M. de Crochart, paymaster-general of the French army in Spain, by whom brought to England in early 1815 and later sold (as Titian) to
A private collector, from whom acquired by
John Smith (1781–1855), by whom sold in 1853 (as Titian) to
Thomas Baring (1799–1873);
Thence by descent to his nephew, Thomas George Baring, 1st Earl of Northbrook (1826–1904);
Dr Schäfer, Berlin;
Dr Kodella, Graz;
His sale, Lucerne, Fischer, 29 August – 1 September 1934, lot 1713, reproduced as plate 39 (as Jan Stephan van Calcar);
With Schäffer Galleries, Berlin and New York, by 1936;
Private collection, Switzerland, where recorded in 1968, as on the art market;
Anonymous sale, New York, Sotheby’s, 28 January 2000, lot 15 (as Paris Bordone), for $180,000;
Where acquired by the present owner.
New York, Schaeffer Galleries, Inc., Paintings by Old Masters: XV to XVIII Centuries, 5 – 20 November 1936, no. 1.
J.-P. Richter, A descriptive catalogue of the collection of pictures belonging to the Earl of Northbrook, Francis George Baring..., London 1889, pp. 163–65, no. 218 (as Titian or Paris Bordone);
W. Suida, 'Fremde Meister um Tizian, 1. Jan Stephan von Calcar, 2. Lambert Sustris von Amsterdam, 3. Greco und Rubens', Belvedere, 12, 1934, 1/2, p. 13, reproduced in black and white as fig. 17 (as perhaps by Stephan von Calcar, although not seen in person);
G. Mariani Canova, 'Nuove note a Paris Bordon', Arte Veneta, XXII, 1968, pp. 174–76, reproduced on p. 176, fig. 259 and as a detail fig. 260 (as Paris Bordon);
J. Habert, 'Calcar au Louvre', in Hommage à Michel Laclotte, Études sur la peinture du Moyen Âge et de la Renaissance, Paris 1994, p. 367, reproduced on p. 363, fig. 389 (as Paris Bordone, c. 1532–36 (?), Swiss private collection);
N. Penny, National Gallery Catalogues, The Sixteenth Century Italian Paintings, Volume II, Venice 1540–1600, London 2008, pp. 48–49 and p. 51, note 9 (as Bordone);
A. Donati, Paris Bordone, Soncino 2014, p. 390, no. 188, reproduced in black and white on p. 389 (as Bordone).
The portrait is inscribed at the lower right: A[NNO] SÆ Æ[TATIS] XX / MDXX[...]. Incorrect interpretations of the inscription have resulted in misleading attempts to identify the sitter and also the attribution. Following the painting’s traditional attribution to Titian, Richter in his 1889 catalogue of the Northbrook collection, was the first to propose an attribution to Paris Bordone, opting to catalogue it as by Titian or Bordone, and recording it with the date 1521. However such a dating is untenable for stylistic reasons; the portrait cannot have been painted as early as 1521. As Mariani Canova pointed out, this portrait is closer to those of the fourth decade, such as the Liechtenstein Portrait of Nikolaus Körbler, dated 1532, and differs markedly from Bordone’s first dated male portrait, the Portrait of man, of 1523, at the Alte Pinakothek, Munich, painted when Bordone was still under the spell of Giorgione.3
Andrea Donati, author of the most recent monograph on the artist, recently inspected the painting at first-hand and endorsed the attribution to Bordone, placing it close in date to the Liechtenstein Portrait of Nikolaus Körbler and to another in the same collection, the Portrait of a bearded man, a work of the following year inscribed with the date 1533. Nicholas Penny also recently saw the painting in person and he too considers it to be a more mature work by Bordone than previously suggested, pointing out that the alignment of the inscription indicates there are probably numerals missing from the date and that it could plausibly be a work of the 1530s.4 The inscription may have been incomplete or not clearly legible when Richter transcribed it; there is some wear to the canvas in this corner.
The gentleman’s dress is a useful guide to the dating of the portrait and offers some clues to the sitter’s nationality. Traditionally the man has been identified as the Venetian Andrea Navagero, celebrated letterato and ambassador to Spain (b. 1483, d. 1529 Blois, France). Such identification, first made by Richter and later reiterated by Bodmer, has no basis. The age of the sitter depicted is wrong for Navagero and this likeness differs from known portraits of him. The gentleman in this painting wears on top of a doublet a gown with short puffed sleeves and closely tailored at the waist. Underneath he wears a white shirt: a glimpse of its right cuff is just visible and its small ruffled pleated collar, tied at the neck, contrasts with the dark tonality of the gown emphasized by its vertical ornament of black velvet ribbon or guards (material sewn on to the fabric in vertical bands subtly differentiating the blacks). Jane Bridgeman, a dress and textile historian, who considers the sitter to be neither German nor Spanish, suggests he is most likely to be north Italian, and has pointed out analogies with clothing depicted in The Virgin appearing to Augustus (1524–25) painted by Girolamo Romanino (c. 1485–1566) on the organ shutters in the church of S. Andrea, Asola, near Mantua, and in the Garden of Love at the National Gallery, London, formerly attributed to the Venetian school, in which the dress of the elegant couple in the foreground is datable to around 1530–35 and may be Brescian in character.5 We are grateful to Nicholas Penny, Andrea Donati and Jane Bridgeman for their comments.
Since the painting was last seen at auction nearly twenty years ago, a number of significant features have been revealed. Most striking is the daringly foreshortened skull, seen as if the head were laid down to rest in the niche. The skull lay hidden beneath two books that were painted over it possibly in the nineteenth century, perhaps an unwelcome reminder to a previous owner of man’s mortality.6 The message on the cartellino, which translated from the Latin reads: ‘Everything of ours must die, this is our debt’, enforces the theme of memento mori so powerfully conveyed by the skull’s allusion to the transience of life;7 so too the hourglass, with its intricate inlay design of ebony and ivory. A number of adjustments by the artist are visible to the naked eye, for instance, the right arm of the sitter has been moved further away from the body; the contour of the right shoulder has been lowered; and changes have been made to the depth of the ledge on which the figure rests his hand. The hands in this portrait are rendered with particular care – the middle fingertip of the right hand touches the edge of the stone ledge, while the other probably rests on a sword hilt, as suggested by the angle of the belt, since noblemen usually wore swords.
1. Mariani Canova 1968, p. 174: ‘Un pregevole ‘Ritratto di gentiluomo’...
2. Inv.-Nr. GE1128, oil on canvas, 100 x 78 cm.; reproduced in colour in Donati 2014, no. 172, pl. XCVI; and Inv.-Nr. GE93, oil on canvas, 98 x 84 cm.; reproduced in colour in Donati 2014, no. 173, pl. XCVII.
3. Kat.-Nr. 512; oil on canvas, 77.8 x 66 cm.; Donati 2014, no. 179, reproduced in colour pl. XXII.
4. In his discussion of Bordone’s Portrait of a Young Woman at the National Gallery, London, Penny points out as a recurring feature of Bordone’s portraits the format of a three-quarter length figure framed by architecture and including a column base at head height. Later supposed to be by Calcar, Penny refers to this painting as correctly attributed to Bordone in the Sotheby’s, New York sale on 28 January 2000, lot 15. He goes on to suggest that a portrait of a gentleman with a sword in the Musée du Louvre, Paris, c. 1540. (inv. no. 758; 100 cm x 83 cm.), generally attributed to Tintoretto but also sometimes to Calcar, must be by the same hand as the present work; Penny 2008, pp. 48, 49 and 51, n. 9.
5. NG930; oil on canvas, 221 x 148.3 cm.
6. A photograph in the Witt Library, London, annotated 'Schäffer, Berlin', from about 1936, shows the painting before restoration, with narrow waist and books in evidence.
7. The transcription of the Latin is given incorrectly in past literature; the inscription reads: ‘EST MORI NOB[IS] / ŎĚ [OMNE], [H]ŎC E[ST] DEBI[TUM]’.
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