El Greco

Portrait d’un Homme Barbu tenant un Mouchoir

Doménikos Theotokópoulos called El Greco
( Crete, 1541 - Toledo, 1576 )

Huile sur toile 94.5 x 70.5 cm ; ca. 1570-73 Signé en bas à droite en grec : DOMIN / POLO

Collection privée, Angleterre

F. Marías, El Greco, Biografía de un pintor extravagante, Nerea, 1997, fig. 69, p. 115 F. Marías, El Greco, Biografía de un pintor extravagante, Nerea, 2013, p. 114

Exposition : Sera exposé au “El Greco in Italia, metamorfosi di un genio”, Treviso, Casa dei Carraresi (Italie), sous direction de Prof. L. Puppi, 24 octobre, 2015 – 10 avril, 2016 (exhibition devoted to El Greco in Italy).

Attribution à El Greco est confirmé par :
Prof. William Jordan,
Prof. Robin Cormack,
Maria Paphiti
Prof. Lionello Puppi,
Prof. Andrea Donati
Prof. Fernando Marias

This painting was published by Fernando Marías in his recent monograph on the painter as an original work by El Greco (Madrid ed., 1997 ; Paris ed., 2013, p. 114, illus.). It has also been independently recognized by Lionello Puppi and Andrea Donati as an autograph work. El Greco signed his works is both cursive script and capital letters. The signature in the Greek capital is certainly autograph, but only partly legible because the painting was cropped slightly on all sides. For the time being, the gentleman has not been identified ; as Marías and Puppi have noted, the style of the portrait corresponds to the end of El Greco’s Italian years, so that in theory the sitter should be sought out among the artist’s friends and acquaintances of that period.

During the ten years he spent in Italy, El Greco was first in Venice (c. 1567-1570) and then Rome (c. 1570-1577). It is not entirely clear which cities, artists and works he knew while in Italy, apart from Titian and Michelangelo in Venice and Rome. His stay in Venice is documented, but his presence in the workshop of Titian has been rightly dismissed by Spanish scholars. However, it is generally accepted and recognized that during his Venetian sojourn El Greco studied the works of Titian, Tintoretto, Veronese and Bassano at first hand. His interaction with the Greek community of Venice, and with other foreigners, is documented. There are also records of his friendship with Giulio Clovio, the miniaturist of Croatian origin who was working for Cardinal Grimani, and later Cardinal Farnese. Clovio introduced El Greco to Rome in the palazzo of Cardinal Farnese, claiming he was a pupil of Titian. During his Roman period El Greco studied the frescoes of Michelangelo in the Sistine Chapel, executed a portrait of Clovio in about 1572 (Naples, Capodimonte Museum) and painted some works for Fulvio Orsini, Cardinal Alessandro Farnese’s secretary (Naples, Capodimonte Museum). On the way from Venice to Rome the artist crossed Central Italy, passing through Foligno. If he took the overland route, he would perhaps have passed through Bologna, Florence and Perugia ; if by sea, along the Adriatic coast, he would have had to go overland from Loreto to Foligno and Rome. Before leaving Italy, he was in Parma ; and when he embarked for his journey to Spain, it may have been in Genoa rather than Civitavecchia.

The most interesting parallels for our portrait can be found among the Italian portraits, especially with the one with Knoedler & Co. in New York (dated by Marías to about 1570), the one in the Museum in Copenhagen (Marías : c. 1574), the portrait of Vincenzo Anastagi of Perugia in the Frick Collection, New York (Marías : c. 1575), and the portrait of the sculptor Pompeo Leoni in a private collection (Marías : c. 1576). The frontal depiction of the sitter is a total rethinking of the genre with respect to the models of the Tuscan-Roman school (Raphael), Emilia (Parmigianino) and Venice (Titian). As for style, our portrait recalls certain unconventional portraits by Tintoretto, for example the Jacopo Sansovino in the Uffizi Gallery, of 1571, or the Self-Portrait in the Musée du Louvre of about 1588 ; and some works by Bassano, such as the Double Portrait formerly in the Cook Collection or the Penitent Saint Jerome in the Gallerie dell’Accademia, Venice.

As conceived, the portrait is absolutely novel in character, and it forms part of the extensive experimentation carried out by El Greco before his full flourishing in Spain : it is so spontaneous and natural that it is hard to find a comparison in contemporary portraiture. For this reason it must date from the last phase of the artist’s Italian period or the very beginning of his sojourn in Toledo.

In hindsight, the sitter’s face closely resembles one of the figures in the Espolio (Disrobing of Christ), El Greco’s first great masterpiece in the Cathedral of Toledo (1577-1579). This is the old man with little hair and a long grey beard, on the right, who watches Christ with deep emotion as his tormentors remove his clothes before the Crucifixion. He exists beyond the Biblical narrative, and is one of several portraits inserted in the Espolio – not among the evil individuals of this great scene, but among the good, as one can clearly understand by the piety in his gaze. El Greco received the commission for the Espolio thanks to Don Luis de Castilla, whom he had met in Rome some time before ; in 1577 Don Luis de Castilla is documented in Toledo. At this point in my research I cannot offer further evidence for identifying our sitter, but I remain convinced that the role played by Don Luis de Castilla could reveal his name. The similarity in the faces of the old man in our portrait and the one in the Espolio is remarkable.

There must have been a certain confidence between El Greco and the man who posed for this portrait, as it is conceived with extreme familiarity, free of anything ceremonious. This is why the most interesting comparison is with the artist’s “speaking” portrait of Giulio Clovio in Naples. But the image before us is not that of an artist who was a colleague of El Greco’s, but of a man whose role in life was public or ecclesiastical. There can be no doubt that the dress and black hat indicate that this was a person of social distinction, though for now we cannot know his rank or condition.

The painting is currently the subject of research by the author.

Andrea Donati Rimini, 6 March 2015