Tintoretto was famed for his speed of execution - one of his contemporaries, the playwright Andra Calmo, wrote: 'with a flourish of the brush [Jacopo] paint[s] a face from life in half an hour.' Particularly with rulers or officers of state, Tintoretto would sketch the head of the sitter from life before the portrait was worked up into a pattern (ricordo), which would remain in the workshop to be reproduced by members of the studio. Infrared reflectography images of the present work reveal changes in the doge's hat and beard, suggesting that the painting very possibly originated as a sketch, which was reworked to form the template for portraits that followed.
A prime, finished version of Tintoretto's portrait of Priuli does not appear to survive. The aforementioned portrait paid for in 1560 is generally considered to be that in the Gallerie dell'Accademia, Venice, attributed to Tintoretto's workshop.1 Two other notable recorded likenesses of Priuli, also attributed to the workshop, are those which portray the doge three-quarter-length, including his hands, formerly in the Detroit Institute of Arts, and sold New York, Christie's, 7 June 2002, lot 25 (as Studio of Tintoretto);2 and the other, half-length, portrait which was formerly in the J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles, more recently sold Vienna, Dorotheum, 19 April 2016, lot 19.3 All three of these works reproduce the appearance of the present painting, with the more rounded head and cap, and a fuller beard.
Visual records of Priuli's tenure may still be found in their original Venetian context today. In 1565, Tintoretto completed work on one of his first major commissions for the Doge's Palace under Priuli's direction: the Atrio Quadrato, or Square Atrium - the first room at the top of the ceremonial golden staircase, the Scala d'Oro, where dignitaries would have waited before entering the main chambers. Tintoretto executed a series of paintings to decorate the space, which is crowned in the centre of the ceiling by an octagonal canvas depicting Doge Girolamo Priuli presented by Saint Jerome (the doge's patron saint), receiving a sword and a pair of scales from a personification of Justice, and an olive branch from Peace - allegorical figures representing virtues particularly prized in La Serenissima, and which were of course to be honoured and upheld by her leader.4 Priuli did indeed govern over a period of relative peace and prosperity, attested to by the large funerary monument to him and his brother, Lorenzo Priuli, the preceding doge, in the Church of San Salvatore, Venice.
1 See P. Rossi, Jacopo Tintoretto. I Ritratti, vol. I, Venice 1974, p. 153, reproduced fig. 228.
2 See Rossi 1974, p. 103, reproduced fig. 104.
3 See Rossi 1974, p. 113, reproduced fig. 105.
4 See R. Palluchini and P. Rossi, Tintoretto: Le opere sacre e profane, Milan 1982, vol. I, pp. 186-87, reproduced vol. II, p. 464, fig. 334.
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