This man may be a member of the important Averoldi family from Brescia, who once owned the portrait. He wears a soft red wool tunic and coat or cloak lined with fox fur.
It is very unusual for a three-quarter-length portrait at this date to have a background consisting entirely of sky. The man’s pose – kneeling with his hands joined in prayer – suggests that the painting was once part of a larger picture or ensemble. The canvas has been cut down at both sides and the top.
The light source is from the right, which is also unusual and suggests the painting was made for a specific location. It may have been designed to hang on the side wall of a chapel, or perhaps near a religious image towards which the sitter directs his prayers.
This man may be a member of the Averoldi, an important family from Brescia, who once owned the portrait. He wears a red wool tunic with a striped weave. The lack of tailoring and softness of the fabric does nothing to conceal his paunch.
The lining of the cloak or coat appears to be fox fur. Moretto has accurately observed and depicted the patches of grey within the white belly fur and their repetition, indicating the number of pelts used. The white in the fur and the striped pattern of the fabric were painted wet in wet, a technique favoured by Moretto. Fox was not a very valuable fur and is less common in male portraits of this period than the more luxurious lynx or snow leopard, seen in Moretto’s Portrait of a Young Man. The sitter may have been a man of simple tastes, or wished to appear as one.
The style of dress and hair, and the somewhat routine approach, suggest that this is probably a late work by Moretto, dating from the mid-1540s. The way in which the cloudy sky has been painted is similar to that in Moretto’s painted shutters of about 1540. It is very unusual for a three-quarter-length portrait at this date to have a background consisting entirely of sky.
The man appears to be kneeling on his left knee with his hands joined in prayer. His pose suggests that the painting was once part of a larger canvas or ensemble. The canvas has been cut down on both sides and the upper edge, although we cannot tell by how much. The portrait may be a memorial for a family burial chapel, or perhaps a donor portrait from a much larger altarpiece. However, the direction of the man’s gaze, towards us rather than ahead at a sacred scene, would be unusual in a donor portrait. An old copy of the picture, the whereabouts of which is unknown, shows the man kneeling before a crucifix and an open book of psalms on a carpet-covered table. However, these additions may not relate to the original format of the National Gallery’s painting.
The light source is from the right, which is unusual in a portrait and suggests the painting was made for a specific location. It may be that it was designed to hang on the side wall of a chapel, or at least near a religious image towards which the sitter directs his prayers. There are only a few independent portraits of sitters praying, but Girolamo Bedoli’s painting of youths at prayer at Castle Howard, Yorkshire, is an example which may have hung in a small chapel or domestic oratory. It is also possible that the National Gallery’s picture was part of a larger painting of a whole family at prayer, as we see in Titian’s Vendramin Family.
The painting is quite damaged. It may have been over-cleaned during the nineteenth century, and the paint surface was crushed during relining in 1962. There is quite a lot of cracking, and some of the old retouchings where damage has been repainted have since discoloured. This is especially noticeable in the white cuffs. The varnish has also darkened, affecting the green of the cloak and rose of the tunic.
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