Exhibition: Knight portrait - Bilbao Fine Arts Museum

The guest work


2008-04-01 • 2008-09-29

Knight portrait

Room 5

The gentleman depicted in the portrait in the Cerralbo Museum [oil on canvas, 107 x 73 cm., inv. no. 3740] appears unadorned, no objects or symbols alluding to his position or honours being shown. Only his distinguished bearing and the gold buttons of his black robes indicate his high social standing. Included by Berenson in the catalogue of works by Jacopo Robusti, known as "Tintoretto" (Venice, 1518/1519-1594), the portrait has been dated by specialists to around 1555.

Although Tintoretto deliberately broke with Venetian tradition in his narrative works, he tended to respect it when working on the portraits that earned him an assiduous clientele and a steady income.

A long way from the Mannerist exuberance displayed in the great religious scenes painted for his city's churches, his portraits have more in common perhaps with Titian, the great Venetian Master, although Tintoretto rarely idealized his sitters, preferring instead to instil them with greater psychological depth.

This particular portrait coincides with a model typical of the great Venetian painter. Against a neutral, barely lit background, the gentleman, shown at three-quarter length, seems to about to come at the spectator. He lifts a hand as if to reinforce the point he's making, a slight gesture that attenuates a certain stillness of posture. The light falls on the sitter's face, particularly the gaze, to accentuate the psychological expressiveness.

Miguel Falomir noted that his robes, painted without much detail, were originally an intense blue that has darkened considerably over the years. A number of authors suggest that the sitter might be Agostino Doria, member of a powerful Genoese family.

Flemish painter Anton van Dyck sketched an identical figure in his Italian taccuino (a notebook conserved at the British Museum), alluding to the portrait of Agostino painted by Titian in 1625 that he saw in Gioan Carlo Doria's house in Genoa. Furthermore, an inventory of the goods of Paolo Mattia Doria, in 1721, makes mention of a 112 cm-high "portrait of a signor doria", by Tintoretto, which coincides fairly closely to the portrait in the Cerralbo Museum, assuming that it is the same work.

In all likelihood, the Marquis of Cerralbo, an art collector and founder of the Museum in 1922, bought the painting some time around 1884 from the Estate of the Marquis of Salamanca, who had acquired the portrait gallery of José de Madrazo in 1861. The 1856 catalogue of Madrazo's gallery refers to a portrait by Tintoretto from the Galería de Altamira that matches the gentleman portrayed here in measurement and description. It is most unlikely that it ever belonged to the great collection amassed by the Marquis of Legañés, owned by the Counts of Altamira since 1711, particularly as it was catalogued amongst the assets of Paolo Mattia Doria some years later.

The portrait was included in the exhibition on Tintoretto held in 2007 at the Prado. It will be presented once again by curator Gonzalo Redín in the exhibition entitled Italian Painting at the Cerralbo Museum, scheduled for late 2008 at the Museum in Madrid.

Text: Marian Granados Ortega
Keeper, Cerralbo Museum, Madrid



Tintoretto (Venice 1518-1594)
Portrait of a Gentleman: Agostino Doria?
(c. 1555)
Oil on canvas, 107 x 73 cm
Cerralbo Museum, Madrid