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A group portrait of four Venetian senators, bust-length

A group portrait of four Venetian senators, bust-length
oil on canvas
23 x 44 ½ in. (58.5 x 113.2 cm.)
Palazzo Giovanelli, Venice.
Anonymous sale; Christie's, London, 3 November 1978, lot 24, as 'Tintoretto'.
Private collection, U.S.A.
Anonymous sale; Christie's, London, 9 December 2016, lot 147, where acquired by the present owner (£341,000).

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Lot Essay

Born in 1560, the eldest son of Jacopo Tintoretto, Domenico trained in his father’s studio and entered the Venetian painters’ guild aged only seventeen. He began his career assisting his father in the execution of paintings for the Sala del Collegio and Sala del Senato in the Doge’s Palace, Venice. As portraiture became an increasingly important stream of income for Jacopo’s workshop – ‘its daily bread’ as Roland Krischel described it – Domenico acquired a reputation as a specialist and skilled portraitist, to the extent that he was on occasion signing his own portraits whilst his father was still alive (M. Falomir, 'Tintoretto's Portraiture', in M. Falomir, ed., Tintoretto, exhibition catalogue, Madrid, 2007, pp. 110-2).

Carlo Ridolfi noted that Domenico seems to have been the first Venetian painter to devote most of his career to portraiture, for which he became particularly sought after. In 1592 he travelled to Ferrara to paint a portrait of Margaret of Austria, later Queen of Spain, and in 1595 he went from Venice to Mantua at the invitation of Vincenzo I Gonzaga, 4th Duke of Mantua, to execute a portrait commission.

The present group portrait of four Venetian senators is particularly striking in his oeuvre and can be most closely associated with the two large portrait groups commissioned from him in 1591 by the Scuola dei Mercanti, each depicting eighteen members of the confraternity (both now in the Gallerie dell’Accademia, Venice; see P. Rossi, Jacopo Tintoretto I Ritratti, Venice, 1973, I, nos. 250-1).

Domenico developed his own distinctive portrait style, that was indebted to his father but with a taste for color and detail that betrays the influence of both Moroni and Annibale Carracci. Domenico’s subjects typically stare boldly out at the viewer and his brushwork, albeit comparatively looser than most painters of his generation, is more smoothly finished than the strong, visible brushstrokes in his father’s portraits. His greatest skill was perhaps his ability to personalize physiognomies. His depictions rarely lacked character or humor, as is evident to great effect here in the portrayal of these four anonymous senators.

This group portrait was previously in the collection of the Giovanelli family in the Palazzo Giovanelli (according to an old photograph in the Witt Library, London), a fifteenth-century palazzo on the Grand Canal, which also included Jacopo Tintoretto’s celebrated five-meter-long telero depicting The Siege of Asolo (sold Christie’s, London, 8 July 2014, lot 42).


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