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Probably by Gentile Bellini, A Man with a Pair of Dividers (?)

Key facts
Full title A Man with a Pair of Dividers (?)
Artist Probably by Gentile Bellini
Artist dates active about 1460; died 1507
Date made about 1500
Medium and support Oil on canvas
Dimensions 69.2 × 59.1 cm
Acquisition credit Bought, 1886
Inventory number NG1213
Location Not on display
Collection Main Collection
A Man with a Pair of Dividers (?)
Probably by Gentile Bellini

This portrait is probably by Gentile Bellini, though we can‘t be sure. It’s unusual among his portraits – we don’t know the identity of the sitter and most of Gentile’s surviving portraits are of well-known figures. It was once thought to be the mathematician Girolamo Malatini because he holds a pair of dividers (a compass).

Malatini is said to have taught Giovanni Bellini, Gentile’s brother, and Carpaccio, another Venetian painter, how to incorporate theories of perspective into their paintings. But it was not only mathematicians who used compasses – artists and architects, among other professionals, did too. An alternative suggestion is that Gentile has painted Giovanni.

Like many of Gentile’s portraits, the background is very dark so that the sitter’s face stands out, as do his hands. The lack of detail is unusual in a work by Gentile, who usually took great pains to express the qualities of varying surfaces in paint and enjoyed painting different kinds of materials and jewels.

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