most famous and admired of all Moretto’s secular paintings. It represents the Brescian nobleman Fortunato Martinengo (1512–1552). Fortunato was a man of learning, and the founder of Brescia’s Accademia dei Dubbiosi (Academy of the Doubtful), which promoted the exchange of religious and intellectual ideas. The portrait may have been commissioned by Fortunato or his brothers before he set out on pilgrimage to the Holy Land in 1541. He returned safely and, at the age of 30, married Livia, daughter of Count Nicolo d‘Arco.
Fortunato is seated before an expensive red velvet and gold silk damask curtain, leaning his head in his hand and his elbow on a pair of glazed silk cushions. A pair of grey leather gloves lie on the table with a selection of other apparently significant items. There are three ancient coins, two with imperial heads in silver and another, which may be gold, in a turned ivory or bone box. Beside the coins and gloves is an oil lamp in the shape of a foot wearing a sandal. An almost identical early sixteenth-century lamp survives in the Medieval Museum, Bologna. Such lamps, probably made in Padua, were perhaps intended to pass for antiquities.
This painting is in a tradition of portraits of men seated with antiquities that appear to be more significant than mere collectors’ trophies. Lorenzo Lotto’s Andrea Odoni (Royal Collection) dated 1527 shows the sitter surrounded by fragments of ancient sculpture, and Parmigianino’s Portrait of a Collector of about 1523 depicts the sitter with ancient coins, a little book and a relief sculpture. However, in both of these portraits the sitters assertively make eye contact, whereas Moretto’s sitter gazes distractedly into the distance, perhaps imagining the journey he is about to undertake.
His pose relates to traditional representations of Melancholy, such as the engraving Melancolia I (1514) by the German Renaissance master, Albrecht Dürer, in which dejected Melancolia sits surrounded by unused objects of art and science. Here Fortunato’s expression may relate to the inscription in Greek on his cap badge, which reads: ‘Ah, I yearn so strongly.’ The source of this motto is unknown but it suggests that his melancholy gaze is one of longing, his soul weighed down by intellect and contemplation. It is unclear whether he yearns for knowledge, possessions, a specific person, or for his imminent journey to Jerusalem.
The grey marble wall behind the sitter restricts the space of the composition, intensifying the effect of opulence and introspection. A marble wall would have been unusual in a domestic setting, so it might be a marble door frame and the hanging behind the sitter may be a door hanging. These were common in Venetian homes and often made of expensive textiles. The red and gold damask here is clearly painted from an actual fabric of silk velvet cloth of gold. The projection of Fortunato’s knees is not emphasised and the lynx or snow leopard fur lining of his gown falls unbroken over them, making the space of the portrait appear even shallower. There are at least five other examples of portraits by Moretto in which the figure is seated, thigh-length, with an elbow on a table – Moretto or his patrons appear to have favoured this format.
Anthony van Dyck’s portrait of Henry Percy, 9th Earl of Northumberland (Petworth House, Sussex) of about 1633 was very likely inspired by this painting.
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