Attributed to Domenico Tintoretto
1560-1635 | Italian
Portrait of a Venetian Senator
Oil on canvas
Showcasing an incredible level of vivacity in the sitter as well as an impeccable study of fabric, this Portrait of a Venetian Senator bears the hallmarks of 16th-century Venetian portraiture. A comparison specifically with the work of Domenico Tintoretto reveals striking similarities in both subject and style.
By Tintoretto’s day, Venetian painting had earned an international reputation for its exceptional use of color and the ability of these hues and tones to subtly model figures, fashions and environments. This style had been championed earlier in the century by masters like Titian – who, aged 70 at the time of Domenico’s birth, was still painting – and became a defining skill for those masters who emerged from Venetian studios. Jacopo Tintoretto, who apprenticed in Titian’s studio as a young man, absorbed that love of color, and it is seen throughout his body of work. He also passed this passion on to his son, Domenico, who artfully paired such vibrancy with his parallel fascination with the use of techniques like chiaroscuro to offer more profound likenesses.
This balance is struck in this painting, Portrait of a Venetian Senator, wherein the esteemed sitter gazes out at the viewer with a striking, confident directness. The strength of his brow, illuminated against a nondescript background, complements the richness of his senatorial robes and conveys a sense of his authority and status. What is perhaps most impressive in this painting is the attention to detail in the rendering of this costume. From the wisps of the ermine fur that line the hem of his coat to the brocade velvet sash that cuts over the sitter’s shoulder, the intricacies of this fashion suggests that only an expert hand, like that of Tintoretto, could have executed it.
The connection to the oeuvre of Tintoretto is further strengthened when this painting is compared with the artist's surviving portraits. In a review of surviving examples, it would seem that Venetian senators were a frequent subject for him, including his Portrait of a Venetian Senater in the Harvard Art Museum (Cambridge). The present example also recalls one of Tintoretto's most celebrated portraits – that of A Group of Four Venetian Senators. Here, while the textural fabric details are less precise, the treatment of the sitters is strikingly similar to that seen in Portrait of a Venetian Senator. The posture and dress of the senator who appears at the far right of the composition, though more aged, nevertheless mirrors the subject in the present portrait quite precisely.
Born in Venice in 1560, Tintoretto was afforded a youth saturated with artistic talent: his father, Jacopo (1518-1594), had earned a place among Italy’s most acclaimed artists. Thus, it was only natural that Domenico would follow in his father’s footsteps and train within his studio. His talents were visible at an early age, such that by his teenage years he joined the Venetian Arte de Pittori, the central artistic guild of the city. His status was only enhanced by his youthful contributions to his father’s commissions in notable locales like the Doge’s Palace, but it was not long before the young Tintoretto set out on his own. He would eventually take over his father’s studio upon Jacopo’s death and continue to uphold the high caliber associated with the name “Tintoretto,” such that it is not infrequent that his paintings are confused for those of his father.
Over the years, Tintoretto garnered numerous prestigious commissions for works of various subjects, though he bore a particular talent for the art of the portrait. His list of noble clients included some of the most famous figures of the 16th century – from the dukes and doges of Venice to members of the Spanish royal family – and his success perhaps was derived from his ability to call upon elements of the Venetian painterly tradition alongside knowledge of the larger landscape of painting innovation in Europe at the time.
Canvas: 27" high x 21" wide
Frame: 35" high x 29 1/4" wide