Lot 63
  • 63

JACOPO DA PONTE, CALLED JACOPO BASSANO | Portrait of Torquato Tasso, aged 22

400,000 - 600,000 GBP
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  • Portrait of Torquato Tasso, aged 22
  • inscribed with the device of comet and a tree and the motto: 'NON TROVO TRA GLI AFFANI/ ALTRO RICOVERO' (‘I FIND NO OTHER SHELTER FROM HARDSHIP’ [than in the arts])
  • oil on canvas
  • 62 x 46 cm.; 24⅜ x 18⅛ in.


Probably Accademia degli Eterei, Padua; Accademia dei Ricovrati, Padua, after its foundation in 1599;

Cavaliere padovano, who before July 1790 gave it as a gift to

Giovanni Maria Sasso (1742–1803), Venice, by whom given as a gift to

Sir Abraham Hume 1st Bt (1748/9–1838), Wormleybury, Hertfordshire, listed as no. 22 in his collection (as by 'G. Bassan');

Probably by inheritance to his grandson John Hume Cust, Viscount Alford (1812–1851);

Probably his son John Egerton-Cust, 2nd Earl Brownlow (1842–1867), Ashridge Park, Hertfordshire and Belton House, Lincolnshire;

Probably his brother, Adelbert, 3rd and last Earl of Brownlow (1844–1921), but not included in his sales at Christie's, London, 4-7 May 1923 and 3 May 1929;

Hans Wendland (1880–1965), Lugano;

His sale, Berlin, Ball-Graupe, 24 April 1931, lot 7, reproduced pl. 3, for 500 Reichsmark (unsold);

Offered at Fischer in Zurich, 28 May 1932, lot 1135 (unsold);

Confiscated from Wendland by the Office Suisse de Compensation, service de la liquidation des biens allemands, circa 1947;

Presumably cleared for return and given back to Wendland by the Office Suisse de Compensation at an unknown date after 1947;

Probably acquired from the above by the father of the present owner;

Thence by descent.


London, British Institution, Catalogue of Pictures of the Italian and Spanish Schools..., 1816, no. 61; Probably London, British Institution, Catalogue of pictures by Italian, Spanish, Flemish, Dutch and French masters..., June 1838, no. 9 (as L. Bassan);

Probably London, British Institution, Catalogue of portraits of illustrious and eminent persons in history, literature and art..., June 1846, no. 67 (as Bassan);

Ferrara, Castello Estense, Torquato Tasso tra letteratura, musica, teatro e arti figurative, 6 September – 15 November 1985, no. 66, reproduced in black and white on p. 17;

Bassano del Grappa, Museo Civico, Jacopo Bassano c. 1510–1592, 5 September – 6 December 1992, no. 41;

Venice, Biblioteca Nazionale Marciana, Libreria Sansoviniana, Torquato Tasso e la Repubblica Veneta, G. Da Pozzo (ed.), 10 October – 11 November 1995, u.n.;

Brussels, Palais des Beaux Arts, Este à Ferrara, Une renaissance singulière, La cour des Este à Ferrare, 3 October 2003 – 11 January 2004, no. 15. 


C. Ridolfi, Le maraviglie dell'arte, Venice 1648, D. von Hadeln (ed.), Berlin 1914–24, vol. I, p. 401; A Descriptive Catalogue of a Collection of Pictures..., London 1824, iii, p. 14, no. 43 (as G. Bassan, 2 ft by 1 ft 6 in.);

A. Graves, A Century of Loan Exhibitions, 1813–1912, London 1913, vol. I, pp. 42 and 44;

A. Emiliani, 'Ricerca iconografica', in Storia della Letteratura Italiana, Il Cinquecento, vol. IV, E. Cecchi and N. Sapegno (eds), Milan 1966, reproduced in colour opposite p. 720;

A. Emiliani, ‘Un’ipotesi per il vero ritratto di Torquato Tasso’, in Padova, i secoli, le ore, D. Valeri (ed.), Bologna 1967, pp. 200–03, reproduced on p. 201;

A. Emiliani, ‘Un’ipotesi per il vero ritratto di Torquato Tasso’, in Studi Tassiani, 1968, n. 18, pp. 132–36; Bergomum, Studi Tassiani, XLII, 1968, 3, pp. 131–36, reproduced opposite p. 136;

L. Firpo (ed.), Torquato Tasso, Tre scritti politici, Turin 1980, p. 87, reproduced in colour;

A. Emiliani in Torquato Tasso tra letteratura, musica, teatro e arti figurative, A. Buzzoni (ed.), exh. cat., Castello Estense, Ferrara, Bologna 1985, pp. 207–08, no. 66, reproduced in black and white on p. 17;

A. Ballarin in Da Biduino ad Algardi, Pittura e scultura a confronto, G. Romano (ed.), exh. cat., Turin 1990, pp. 131 and 133, reproduced in black and white on p. 130;

L. Alberton Vinco da Sesso, Jacopo Bassano, i Dal Ponte: una dinastia di pittori, Opere nel Veneto, Bassano del Grappa 1992, p. 45;

P. Marini in Jacopo Bassano c. 1510–1592, B.L. Brown and P. Marini (eds), exh. cat., Museo Civico, Bassano del Grappa, 5 September – 6 December 1992; and Kimbell Art Museum, Fort Worth, Texas, 23 January – 25 April 1993, Bologna 1992, cat. no. 41, reproduced in colour on p. 115;

W.R. Rearick, 'Vita ed opere di Jacopo dal Ponte, detto Bassano', in Jacopo Bassano, B.L. Brown and P. Marini (eds), exh. cat., Bologna 1992, pp. CXXIX–CXXX; 

W.R. Rearick in La ragione e l'arte. Torquato Tasso e la Repubblica Veneta, G. Da Pozzo (ed.), exh. cat., Biblioteca Nazionale Marciana, Libreria Sansoviniana, Venice, 10 October – 11 November 1995, u.p.;

A. Ballarin, Jacopo Bassano, Scritti 1964–1995, V. Romani (ed.), Cittadella 1995, vol. II, pp. 280–81, 331–32, and 376, reproduced in colour, fig. 207;

A. Ballarin, Jacopo Bassano, Tavole, Cittadella 1996, reproduced in colour in vol. III, plate 431, and in black and white in vol. II, figs 895 and 899 (detail of inscription on reverse);

L. Alberton Vinco da Sesso, 'Jacopo Bassano', in The Dictionary of Art, J. Turner (ed.), vol. 3, London 1996, p. 345;

Este à Ferrara, Une renaissance singulière, La cour des Este à Ferrare, J. Bentini and G. Agostini (eds), exh. cat., Palais des Beaux Arts, Brussels, 3 October 2003 – 11 January 2004, no. 15;

L. Borean, Lettere artistiche del Settecento veneziano. 2. Il carteggio Giovanni Maria Sasso – Abraham Hume, Fonti e documenti per la storia dell’arte veneta, vol. 11, Fondazione Giorgio Cini, Verona 2004, p. 55, 171–72, no. 38 (transcription of Sasso's letter to Hume), reproduced on p. 56, fig. 19 and on p. 57, fig. 20 (reverse);

L. Borean, 'Il carteggio di Abraham Hume e Giovanni Maria Sasso. Collezionismo e mercato tra Venezia e Londra alla fine del Settecento', in Il collezionismo a Venezia e nel Veneto ai tempi della Serenissima, Venice, 21–25 September 2003, conference proceedings, B. Aikema, R. Lauber and M. Seidel (eds), Venice 2005, pp. 326 and 338, n. 37, reproduced on p. 325, figs 7 and 8.




The following condition report is provided by Sarah Walden who is an external specialist and not an employee of Sotheby's: Jacopo da Ponte, Bassano. Portrait of Torquato Tasso. Inscribed Non trovo tra gli affani/altro ricovero. Inscribed behind T.Tasso / Anno Aetatis suae XXII/ 1566/ G. Bassan Pt. This painting retains a very early lining and stretcher, which has been carefully secured over time, with a slightly later cross bar added, and further attention to the edges since. Any recent retouching, visible under ultra violet light, has mainly been confined to minor touches in the inner illusionistic mannerist framing; with more recent retouching along the extreme outer edges. The varnish on the portrait itself is fairly opaque to UV, but one tiny repaired puncture can be seen in a raking light in the upper right background, with other little abrasions in the shadow of the head on the left. Tiny tratteggio retouchings can be seen in the dark background on the right. Bassano's dark ground can be glimpsed throughout in the weave of the canvas, and in the shadows of the green background where the original copper resinate glazing was partly lost, when seen in error as discoloured varnish, since the copper had turned brown naturally. In the portrait itself the subtlety of expression remains powerfully intact, with much delicate brushwork finely preserved. This report was not done under laboratory conditions.
"This lot is offered for sale subject to Sotheby's Conditions of Business, which are available on request and printed in Sotheby's sale catalogues. The independent reports contained in this document are provided for prospective bidders' information only and without warranty by Sotheby's or the Seller."

Catalogue Note

Described by Andrea Emiliani as the truest and most exceptional portrait of Torquato Tasso,1 this youthful image of the celebrated poet of the late Renaissance is datable to 1566, when he was aged 22. Its importance lies not only in being an exceptional representation of one of the giants of Italian literature, but also in its stature as one of very few examples of Bassano’s work as a portraitist. Its prestige in the artist's œuvre was such that Bassano’s biographer singled it out for special mention. Added to this is its significance as an uncontested likeness of Tasso.2    Born in Sorrento in 1544, Torquato Tasso (d. 1595) is best known for his heroic epic poem Gerusalemme liberata (1575), about the capture of Jerusalem during the First Crusade. Following the death of his mother when he was still a boy, Tasso initially went to Rome with his father Bernardo, a poet and courtier, and later spent much of his childhood moving between Bergamo, Urbino and Venice. In 1560 he was sent to study law at Padua and remained there and in Bologna, where he studied philosophy, until 1565. That year Tasso settled in Ferrara in the service of Cardinal Luigi d’Este and formed a lasting connection with the court of Duke Alfonso d’Este in that city. This portrait was painted a year later.

Dressed in a black beret and black robe over a shirt with a white frilled collar, the poet is shown in three-quarter profile against a green background, on which his head casts its shadow. The trompe l’œil effect is enhanced by the fictive Sansovino-style frame, its elaborate scroll-work and corners edged in gold. The sitter's eyes are alert; the lips hint at a smile; while the vein on his right temple pulsates with life.

The earliest mention of the portrait is by Carlo Ridolfi, Bassano’s biographer, who devotes a brief section in his account of the artist’s life to his work as a portraitist, praising his ability to capture sitters’ likenesses with naturalism. Among the very few works that Ridolfi singles out is the present portrait, which he lists along with that of Ludovico Ariosto,3 the only two figures referred to among the literati painted by Bassano. The only other sitter who is named is doge Sebastiano Venier, an indication of the importance accorded to the subject of this portrait.

The portrait of Tasso came from Padua, where it probably adorned the headquarters of a literary academy. The frontispiece-like frame that serves as an elaborate border for the portrait, the presence of the sitter’s emblem and motto, and the provenance of the work as having belonged to the Society of the Ricovrati at Padua, are all factors that support this proposition. The descriptive catalogue of the collection of Sir Abraham Hume 1st Bt (1748/9–1838; fig. 1), published in 1824, gives ‘Mr. Sasso, a native of Venice’ as the source of this and other Venetian pictures, which were particularly strongly represented in the collection.4 The catalogue gives further information about the portrait's place of origin: it was taken out of a panel in an apartment belonging to the Society of Ricovrati at Padua. For Emiliani, the large decorative cartouche that frames the oval demonstrates that the painting once formed part of a decorative ensemble.

The impresa (‘device’), which consists of a picture combined with a motto, here painted in the cartouche, represents a comet casting its rays on a bush. According to Hume’s catalogue – the first written description of the painting – a comet or evil star appears to be darting its rays on a laurel-tree. Inscribed on either side of the tree is the motto: ‘NON TROVO TRA GLI AFFANI ALTRO RICOVERO’. The impresa was thought to relate to the Accademia dei Ricovrati that flourished in the second half of the sixteenth century. As Emiliani has pointed out however there is no mention in the biographies of Tasso that in his early twenties he belonged to a supposed Accademia dei Ricovrati (of which there were three, in, respectively, Bologna, Padua and Venice). Tasso’s association with these can be ruled out either because they were founded after his death, or because their imprese differed from the one depicted here, or because in the case of the third, its city of origin is at odds with where the portrait was said originally to have been located, namely Padua).

In fact the motto and the impresa are to be connected with the poet’s affiliation to the Accademia degli Eterei in 1566.5 The Accademia degli Eterei was founded in 1564 by Scipione Gonzaga, Duke of Sabbioneta, in his house in Padua. It was there that Gonzaga invited Tasso to continue his studies after he’d been obliged to flee from Bologna where he faced conviction for his satirical writings. A guest in Gonzaga’s home, he joined the Accademia degli Eterei. That summer Tasso left Padua for Ferrara, where he entered the court of Cardinal d’Este. The following spring he returned to Padua to enjoy the company of old friends and to work on the proofs of poems he was contributing to the collection of the Eterei. Emiliani argues that the portrait must have belonged to the Accademia degli Eterei because it shares the same imagery as a sonnet by Tasso. In the sonnet, which formed part of the collection of Rime degli Eterei alla Serenissima Madama Margherita di Vallois, Duchessa di Savoia, the poet identifies himself with the yew tree (tasso in Italian; a pun on his name), which grows among the laurels, its bitter fruit matured by the sun’s rays; with it is published the sonnet’s explanation: ‘As the author came from Bologna to Padua, he was welcomed into the Accademia degli Eterei, which met in the home of Sig. Scipione Gonzaga, his lord and protector; whence he wrote for them this sonnet which continues the metaphor of Tasso, the tree synonymous with his surname, the fruit of which when tasted by bees leads them to produce the most bitter honey’.6  

As well as an academy’s particular device it was customary for individual members to conceive their own, usually painted onto carved wooden shields. So here, rather than a device particular to the academy, the portrait incorporates Tasso’s own personal impresa.7 The device is not that of the Accademia degli Eterei but rather an allusion to that academy as the place where Tasso sought refuge among friends, as expressed in the motto: ‘Non trovo tra gli affani altro ricovero’. The use of the word ‘ricovero’ may have led to the erroneous supposition that the picture’s provenance was the Accademia dei Ricovrati, where it was later recorded by Sasso. 

The 1824 catalogue notes that the back of the canvas is inscribed with Tasso’s age: 22 (fig. 2). The inscription on the reverse,8 which is probably a transcription of the text on the original lining, reads: T. TASSO / ANNO, AETATIS SVAE XXII. / 1566 / G. Bassan Pt. Handling of details such as the white frilled collar, the direct presentation of the sitter, and the choice of green background is characteristic of Bassano's work and accords well with other paintings of the mid-1560s.

In his analysis Alessandro Ballarin draws a line of continuity from the Portrait of a Man at the J. Paul Getty Museum, which he dated to about 1554, to this work of over a decade later. He compares the Portrait of Tasso with the Portrait of the Man with Gloves in the Royal Collection at Hampton Court.9 The rendering of velvety texture of the beret against the subtly-modulated skin tones and the outer contours of hair and beard seen in contre-jour are clear indications of Bassano’s characteristically subtle work. For Ballarin the portrait’s importance lies in the objectivity that Bassano brings to the depiction of the sitter’s dress and pose, which informs also the new criteria Bassano adopts for figures in his religious subjects, such as The Supper at Emmaus at Hampton Court (notably the figure of the young man at the far right) and The Vision of Saint Eleuterio at the Gallerie dell’Accademia, Venice. For Paola Marini the portrait evokes the spirit of Bassano’s youthful portraits of some thirty years earlier, while at the same time bringing greater intensity to the portrait’s psychological and pictorial depth. Roger Rearick, who was unaware of the portrait when he published his study of Bassano’s portraiture of 1980, fully accepted the attribution and thought it probable that it was first at the Accademia degli Eterei and later at the Accademia dei Ricovrati.10

Note on Provenance

The presence of this portrait in the collection of Sir Abraham Hume, Bt (1748/9–1838), one of the most discerning connoisseurs of painting in Britain, should be seen in the context of his collection as a whole, which included such masterpieces as Rembrandt's Aristotle contemplating the bust of Homer (Metropolitan Museum, New York) and Titian's Death of Actaeon (National Gallery, London).11 This picture is documented in a letter that forms part of the correspondence between him and the scholarly Venetian dealer Giovanni Maria Sasso (1742–1803), published by Linda Borean. Writing from Venice, Sasso offered the portrait to him as a gift. As a founding director of the British Institution, Sir Abraham Hume supported its exhibitions and in 1816 lent the Portrait of Tasso to an exhibition held there. The work is listed in the catalogue of his collection of 1824. Albeit that the recent literature on the portrait states that Robert Holford (1808–1892) was the painting's subsequent owner, there is no record of Holford ever having owned such a work. Gustav Waagen does not list it, nor do any of the catalogues of Holford's collection published in 1912, 1924 or 1927, nor does it feature in any of Holford's posthumous sales. A more likely scenario is that Hume's heirs inherited the portrait. In 1838, the year of Hume's death, a 'Portrait of Tasso' was lent to the British Institution by Lord Alford, none other than Hume's grandson John Hume Cust, Viscount Alford.12 Indeed Lord Alford lent a painting of the same description for a second time in 1846 to an exhibition of portraits of eminent figures from history, literature and art. Although in the exhibition catalogue of 1838 Tasso's portrait is listed as a work by Jacopo's son 'L[eandro] Bassan' – a nonsensical attribution as he was nine years old when the portrait was painted – in the 1846 exhibition it is correctly given to 'Bassan', and there can be little doubt therefore that this portrait of the highly celebrated poet remained in the collection of Hume's descendants.

1 Emiliani 1967, p. 200.

2 Emiliani did much to distinguish between credible portraits of the poet and spurious likenesses; Emiliani 1966.

3 Now lost.

4 See Borean 2004 for a transcription of Sasso's letter of 27 July 1790 to Hume.

5 A connection made by Renzo Cremante; Emiliani in Bologna 1985, p. 208.

6 ‘Venendo l’autore di Bologna in Padova, fu accolto nell’Accademia degli Eterei, che si ragunava in casa del Sig. Scipione Gonzaga suo particular signore e protettore; ond’egli scrisse loro questo Sonetto continuando nella metafora del Tasso arbore del suo cognome, de’ cui frutti gustando, l’api producono il miele amarissimo’.

7 Although for Emiliani, the tree depicted appears to be more like laurel than yew.

8 Written, according to Emiliani, in a nineteenth-century hand; Emiliani in Bologna 1985, p. 207.

9 Inv. no. 438; 87.2 x 62.5 cm.; J. Shearman, Pictures in the Collection of Her Majesty the Queen, p. 25, no. 18, reproduced plate 15.

10 Bassano 1992, p. 114; Venice 1995, u.p.

11 On Hume's collecting see N. Penny, National Gallery Catalogues. The Sixteenth Century Italian Paintings, Vol. II 1540–1600, London 2008, pp. 458–61. 

12 We are indebted to Dr Nicholas Penny for the suggestion that 'Alford' could have become 'Holford', a mistake perpetuated in the later literature.