Andrea Gritti (1455–1538) was elected doge (head of the Venetian state) in 1523, and this painting was probably made soon afterwards. He wears his robes of office and on his left hand is a gold ring with a device representing the doge kneeling before Saint Mark, patron saint of Venice.
Catena’s portrait conveys the power and authority of Gritti, who had a distinguished military and diplomatic career. His face is represented almost in profile against a dark background, like the profile of a ruler on a medal. He appears to be looking towards someone outside the picture and gesturing down to us. The portrait may have originally hung near a religious image, perhaps of Christ or the Virgin and Child, for the doge’s attitude is one of dignified adoration. Gritti may have been appealing to them on our behalf, or his pointing right hand could be a rhetorical gesture, reminding us of his skills as a politician.
Andrea Gritti (1455–1538) was elected doge of Venice in 1523 and this painting was probably made soon afterwards. He wears his robes of office: a golden cap, known as a corno, and a golden silk damask robe with a red lining. The linen head cloth, called a rensa, under the corno should have a string hanging down to tie it under the chin. It probably once had one but the portrait, particularly around the face, neck and beard, is damaged and has been extensively repainted. On his left hand, Gritti wears a gold ring with a device representing the doge kneeling before Saint Mark, patron saint of Venice. His right hand points downwards in a gesture that is unusual in a portrait. The dark frame painted around the grey background emphasises the portrait’s formal, constructed nature.
Gritti was born near Verona and spent the early years of his career as a grain merchant in Constantinople. In 1499 he was imprisoned on charges of espionage but escaped death due to his friendship with the Vizier. In 1510 Gritti took command of Venice’s army, and after his election as doge he signed a treaty with Charles V, Holy Roman Emperor, ending Venice’s active involvement in the Italian Wars.
This portrait by Catena conveys Gritti’s power and authority. His face is represented almost in profile against the plain dark background – like the profile of a ruler on a medal. Indeed his identity can be confirmed by comparison with portrait medals of him. He appears to be looking towards someone outside the picture and then gesturing down to us. The portrait may have originally hung near a religious image, perhaps of Christ or the Virgin and Child, for the doge’s attitude is one of dignified adoration. Gritti may have been appealing to Christ or the Virgin on our behalf. Alternatively, his pointing hand may represent a rhetorical gesture, reminding us of his powers as a politician and his ability to resolve complicated diplomatic issues.
In 1531 Titian painted a votive picture (a picture given in thanks) of Doge Andrea Gritti kneeling before the Virgin and Child for the Sala del Collegio of the Doge’s Palace – the room where foreign diplomats were received. Titian’s work was destroyed in 1574 in a fire. We know that this portrait is not a remnant of that picture, since the pose of the doge (recorded in an anonymous woodcut) was entirely different. However, when Tintoretto and his assistants painted a replacement picture for the Doge’s Palace they seem to have copied Catena’s portrait, since the figure of the doge is virtually identical in their composition.
Catena dwells on details of fabric and embroidery. He creates an impression of Gritti’s strength but continues the tradition of psychological distance and reserve of earlier portraits of doges, such as Giovanni Bellini’s Portrait of Doge Leonardo Loredan. By contrast, Titian’s posthumous portrait of Doge Andrea Gritti (National Gallery of Art, Washington) of about 1545, with its rapid, energetic brushwork and commanding frontal pose, captures the leader’s fiery, indomitable nature.
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