September 2010: Giovanni Bellini "Portrait of a Young Man in Red"

Published on: 28 / 07 / 2010

Authors of this entry:
  • Magdalena Palica

The portrait, once belonging to the collection of the Ingenheim family, most probably depicts a Venetian patrician Girolamo Priuli. The sitter’s identity, recently suggested by an Italian researcher Lorenzo Finocchi Ghersi, may be assumed with reference to an untypical head-dress of the young man.

The ancient looking mazzocchio, with a specific cloth strip, drooping on shoulders, a garment reserved for Venetian families with long aristocratic ancestry, was in the late 15th century no longer in common use. The fact that a young man has been portrayed in such a head-dress, can be possibly interpreted as manifestation of his affiliation to a family with long heritage. Girolamo Priuli had been once portrayed by Bellini, in a similar mazzocchio, in the prior version of the “Supper in Emaus”, painted in 1513, and presently housed in the Venetian Church of San Salvador (which testifies the particularly long-standing popularity of the garment, having been out of fashion for several decades).

Prior to the period of Bellini, Venetian portraits had been principally limited to the doges’ images which had been hung in the Sala del Maggior Consiglio of the Ducal Palace, right after the doge’s election. In large religious scenes, also the donors with specific physiognomic features were present. Separate images of private models appeared no sooner than in the eighth decade of the 15th century, in the initial activity of the Bellini’s workshop, situated by the Ponto Rialto. The site choice was strategic, since that particular place housed the trade center of the seaside republic, where the customers could have been easily gained, particularly among foreign merchants visiting Venice. The workshop of the painter’s father Jacopo Bellini, overtaken afterwards by Giovanni’s elder brother Gentile, was situated close the Ducal Palace – seat of government. An advised extension plan of the family business as well as partial diversification of its offers was supposed to make it more competitive in comparison to the main rival of the Bellinis – i.e. the painters’ family Vivarini from the nearby Murano (their reciprocal rivalry can be easily seen in their striving for prestigious commissions in decorating the Ducal Palace). The portraits executed in the workshop of the youngest Bellini were supposed to be specific symbol of his studio and testimony of its modernity, differing from the traditional Vivarinis’ workshop which created mostly religious works (frequently having used large amount of gold in ornamentation and background parts, the procedure often relinquished by the rivals). Giovanni Bellini had soon become famous as portraitist and contributed to high popularity of this genre of painting in Venice, which testify his numerous paintings (e.g. one of the earliest images of a particular person – namely the image of Jörg Fugger, dated 1474), and is discernible in Vasaris words: “And since he was endowed with talent of painting from nature, he introduced a custom in Venice that a person of any importance was portrayed either by him or by another painter” (translation by Karol Estreicher).

Giovanni Bellinis works enjoyed over centuries unabated interest in his town of origin. The doge Andrea Vendramin kept numerous paintings by Bellini in his private collection; among them was undoubtedly kept the presented portrait of Girolamo Priuli (in the 1627 edited illustrated inventory of the Vendramin’s collection, there is a sketch which nearly resembles the “Young man in red”). In the early 19th century the painting had appeared in the collection of Gustav Adolf von Ingenheim, half a century afterwards, along with a large part of the collection, it was transferred by the Gustav’s descendants, to the new family residence in Rysiowice by Nysa in Silesia. Since then it was undoubtedly one of the finest examples of the Early Renaissance portrait painting that could be admired in Silesian private collections.

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