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Venetian Nobleman, after 1530

Italian, c.1487/90-1576
Oil on canvas
42-1/2 x 36 in. (108.0 x 91.4 cm)
The Norton Simon Foundation
© The Norton Simon Foundation

Not on View

The most startling aspect of The Venetian Nobleman is the fact that it is painted over another fully finished and cut-down portrait of a seated man, possibly a cleric, with a beard. Seen in splendid clarity in the accompanying x-ray, the painting beneath is most likely by a different hand that several experts have suggested could be an unremarkable image by Leandro Bassano. This secondary portrait was discovered during a routine conservation study in 1978, and after the small window was opened to expose the eyes of the sitter, Mr. Simon suggested that it be exhibited as is. While the dating of the uppermost portrait is unclear, it is surely a studio version or later copy after the stunning Portrait of Giacomo Dolfin that Titian painted around 1531 and that was conveniently purchased in 1981 by the neighboring Los Angeles County Museum of Art. Except for the curtain that hangs behind the sitter in the “upper” Simon portrait, it and the LACMA canvas are nearly identical in size and composition. At some point in the painting’s history, the background of the LACMA portrait also had the same type of unfolded curtain that remains in the Simon picture, but it was removed during a conservation effort in 1980. The execution of the two paintings differs dramatically, however: the Simon portrait lacks Titian’s masterful handling of the powerful pyramidal figure seen in the sumptuously rendered LACMA work, as well as the potent, commanding stare of this officeholder of the Venetian Republic.

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