National Gallery of Canada / Musée des beaux-arts du Canada

Bulletin 22, 1973

Annual Index
Author & Subject

Bartolommeo Veneto and His Portrait of a Lady

by Creighton Gilbert

Pages  1  |  2  |  3  |  4  |  5  |  6  |  7  |  8  |  9 


1 Ottawa's Portrait of a Lady was first cited (1780) as in the ownership of the Doria family, Genoa, by C. G. Ratti, Ist ruzione di quanto puà vedersi di più bello in Genova, 2nd ed., p. 314, as the work of Leonardo da Vinci, then (1875) in the same ownership by F. Alizeri, Guida artistica per la Città di Genova, p. 195, as of the school of Leonardo. It was first attributed to Bartolommeo Veneto by Bernard Berenson and in 1894 included in his Venetian Painters of the Renaissance (First ed.), p. 81 (list of painters). The twenty paintings in the Berenson list made up the first large group of works ever linked to Bartolommeo, not always so justifiably. The rediscovery of this reference in Berenson by Myron Laskin Jr., corrects the view, which I earlier shared, that the picture was first attributed to Bartolommeo in the earliest (1899) long essay on him, Adolfo Venturi's "Bartolommeo Veneto," L'Arte, vol. II (1899), pp. 431-462, fig. 24. In any case, the attribution to Bartolommeo is thereafter accepted by all writers on this artist, all as in the same Doria ownership, notably: P. d'Achiardi, Künstlerlexikon, ed. Thieme-Becker (vol. II, 1908); T. Borenius, editor at Crowe and Cavalcaselle, History of Painting in North Italy (London: J. Murray, 1912), vol. I, p. 300; S. Reinach, Répertoire de peintures (Paris, 1918), vol. IV, p. 687; A. L. Mayer, "Zur Bildniskunst des Bartolommeo Veneto," Pantheon, vol. II (1928), pp. 572 fr.; E. Michalski, "Zur Problematik des Bartolommeo Veneto," Zeitschrift für bildende Kunst, vol. LXI ( 1927- 1928), pp. 301 fr.; E. Michal ski, "Zur Stilkritik des Bartolommeo Veneto," Zeitschrift für bildende Kunst, vol. LXV (1931- 1932), pp. 17 ff: Purchased from that collection by Count Alessandro Contini-Bonacossi and lent by him in 1935 to the exhibition of Italian art (Exposition de l'art italien) at the Petit Palais, Paris (catalogue no.27); purchased from his heirs in 1971 by the National Gallery of Canada.

2 It is already striking in the Louvre Circumcision dated 1506.
3 As suggested by T. Borenius in his notes to his edition of Crowe and Cavalcaselle, History of Painting in North Italy (loc. cit.), "The artist is seen in a quieter mood in this painting."

4 Galleria Ambrosiana, Milan. The dimensions (35-1/2 x 23-5/8 in.) are so similar that one is tempted to attribute the slight difference to its having been measured inside the frame while the Ottawa portrait was measured unframed; it is unfortunately normal for the conditions of measurement not to be specified. However, the likeness can also be due to the artist's habits of work. The Ambrosiana picture was traditionally called Portrait of a Gentleman, but a cleaning in 1956 revealed that a scroll in his hand records his name and even his job: Master Bernardino da Lesmo, master of the house to Count Girolamo Morano. (It is regrettably typical of the tendency of Bartolommeo's works not to be cited in studies by distinct names, so that they become confused with each other, that in 1964 the entry on Bartolommeo by E. Bassi in Dizionario biografico degli ltaliani (1964), vol. VI, pp. 782- 784, continues to speak of this picture simply as Portrait of a Man although the attached bibliography includes the cleaning report which made the sitter's name known: F. Mazzini, Mostra di dipinti restaurati della pinacoteca ambrosiana [Milan: Pinacoteca Ambrosiana, 1957], pp. 17-19, pl. 9). It would be of interest to explore the emergence just at this time of portraits of  persons of this social status, not aristocrats but dignified ship at the Netherlands Institute for Advanced Study, employees of aristocrats; a few instances are known in the case of Medici servants (e.g., one by Franciabigio), and I think the same may occur in another portrait by Bartolommeo. If it should prove to be more frequent in his case, it might correlate with the absence of documents of his career. This second case is the man in the Fitzwilliam Museum wearing a remarkable fancy embroidered costume, with a labyrinth, which might be the device of his master, suggesting the herald's tabard. The wearing of such a costume with the employer's device is seen about 1530 among the frescos of the Bishop's servants by Romanino in the Castle of Trent. The labyrinth is a device of the Gonzaga, Dukes of Mantua, who were in-laws of the ruling family of Ferrara which employed Bartolommeo in 1506-1508; since the portrait is of that same early part of Bartolommeo's working career, the hypothesis seems plausibly supported. There has been no follow-up to the proposal or C. R. Beard's "The Labyrinth Man," Connoisseur, vol. III (1927), pp. 232- 234, to identify this man as a certain Seigneur de Boisdauphin; in fact that study has not been included in the Bartolommeo bibliographies.

5 It appears in the earliest serious comment on Bartolommeo. the brief remarks of Cavalcaselle in 1871 (History of Painting in North Italy, loc. cit.) as in the ownership of Mr Barker and previously in the Manfrin collection, Venice. It had no doubt been noticed by historians in the Manfrin collection. which was open to the public, and thus doubtless played a part in forming the first impressions of the artist's qualities. It seems to have been rarely seen since; shortly after 1870, it was bought for the Rosebery collection at Mentmore (printed catalogue of 1883, Green Drawing Room, no. 14). The Countess of Rosebery has kindly permitted the present publication of the photograph.

6 The spectacular example is his Girl Playing a Lute of 1520, known from two apparently original versions in the Brera, Milan, and the Gardner Museum, Boston, and a large number of inferior copies which appear to have been made soon after. At this date Bartolommeo seems to have arrived rather recently in Milan, and he seems to have settled there permanently after that, an implication of his success. Writings published between 1899 and 1934, and photographs deposited in the Frick Art Reference Library, New York, refer to thirteen other copies of the Girl with the Lute, but it is probable that in various cases at different dates two of these citations are to the same painting, since it is typical that the citations mention the current but never the previous owners, and most are not accompanied by reproductions. But there seem to be at least eight different copies, a quite remarkable number for an Italian painting of this date, to which one must add the great statistical probability of others having been lost in the intervening centuries. The other cases of copies of Bartolommeo's paintings are not so suggestive. The early Madonna compositions recur, perhaps repeated by the artist himself, as do several of the main male portraits. In one of these cases confusion has arisen, even leading several writers to refer to Bartolommeo as still alive in 1555. This view is based on a portrait in the Uffizi, attributed to him until recently and inscribed with a date in that year, which is actually a copy of Bartolommeo's undated original in the collection of the late Lawrence Fisher, Detroit (for the correct treatment of this point see A. Hevesy, "Um Bartolommeo Veneto," Pantheon, vol. VII (June 1931), pp. 225 ff).

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