This subtle portrait of an unknown Venetian gentleman with piercing blue eyes was probably painted about 1560 and can be compared with the artist’s finest likenesses of that decade.
Although better known as a painter of large scale canvases, Tintoretto produced numerous portraits and was highly esteemed by his contemporaries as a portraitist. It was he, indeed, and not Veronese, Titian’s protégé, who replaced Titian as official portraitist of the Venetian government (in 1559, although the sansaria, or state stipend, was granted in 1574).
The Portrait of a Man is representative of Tintoretto’s portraiture. The sitter is depicted three quarter length, against a neutral, grey-brownish background. His body, executed in a summary fashion and clothed in a black garment, is almost indistinguishable from the dark surroundings and contrasts with the carefully modeled face bathed by light. The use of light is the dominant stylistic feature: it infuses life and immediacy in the man’s gaze that transmits the emotional and intellectual content of the portrait to the viewer (Miguel Falomir, ed. Tintoretto. Exh. cat., Museo del Prado. Madrid, 2007, pp. 95–100).
An extraordinary compositional austerity characterizes the painting and the viewer’s attention focuses entirely on the sitter’s detailed physiognomy and his slender, bejeweled hands. Despite the strong characterization of his features, the man’s identity remains obscure. His somber attire and dignified bearing seem to imply a patrician heritage. Sometimes thought to be an early work (Zeri and Gardner 1973), the painting is now usually dated to around 1560. A figure whose face is described in a comparable fashion appears in the Invention of the Cross painted by Tintoretto for the confraternity of the cross in Santa Maria Mater Domini around 1561. The similarity in the treatment of the figures and in their appearance might suggest that Tintoretto’s portrait was executed around the same time (Rossi 1969 and 1994).
[Eveline Baseggio 2011]
George Blumenthal, New York (by 1914–41; cat., vol. 1, 1926, pl. XLV, as by Titian[?])
New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "Fiftieth Anniversary Exhibition," May 8–August 1920, unnumbered cat. (p. 8, as by Leandro Bassano, lent by George and Florence Blumenthal).
New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "Loan Exhibition of the Arts of the Italian Renaissance," May 7–September 9, 1923, no. 44 (as by Tintoretto, lent by George and Florence Blumenthal).
New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "Masterpieces in the Collection of George Blumenthal," 1943, no. 26.
Utica, N.Y. Munson-Williams-Proctor Arts Institute. December 3–31, 1950, no catalogue?
Des Moines Art Center. "Masterpieces of Portrait and Figure Painting," November 5, 1952–February 1, 1953, no catalogue.
Decatur, Ga. Agnes Scott College. April 15–May 15, 1954, no catalogue?
Athens, Ga. Georgia Museum of Art, University of Georgia. May 18–June 11, 1954, no catalogue.
New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "The Painter's Light," October 5–November 10, 1971, no. 17.
Tokyo National Museum. "Treasured Masterpieces of The Metropolitan Museum of Art," August 10–October 1, 1972, no. 73.
Kyoto Municipal Museum of Art. "Treasured Masterpieces of The Metropolitan Museum of Art," October 8–November 26, 1972, no. 73.
New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "Venetian Paintings in the Metropolitan Museum," May 1–September 2, 1974, no catalogue.
August L. Mayer. Letter to George Blumenthal. May 21[?], 1914, calls it close to Titian's late work, rejecting attributions to Bassano and Tintoretto.
Erich v[on]. d[er]. Bercken and August L. Mayer. "Beiträge zur Entwicklungsgeschichte Tintorettos." Münchner Jahrbuch der bildenden Kunst 10 (1916–18), pp. 254–55, fig. 11 (detail), attribute it to Tintoretto, noting Titian's influence.
"Italian Paintings." Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin 15 (July 1920), p. 159, attributes it to Leandro Bassano, while noting that some authorities, including Bode, assign it to Titian.
Erich von der Bercken and August L. Mayer. Jacopo Tintoretto. Munich, 1923, vol. 1, p. 58.
Stella Rubinstein-Bloch. Catalogue of the Collection of George and Florence Blumenthal. Vol. 1, Paintings—Early Schools. Paris, 1926, unpaginated, pl. XLV, tentatively attributes it to Titian, "until recently as Leandro Bassano".
François Fosca. Tintoret. Paris, 1929, p. 144, lists it as by Tintoretto.
Lionello Venturi. Pitture italiane in America. Milan, 1931, unpaginated, pl. CCCCXIII.
Bernhard Berenson. Italian Pictures of the Renaissance. Oxford, 1932, p. 562, lists it as an early work by Tintoretto.
Lionello Venturi. Italian Paintings in America. Vol. 3, Sixteenth to Eighteenth Century. New York, 1933, unpaginated, pl. 559, mentions the drawing in Montpellier [see Notes]; calls it "very close in style to the portrait of Luigi Cornaro" (Palazzo Pitti, Florence).
Bernhard Berenson. Pitture italiane del rinascimento. Milan, 1936, p. 483.
Erich von der Bercken. Die Gemälde des Jacopo Tintoretto. Munich, 1942, p. 118, no. 254, dates it probably about 1568–72.
Bernard Berenson. Italian Pictures of the Renaissance: Venetian School. London, 1957, vol. 1, p. 176.
Paola Rossi. "Osservazioni sui ritratti di Jacopo Tintoretto." Arte veneta 23 (1969), pp. 71–72, 82 n. 3, fig. 77, attributes it to Tintoretto and dates it about 1561, comparing it with a portrait of a man in the Statens Museum for Kunst, Copenhagen, and with "The Finding of the True Cross" (Santa Maria Mater Domini, Venice).
Pierluigi De Vecchi inL'opera completa del Tintoretto. Milan, 1970, p. 112, no. 180, ill., attributes it to Tintoretto and dates it about 1568.
Burton B. Fredericksen and Federico Zeri. Census of Pre-Nineteenth-Century Italian Paintings in North American Public Collections. Cambridge, Mass., 1972, pp. 200, 526, 608.
Federico Zeri with the assistance of Elizabeth E. Gardner. Italian Paintings: A Catalogue of the Collection of The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Venetian School. New York, 1973, pp. 72–73, pl. 88, call it an early work.
Paola Rossi. Jacopo Tintoretto. Vol. 1, I ritratti. Venice, [1974?], pp. 50–51, 62, 102, 106, 117, fig. 111, dates it 1561–62.
John Shearman. The Early Italian Pictures in the Collection of Her Majesty the Queen. Cambridge, 1983, p. 242, believes that "Head of a Man" at Hampton Court (no. 257) is a study from life for the MMA painting.
Sylvia Ferino-Pagden. "Zur Ausstellung in Wien: Tintoretto und der 'Weissbärtige Mann' im 'Bordone-Saal'." Jacopo Tintoretto: Portraits. Exh. cat., Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna. Milan, 1994, p. XI, ill. p. IX (detail).
Andrea Bayer. "North of the Apennines: Sixteenth-Century Italian Painting in Venice and the Veneto." Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin 63 (Summer 2005), p. 35, ill. (color), notes that although it is often referred to as an early work, it may in fact date from later in the artist's career; relates it to the portraits of Alvise Cornaro (Palazzo Pitti, Florence) of about 1560 and Giovanni Paolo Cornaro (Museum voor Schone Kunsten, Ghent) of 1561.
Stijn Alsteens in Stijn Alsteens and Adam Eaker. Van Dyck: The Anatomy of Portraiture. Exh. cat., Frick Collection. New York, 2016, pp. 57–58 n. 9, fig. 38 (color).
The head of a man (oil on canvas, laid down on wood; 15 3/8 x 13 1/4 in.) in the Royal Collection, Hampton Court, depicts the same sitter and is probably a study for the MMA painting.
There is a drawing after this painting in the Atger collection, Université de Montpellier. It is inscribed along the bottom: "Ritratto fatto Dal Penello d'oro de Tintoreto Vetio. / Arteficio[?]. / tintoret fecit."