Portrait Of A Man – Giorgione 1478?–1510?

“Something fabulous and illusive,” said Walter Pater, “always mingled itself in the brilliancy of Giorgione’s fame.” His position as a great innovator, as the discoverer of a new expression in painting has been acknowledged by every one from his time to ours. But there remains a strange uncertainty as to which paintings of all those attributed to him are really by him. Only one is documented, the painting on the façade of the Fondaco dei Tedeschi at Venice, and of that nothing remains but a blur of vague colors. The critics have expended much energy on the subject, one claiming for him works of absurd differences of tendency and attainment, another reducing his representation to three or four pictures only, and the contest still goes on.

It is therefore a cause of satisfaction to find that a lately discovered picture like this Portrait of a Man has won the suffrages of the most prominent connoisseurs. Bernhard Berenson accepts it enthusiastically. “Critics so frequently at odds in other cases,” says Wilhelm Bode, “will scarcely fail to agree as to the genuineness of the Altman picture.”

The portrait is that of a sensitive young man of melancholy aspect with long hair and a carefully trimmed beard. The frame (a very beautiful one, by the way, and of the time of the painting) cuts off his figure a little below the shoulders but shows his hands raised in the act of pulling off the right glove. He is of most distinguished and poetic appearance; and as he is looking straight at the be-holder, it is strange that no ingenious critic has claimed it as a portrait of the artist himself. The head certainly fits the popular and legendary conception of Giorgione’s personality. This theory might be upheld equally well as the other that it represents Ariosto, of whom the only likeness that has come down to us is a woodcut after a drawing by Titian, published in the edition of Orlando Furioso in 1532, which shows the poet as a man of advanced age.

The known history of the picture is meagre. It belonged to Walter Savage Landor, who bought it in Italy, it is said, from the Grimani family, though the fact has not been substantiated. The Grimani were an important Venetian house which furnished three Doges to the Republic, one of whom, Antonio Grimani, had command of the Venetian squadron while Giorgione was alive. After the death of Walter Savage Landor in 1864, the picture was taken to England, where it remained until purchased by Mr. Altman.