This painting shows a high-ranking officer with two pages, one of whom, an African, holds his helmet while the other fastens the armor on his right arm. It belongs to a long history of portraits of military men in armor, but the extensive landscape background, with stormy skies over the advancing armies, and the mood of melancholy are unique to Bordon. Although we do not know the identity of the sitter, who may have been Milanese, this work was much esteemed in the seventeenth century, when it was sold to Cardinal Leopoldo de’ Medici in Florence.
This picture may be the portrait by Paris Bordon that belonged to Bernardo Trincavalla, an art collector who was granted Venetian citizenship in 1629. Trincavalla’s painting was described by Carlo Ridolfi in 1648 as a “knight whose page fastens his armor.” Ridolfi does not mention the second page, but then neither do several modern writers who have described the picture. The work belonged subsequently to Paolo del Sera, a Florentine painter-dealer who resided in Venice from 1640 until his death in 1672. Marco Boschini described it in 1660 as a portrait of a general armed by two pages, one of them a "moor who proffers his helmet." Cardinal Leopoldo de' Medici acquired the painting from del Sera; how it later made its way to England, where it was recorded in the nineteenth century, remains a mystery.
Bordon’s depiction belongs to the genre of military portraiture that was popular in Europe from the time of the Roman Empire until the nineteenth century. From ninth-century portraits of Charlemagne to Sir Thomas Lawrence’s likeness of George IV (Pinacoteca Vaticana), great rulers were often represented as military heroes. The full-length standing portrait of Philip II, now in the Prado, which Titian painted in 1551, is one of the most magnificent; it was later adapted by Rubens, Van Dyck, and many other artists. A less formal format, showing the sitter preparing for battle, was also developed in Venice during the sixteenth century, and it is with this type that the present portrait is most closely associated. In such examples, an officer looks over his shoulder as a page adjusts his suit of armor; the format seems to have originated with an early sixteenth-century prototype known only from numerous replicas. One of the replicas of this composition, formerly in the Orléans collection, was catalogued in the eighteenth century as a portrait of Gaston de Foix by Giorgione; yet the true prototype may well have been an early work by Titian, as Roberto Longhi (Viatico per cinque secoli di pittura veneziana, Florence, 1946, p. 64) and others have suggested. The action of the page and the gaze of the officer endow this portrait type with an informality and psychological intimacy that rarely appear in conventional military portrayals.
Enlarging the format of the Giorgionesque composition and making it more complex, Bordon has added the landscape and introduced the second page holding the helmet. A suggestion (Fahy 1973) that the portrait depicts Carlo da Rho (d. 1553) must be abandoned, as da Rho did not have a military career. The style of the portrait, however, is typical of the work Bordon undertook in 1549–50, when he resided in da Rho’s palace in Milan. The horizontal format, with three-quarter-length figures standing before undulating hills, is also seen in Bordon’s Holy Family with Saint Catherine in the Brera, which dates from about 1550. Tintoretto’s portrait of Scipione Clusone (Galleria Nazionale di Palazzo Spinola, Genoa), dated 1561, seems to have been inspired by the present painting (Rossi 1984).
[2011; adapted from Fahy 2005]
Inscription: Inscribed (lower center, on ribbon): OPVS / PARIDIS BO / RDON
?Bernardo Trincavalla, Venice (in 1648); Paolo del Sera, Venice (until 1654); Cardinal Leopoldo de' Medici, Florence (1654–d. 1675); Medici family, Florence; Guadagni family, Palazzo Guadagni, Florence (in 1861); Philip Reginald Cocks, 5th Baron Somers, Eastnor Castle, Ledbury, Herefordshire (by 1866–d. 1899); Arthur Herbert Tennyson Cocks, 6th Baron Somers, Eastnor Castle (1899–before 1932); Henry George Charles Lascelles, 6th Earl of Harewood, London, and Harewood House, Yorks. (by 1932–d. 1947; cat., 1936, no. 9); George Henry Hubert Lascelles, 7th Earl of Harewood (1947–65; sale, Christie's, London, July 2, 1965, no. 76); [Colnaghi, London, 1965]; Mr. and Mrs. Charles Wrightsman, New York (1965–73; cat., 1973, no. 1)
London. British Institution. 1866, no. 32 (as "A Knight and Attendant," lent by Earl Somers).
London. Royal Academy of Arts. "Winter Exhibition," 1873, no. 227 (as "A Knight Arming," lent by Earl Somers).
New York. Wildenstein. "The Italian Heritage," May 17–August 29, 1967, no. 24 (as "A Venetian General Armed by Two Pages," lent by Mr. and Mrs. Charles B. Wrightsman).
Carlo Ridolfi. Le maraviglie dell'arte. Venice, 1648, part 1, p. 214, mentions a picture by Paris Bordon in the collection of Bernardo Trincavalla that depicts a knight whose page fastens his armor, possibly this work.
Marco Boschini. La carta del navegar pitoresco. Venice, 1660, pp. 366–67, describes a painting by Bordon of a gentleman armed by two pages that passed from the collection of Paolo del Sera to that of Leopoldo de' Medici.
Charles Lock Eastlake. Notebook entry. 1861, vol. 1, fol. 15r [National Gallery Archive, London, NG 22/28: 1861 (I); published in Walpole Society 73 (2011), vol. 1, p. 568], records seeing it in the Palazzo Guadagni in Florence, where it is called a Tintoretto; attributes it to Bordon and states that it is probably a late work; notes that it or a similar picture is mentioned in Boschini.
Luigi Bailo and Gerolamo Biscaro. Della vita e delle opere di Paris Bordon. Treviso, 1900, p. 199, list the painting described by Boschini (1660) among the lost or destroyed works of Bordon.
Bernhard Berenson. Italian Pictures of the Renaissance. Oxford, 1932, p. 431, as "Knight and Page", in the collection of the Earl of Harewood, London.
Bernhard Berenson. Pitture italiane del rinascimento. Milan, 1936, p. 370.
Tancred Borenius. Catalogue of the Pictures and Drawings at Harewood House. Oxford, 1936, pp. 7–8, no. 9, pl. VI, identifies it with the picture mentioned by Boschini; notes that A. van de Put suggested that it might represent the Duke of Alba, and that Charles R. Beard dated the armor about 1510.
Rodolfo Pallucchini. La giovinezza del Tintoretto. Milan, 1950, pp. 26–27, 63 n. 12, notes that it is similar in style to the early work of Tintoretto.
Bernard Berenson. Italian Pictures of the Renaissance: Venetian School. London, 1957, vol. 1, p. 46.
Giordana Canova. Paris Bordon. Venice, 1964, p. 79, figs. 116–17 (overall and detail), accepts the identification of the picture with the one described by Boschini and dates it 1555–60.
Simona Savini-Branca. Il collezionismo veneziano nel '600. Padua, 1964, p. 277, cites Boschini's description.
Henry A. La Farge. "Noble Metropolitan Visitors." Art News 65 (February 1967), pp. 29–30, fig. 4, tentatively accepts the identification of the subject as the Duke of Alba.
Denys Sutton. "Pleasure for the Aesthete." Apollo 90 (September 1969), pp. 230, 232, no. 2, ill.
Everett Fahy inThe Wrightsman Collection. Vol. 5, Paintings, Drawings. [New York], 1973, pp. 16–24, no. 1, ill. p. 17 (color), figs. 1, 2, 7, 8 (details), notes that the motif of a soldier preparing for battle goes back to early sixteenth-century Venetian prototypes, and that the qualities of informality and psychological intimacy are rare in conventional military portraiture; observes that there are stylistic analogies with Bordon's Milanese works of the early 1540s, and dates the portrait during this period; notes that the subject might be the Milanese officer Carlo da Rho.
Anthony M. Clark inThe Metropolitan Museum of Art: Notable Acquisitions, 1965–1975. New York, 1975, p. 94, ill.
Sylvia Hochfield. "Conservation: The Need is Urgent." Art News 75 (February 1976), p. 28.
R. A. Cecil. "The Wrightsman Collection." Burlington Magazine 118 (July 1976), p. 518.
Denys Sutton. "Tancred Borenius: Connoisseur and Clubman." Apollo 107 (April 1978), p. 304, fig. 17, notes that Tancred Borenius acquired the picture for the Earl of Harewood.
Paola Rossi. "Nota in margine alla mostra 'L'opera ritrovata'." Arte veneta 38 (1984), p. 257, relates it to Tintoretto's "Scipione Clusone with a Page" (Galleria Nazionale di Palazzo Spinola, Genoa).
Rodolfo Pallucchini inParis Bordon. Exh. cat., Palazzo dei Trecento, Treviso. Milan, 1984, p. 24.
Francis Russell inThe Treasures Houses of Britain. Exh. cat., National Gallery of Art. Washington, 1985, p. 564.
Giordana Mariani Canova. "Paris Bordon: problematiche cronologiche." Paris Bordon e il suo tempo. Ed. Giorgio Fossaluzza and Eugenio Manzato. Treviso, 1987, p. 156, fig. 46, dates it about 1555.
Everett Fahy inThe Wrightsman Pictures. Ed. Everett Fahy. New York, 2005, pp. 10–13, no. 3, ill. (color), tentatively identifies it with a portrait by Paris Bordon described by Carlo Ridolfi in 1648 as a "knight whose page fastens his armor" and which was then in the collection of Bernardo Trincavalla.
Andrea Bayer. "North of the Apennines: Sixteenth-Century Italian Painting in Venice and the Veneto." Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin 63 (Summer 2005), pp. 41–42, fig. 35 (color), suggests that Bordon painted it in Milan in the 1540s.
Paul H. D. Kaplan inThe Image of the Black in Western Art. Ed. David Bindman and Henry Louis Gates Jr. Vol. 3, part 1, From the "Age of Discovery" to the Age of Abolition: Artists of the Renaissance and Baroque. Cambridge, Mass., 2010, p. 126, colorpl. 55, notes that the helmet held by the black page was sometimes known as a "morione" and that the resemblance to the word "moro" (moor) suggests that a pun could have been intended.
Francesco Scanelli saw a portrait, possibly this one, in the grand-ducal collections in Florence ("di meza figura al naturale, la quale se bene sia sicura operatione di Paris Bordone vien communemente stimata di Titiano"; Il Microcosmo della pittura, 1657, p. 259).