Today I am moving away from the interpretive type of allegorical paintings, which I featured yesterday and which is a genre I really like. Today, although staying with an Italian artist, I am returning to portraiture. Today’s artist is Moretto da Brescia who featured in My Daily Art Display on December 17th.
Moretto da Brescia was born Alessandro Bonvicino around 1498 at Rovato, a town in the province of Brescia in Lombardy. He studied first under Fioravante Ferramola of Brescia and later with Titian in Venice. He was the leading Brescia painter of the day and concentrated his works on religious subjects mainly producing altarpieces and other religious works. Today’s painting in My Daily Art Display is simply entitled Portrait of a Young Man which Moretto completed around 1450 and which now hangs in the National Gallery London.
The subject of today’s painting is thought to be Count Fortunato Martinengo Cesaresco who was a member of a branch of Brescia’s most important noble family. He was also a leading literary figure in Brescia and was founder of the Accademia dei Dubbiosi in 1551 and friend of the Venetian humanist and Italian theorist of paintings, Lodovicio Dolce. The count married in 1542 and this portrait could well have been done around the time of his betrothal and been a gift for his bride.
The painting has a background almost completely dominated by a heavy maroon and gold brocade curtain with its pomegranate and carnation design. The count is depicted lavishly if somewhat flamboyantly dressed in this portrait, . There is no doubting his wealth and nobility. On the table to the left of him are some rare ancient coins, one of which is in an open ivory case, which gives the impression that he may have been a collector of such items. Lying next to them is also a bronze oil lamp in the shape of a sandalled foot. Hanging over the edge of the table we can see a pair of grey leather gloves. He is half sitting, half slumped as he rests his right elbow on a couple of pink tasselled taffeta cushions whilst his right hand supports his face. Look at his face. What does his facial expression convey to you? To my mind we are not looking at a happy contented man. Wealth has brought him neither satisfaction nor happiness. It is a look of a man who is melancholic and his eyes seem to suggest that he does not know how to lift his depression. Does he know what is causing this depression or is he one of those unfortunate people who feel depressed but are not sure what has brought about such depression? Maybe we get an incline of his problem. On his black velvet cap is a cap badge with the Greek words which translate as:
“Alas I deserve too much”
So how do we translate those words in relation to the Count? Is it referring to his dilemma as a collector that he knows no matter how wealthy he is, he will never be able to possess all the prized items he needs for his collection to be complete. All collectors will empathise with this sentiment. Some art historians would rather put a more romantic slant on his melancholic expression and the inscription on his cap badge. They believe that as this painting was a gift to his wife he is indicating pictorially to her that no matter how much treasure he owns, nothing will take away the pain of separation from his beloved.
This is a sumptuous painting and a magnificent portrait. However, I will leave you to decide what is causing his anguish.