Art/ Collection/ Art Object

Portrait of a Man

Moretto da Brescia (Alessandro Bonvicino) (Italian, Brescia ca. 1498–1554 Brescia)
ca. 1520–25
Oil on canvas
34 1/4 x 32 in. (87 x 81.3 cm)
Credit Line:
Rogers Fund, 1928
Accession Number:
On view at The Met Fifth Avenue in Gallery 608
This unknown man is most likely a member of one of Brescia’s wealthy families. Painted in the 1520s, it shows Moretto’s awareness of the portraits being done elsewhere in northern Italy, principally those by Titian and Lorenzo Lotto. The artist suggests that the sitter is addressing the viewer, and surrounds him with carefully chosen accessories, such as the hourglass that alludes to the passage of time.
#5215. Portrait of a Man
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Each of Moretto’s rare portraits of the 1520s and 1530s demonstrates his innovative approach to the genre, culminating in the outstanding Portrait of a Man (National Gallery, London, NG 1025) of 1526, one the earliest full-length, life-size, independent portraits in Italy. This well-preserved portrait painted a couple of years before takes up ideas that were being explored in the work of Moretto’s contemporaries, the Venetians Titian and Lorenzo Lotto, but are presented in the Brescian artist’s own idiom. When the painting entered the collection of the Metropolitan in 1928 the curator Bryson Burroughs called it an example of "early romantic portraiture," by which he meant that it showed the sitter’s "state of mind, the particular tone, real or fancied, of his way of feeling and thinking," an evaluation that continues to illuminate the groundbreaking portraiture in northern Italy of the first decades of the sixteenth century.

The unknown sitter (earlier attempts to identify him as a member of the noble Brescian Martinengo family have no basis in fact) is shown half length behind a ledge covered with a rug, leaning on a stone plinth and with a curtain behind that opens onto a mountainous landscape with a castle. The viewpoint slightly from below and the carefully articulated geometry of the ledge and plinth suggest that the artist had looked closely at works by contemporary Milanese artists, especially Bramantino (see Ballarin 1993 and Bayer 2003). But the luxuriously garbed figure, the bravura painting of his white collar and cuffs, and his elegantly bearded face and oblique glance are strongly reminiscent of Titian’s portraits of about 1515–20 (a point already made by Crowe and Cavalcaselle 1871), which Moretto could have seen during one of several trips to Venice, perhaps one made in 1522 when we know that he had business in nearby Padua. Moretto’s interest in Titian must have been reinvigorated after 1522 when the Venetian’s great Resurrection Altarpiece was installed in the Brescian church of SS. Nazaro e Celso. Ballarin (1993) suggests a date for this painting of about 1524 because its strong reliance on light and shadow to define the volumes of the head and contribute to the mood of the portrait reflects Moretto’s knowledge of Titian’s altarpiece.

This mood, which has been called "melancholy" by various authors, is augmented by the curved sheet of paper which the young man holds, but whose message, if there is one, remains unseen by the viewer, and by the conspicuous hourglass on the ledge at the left. These details, which give the viewer further information about the sitter’s thoughts and concerns, as well as the Turkish rug and the almost square format of the canvas, bring to mind a rich series of portraits done by Lorenzo Lotto, who in the mid-1520s was living in nearby Bergamo. The two artists knew each other rather well (as correspondence in 1528 shows) and Moretto may have seen paintings such as Lotto’s Portrait of a Married Couple (Hermitage, St. Petersburg) painted at the same date. In 1855 Otto Mündler called the hourglass a "5 minute glass," and even that short time seems to be nearly run through. Clocks and hourglasses are present in a striking number of portraits in northern Italy of this moment, reminding the viewer of the passage of time, but also seemingly an exhortation to use it wisely. Likewise Zeri (1986) suggested that the sitter’s "hour of . . . death remains to be written" on the blank sheet. Thus no element of the portrait seems arbitrary and it may be possible that the fortified castle and town at the foot of the hills in the background allude to the sitter’s own home and property.

The painting can be traced back to the Maffei collection in Brescia in 1760, where it was incorrectly attributed to Callisto Piazza. The attribution was corrected by Odorici in 1853 when it was in the collection of Beatrice Erizzo Maffei Fenaroli Avogadro in the same city. Bernard Berenson (1907) saw it in Milan in the home of marchese Ippolito Fassati, to whom it had passed by descent. It was brought to the United States in 1915 by the famous Florentine art dealer Elia Volpi (see Ferrazza 1993).

[Andrea Bayer 2014]
Maffei, Brescia (by 1760, as "Ritratto d'uomo con carta in mano, ed Orologio, di Callisto da Lodi"); by descent to contessa Beatrice Erizzo Maffei Fenaroli Avogadro, Palazzo Fenaroli, Brescia (by 1853–at least 1857, as by Moretto); her daughter, contessa Maria Livia Fenaroli Avogadro, later marchesa Fassati, Brescia (in 1862); her son, marchese Ippolito Fassati, Milan (by 1878–at least 1912); [Elia Volpi, Florence, by 1915–16; sold for 150,000 livres to Knoedler]; [Knoedler, New York, 1916–28; sold to MMA]
Brescia. Ateneo. "Pittura bresciana," 1878, no. 73 (lent by the marchesi Fassati).

Duluth. Tweed Gallery, University of Minnesota. "Object of the Month," November 1–30, 1952, no catalogue.

Fort Worth Art Center. "Spectrum: A Cross Section from the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York," March 8–April 12, 1970, unnumbered cat.

Leningrad [St. Petersburg]. State Hermitage Museum. "100 Paintings from the Metropolitan Museum," May 22–July 27, 1975, no. 7.

Moscow. State Pushkin Museum. "100 Paintings from the Metropolitan Museum," August 28–November 2, 1975, no. 7.

London. Royal Academy of Arts. "The Genius of Venice: 1500–1600," November 26, 1983–March 11, 1984, no. 58.

Brescia. Monastero di S. Giulia. "Alessandro Bonvicino: il Moretto," June 18–November 20, 1988, no. 14.

Paris. Grand Palais. "Le siècle de Titien: L'âge d'or de la peinture à Venise," March 9–June 14, 1993, no. 82.

Giovanni Battista Carboni. Le pitture e sculture di Brescia che sono esposte al pubblico con un'appendice di alcune private gallerie. Brescia, 1760, p. 154, notes it in the collection of the Maffei family as "Ritratto d'uomo con carta in mano, ed Orologio, di 'Callisto da Lodi'".

Federico Odorici. Guida di Brescia. Brescia, 1853, p. 183, lists it as by Moretto, in the collection of contessa Beatrice Fenaroli.

Otto Mündler. Diary entry. December 1, 1855, p. 15v [published in Carol Togneri Dowd, ed. "The Travel Diaries of Otto Mündler, 1855–1858," Walpole Society 51 (1985), p. 86], notes it in the collection of contessa Beatrice Erizzo Maffei, Brescia.

Otto Mündler. Diary entry. October 3, 1857, p. 15r [published in Carol Togneri Dowd, ed. "The Travel Diaries of Otto Mündler, 1855–1858," Walpole Society 51 (1985), p. 174], as in the collection of contessa Erizzo Maffei.

Charles Lock Eastlake. Notebook entry. 1857, vol. 3, fol. 15v [National Gallery Archive, London, NG 22/16: 1857 (3); published in Walpole Society 73 (2011), vol. 1, p. 390].

Charles Lock Eastlake. Notebook entry. 1862, vol. 2, fol. 4v [National Gallery Archive, London, NG 22/31: 1862 (2); published in Walpole Society 73 (2011), vol. 1, pp. 610–11], as in the collection of contessa Fenaroli.

J[oseph]. A[rcher]. Crowe and G[iovanni]. B[attista]. Cavalcaselle. A History of Painting in North Italy: Venice, Padua, Vicenza, Verona, Ferrara, Milan, Friuli, Brescia, from the Fourteenth to the Sixteenth Century. London, 1871, vol. 2, p. 412, as in the Erizzo-Maffei collection, Brescia; see the influence of Titian and Giorgione.

Stefano Fenaroli. Alessandro Bonvicino sopranominato il Moretto, pittore bresciano. Brescia, 1875, pp. 15, 49, erroneously as still in the collection of contessa Beatrice Fenaroli-Maffei; tentatively dates it about 1526.

Giovanni Battista Cavalcaselle. Unpublished manuscript. 1878 [Biblioteca Marciana, Venice, Misc. C.11272; see Ref. Zeri and Gardner 1986], rejects the attribution to Moretto, ascribing it to Romanino.

Pietro Da Ponte and A. Canossi. Ricordo del sommo pittore bresciano Alessandro Bonvicino soprannominato il Moretto. Brescia, 1898, p. 108 [see Ref. Begni Redona 1988].

P[ietro]. d[a] P[onte]. L'opera del Moretto. Brescia, 1898, pp. 76–77, pl. 21B, as in the collection of the marchese Ippolito Fassati.

Pompeo Molmenti. Il Moretto da Brescia. Florence, 1898, p. 101, as in the collection of the marchese Fassati, Milan.

Ulisse Papa. "Arte retrospettiva: Alessandro Bonvicini detto il Moretto." Emporium 7 (1898), p. 298, ill. p. 296 [same text as Ref. Papa "Il genio" 1898], as in the collection of the marchese Fassati, Milan; considers it one of the paintings in which Moretto most closely approaches the manner of Raphael.

Ulisse Papa. Il genio e le opere di Alessandro Bonvicino (il Moretto). Bergamo, 1898, pp. 31, 36, ill. p. 32 [same text as Ref. Papa "Emporium" 1898].

Ricordo per le onoranze tributate dall'Ateneo di Brescia nel IV centenario natalizio del pittore Bonvicino-Moretto. 1899, pp. 21, 85 [see Ref. Begni Redona 1988].

Ugo Fleres. "La pinacoteca dell'Ateneo in Brescia." Gallerie nazionali italiane 4 (1899), pp. 285–87.

Bernhard Berenson. North Italian Painters of the Renaissance. New York, 1907, p. 264, lists it in the collection of the marchese Fassati, Milan.

J[oseph]. A[rcher]. Crowe and G[iovanni]. B[attista]. Cavalcaselle. A History of Painting in North Italy: Venice, Padua, Vicenza, Verona, Ferrara, Milan, Friuli, Brescia, from the Fourteenth to the Sixteenth Century. Ed. Tancred Borenius. 2nd ed. [1st ed. 1871]. London, 1912, vol. 3, p. 300.

"New-York." Pantheon 2 (November 1928), p. 570, ill. p. 568.

Bryson Burroughs. "A Portrait by Moretto da Brescia." Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin 23 (September 1928), pp. 216–17, ill., believes the sitter was probably a poet.

Adolfo Venturi. Storia dell'arte italiana. Vol. 9, part 4, La pittura del Cinquecento. Milan, 1929, p. 203 n. 1, erroneously as still with Knoedler, London; calls it a portrait of a member of the Martinengo family.

Lionello Venturi. Pitture italiane in America. Milan, 1931, unpaginated, pl. CCCXCIV, calls it an early work, and states that it was formerly in the Martinengo collection, Brescia.

[Georg] Gronau in Allgemeines Lexikon der bildenden Künstler. Ed. Hans Vollmer. Vol. 25, Leipzig, 1931, p. 141.

Bernhard Berenson. Italian Pictures of the Renaissance. Oxford, 1932, p. 375.

Lionello Venturi. Italian Paintings in America. Vol. 3, Sixteenth to Eighteenth Century. New York, 1933, unpaginated, pl. 534.

Bernhard Berenson. Pitture italiane del rinascimento. Milan, 1936, p. 322.

Harry B. Wehle. The Metropolitan Museum of Art: A Catalogue of Italian, Spanish, and Byzantine Paintings. New York, 1940, pp. 160–61, ill., calls the sitter "apparently a poet or philosopher"; adds that he is said to be a member of the Martinengo family, and includes Martinengo in the ex collections.

György Gombosi. Moretto da Brescia. Basel, 1943, pp. 34, 105, 110, no. 158, fig. 27, dates it about 1520–25.

Camillo Boselli. "Alexander Brixiensis - La formazione artistica del Moretto." L'arte 46 (August–December 1943), p. 121, dates it slightly before 1526; sees the influence of Savoldo and Romanino.

Camillo Boselli. Il Moretto, 1498–1554. Brescia, 1954, p. 71.

Bernard Berenson. Italian Pictures of the Renaissance: Central Italian and North Italian Schools. London, 1968, vol. 1, p. 278.

Burton B. Fredericksen and Federico Zeri. Census of Pre-Nineteenth-Century Italian Paintings in North American Public Collections. Cambridge, Mass., 1972, pp. 145, 527, 607.

Howard Hibbard. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. New York, 1980, pp. 257, 260, fig. 463.

Valerio Guazzoni in The Genius of Venice, 1500–1600. Exh. cat., Royal Academy of Arts. London, 1983, p. 185, no. 58, ill. p. 99 (color), dates it before 1530 and adds that the wide format is similar to works dating between 1520 and 1525; notes the influence of Giorgione.

Artur Rosenauer. "London: Venice at the Royal Academy." Burlington Magazine 126 (May 1984), p. 306.

Federico Zeri with the assistance of Elizabeth E. Gardner. Italian Paintings: A Catalogue of the Collection of The Metropolitan Museum of Art, North Italian School. New York, 1986, p. 45, pl. 69, date it to the early 1520s on the basis of style; add that the identification of the sitter as a member of the Martinengo family [see Ref. Venturi 1929] cannot be verified.

[Francesco Frangi] in Pittura del Cinquecento a Brescia. Milan, 1986, p. 183.

Giorgio Fossaluzza in Paris Bordon e il suo tempo. Treviso, 1987, pp. 189, 200 n. 36.

Pier Virgilio Begni Redona. Alessandro Bonvicino: il Moretto da Brescia. Brescia, 1988, pp. 180–81, no. 23, ill., dates it 1520–25; identifies it as probably the picture mentioned by Carboni in 1760 [see Ref.] in the Maffei collection, Brescia.

Pier Virgilio Begni Redona in Alessandro Bonvicino: il Moretto. Exh. cat., Monastero di S. Giulia, Brescia. Bologna, 1988, pp. 51, 72, no. 14, ill. p. 74 (color), calls it close to Lotto and Romanino, and also notes the influence of Giorgione.

Roberta Ferrazza. Palazzo Davanzati e le collezioni di Elia Volpi. Florence, 1993, pp. 114, 117, 140 n. 131, fig. 114, identifies it among a group of works Volpi exported from Italy in October 1915.

Alessandro Ballarin in Le siècle de Titien: L'âge d'or de la peinture à Venise. Exh. cat., Grand Palais. Paris, 1993, pp. 475–78, no. 82, ill. pp. 97 (color) and 475 [reprinted in Ballarin 2006, vol. 1, pp. 276–85], discusses the dating, concluding that it was probably painted in about 1524.

Andrea Bayer. "North of the Apennines: Sixteenth-Century Italian Painting in Lombardy and Emilia-Romagna." Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin 60 (Spring 2003), pp. 26–27, 29, fig. 21 (color), dates it about 1520–25; discusses the influence of Titian and Lotto, and also sees the influence of Milanese painting, specifically Bramantino, in the low viewpoint.

Nicholas Penny. The Sixteenth Century Italian Paintings. Vol. 1, Paintings from Bergamo, Brescia and Cremona. London, 2004, pp. 148, 150 n. 49.

Alessandro Ballarin. La "Salomè" del Romanino ed altri studî sulla pittura bresciana del Cinquecento. Ed. Barbara Maria Savy. Cittadella, 2006, vol. 1, pp. XXXII–IV, 276–85; vol. 2, colorpl. CVI.

Andrea Bayer. "Collecting North Italian Paintings at The Metropolitan Museum of Art." A Market for Merchant Princes: Collecting Italian Renaissance Paintings in America. Ed. Inge Reist. University Park, Pa., 2015, pp. 88, 123 n. 11 (to chapter 7).

Kathryn Calley Galitz. The Metropolitan Museum of Art: Masterpiece Paintings. New York, 2016, p. 273, no. 171, ill. pp. 176, 273 (color).

The frame is from Brescia, in the Lombardy region not far from Milan, and dates to about 1525 (see Additional Images, figs. 1–4). This water gilded cassetta or box frame is made of pine and both carved and painted. The pearl and reel motif at the sight edge is followed by a painted frieze on gold ground unusually ornamented in blue on the horizontal lengths and red on the vertical lengths. Acanthus carving rises to laurel leaves which emerge from center clasps at the top edge. A curious lateral join and an insert in the frieze and top edge indicate adjustments made for this painting with the possible merger of two different frames.
[Timothy Newbery with Cynthia Moyer 2016; further information on this frame can be found in the Department of European Paintings files]
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