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Portrait of a young man, traditionally identified as Saint Aloysius (Luigi) Gonzaga (1568-1591), half-length, with a book

Portrait of a young man, traditionally identified as Saint Aloysius (Luigi) Gonzaga (1568-1591), half-length, with a book
oil on canvas
29 1⁄8 x 22 1⁄2 in. (74 x 57 cm.)
Don Pablo Bosch y Barrau (1841-1915), Madrid.
with Trotti et Cie., Paris, by 1908.
Baron Marczell von Nemes (1866-1930), Budapest, by 1909 (with his wax seal and coat-of-arms on the reverse); his sale, Galerie Manzi, Paris, 18 June 1913, lot 29, where acquired by,
with Kleinberger Galleries (inv. no. 9367), where acquired by the following on 23 June 1913,
Stefan von Auspitz (1869-1945), Vienna, until 1932,
Daniël George van Beuningen (1877-1955), Rotterdam,and by whom consigned in December 1932 to the following,
with Kunsthandel K.W. Bachstitz, The Hague.
Leo van den Bergh (1882-1941), The Hague and Santa Barbara, CA, by 1939, by inheritance to his widow,
Alexa van den Bergh, Santa Barbara, CA, thence by descent.
with Otto Naumann, Ltd., New York, until 1996, when acquired by the present owner.
C. de Cedillo, Toledo en el siglo XVI, Madrid, 1901, note 121.
M.B. Cossio, El Greco, II, Madrid, 1908, pp. 433-436, 602, no. 127, as 'San Ignacio de Loyola'.
A.F. Calvert and C.G. Hartley, El Greco: An account of his life and works, New York and London, 1909, p. 145, pl. 27, as 'Portrait of a Student'.
A.L. Mayer, El Greco, Munich, 1911, pp. 64, 89, pl. 25, as 'Der hl. Luis Gonzaga'.
P. Lafond, El Greco, Paris, 1913, p. 102, as 'Saint Ignace de Loyola'.
H. Kehrer, Die Kunst des Greco, Munich, 1914, p.54, as 'Luis Gonzaga'.
E. du Gue Trapier, El Greco, New York, 1925, p. 142, as ‘Portrait San Ignacio de Loyola also known as Luis de Gonzaga’.
A.L. Mayer, Domenico Theotocopuli, El Greco, Munich, 1926, p. 52, no. 328 (324), pl. LXXIII, as ‘Bildnis des hl. Luis Gonzaga (?)’.
E.H. del Villar, El Greco en España, Madrid, 1928, pp. 152-153, pl. XXXVI, fig. 69, as ‘un jesuíta joven [?]’.
F. Gray Griswold, El Greco, printed privately, 1929, no. XXX, as ‘Saint Ignacio Loyola’.
M. Utrillo, Domenikos Theotokopoulos, El Greco, Barcelona, 1930, pl. 3, as ‘Un estudiante [El Greco?]’.
A.L. Mayer, El Greco, Berlin, 1931, pp. 98-99 and 172, pl. 65, as ‘Saint Aloysius Gonzaga [?]’.
M. Seuphor, Greco, Considerations sur sa Vie et sur quelques unes de ses oeuvres, Paris, 1931, p. 16, as ‘Saint Louis de Gonzaga’.
T. Borenius, ‘The Stefan von Auspitz Collection, Review of Exhibition at Agnew’, Burlington Magazine, LXI, 1932, pp. 287-288, pl. II-B, as 'Saint Aloysius Gonzaga'.
M. Legendre and A. Hartmann, Domenico Theotocopouli, dit El Greco, Paris, 1937, p. 41, illustrated, as 'Saint Luis de Gonzaga'.
L. Goldscheider, El Greco, London, 1938, n.p., fig. 108.
W.G. Constable, Annual Report for the Year (Museum of Fine Arts, Boston), Boston, LXIV, Boston, 1939, p. 45.
L. Goldscheider, El Greco, London, 1949, n.p., pl. 64.
G. Ludwig, El Greco, 1949, pl. 64.
J. Camón Aznar, Domenico Greco, I, Madrid, 1950, pp. 1096-1098, fig. 856 (showing the hand above the book in its original position after cleaning) and fig. 857 (showing the overpainted hand below the book); II, p. 1393, nos. 726 and 727 (as ‘Portrait of a young master’; Mayer speculates as to whether nos. 726 and 727 might be two different paintings).
V. Cepari, San Luis Gonzaga (life of the saint), Madrid, 1953, pp. 35-36 and 48-49.
H. Soehner, ‘Greco in Spanien: Teil I: Grecos Stilentwicklung in Spanie’, Munchner Jahrbuch der bildenden Kunst, III, 1957, p. 141.
H.E. Wethey, El Greco and his School, I, Princeton, 1962, fig. 246; II, pp. 108-109, no. 195.
H.E. Wethey, El Greco y su escuela, I, Madrid, 1967, p. 141, no. 195, fig. 227, as 'Saint Aloysius Gonzaga (so called)'.
T. Frati and G. Mazini, L’opera completa del Greco, Milan, 1969, p. 99, no. 45, illustrated.
J. Camón Aznar, Domenico Greco, Madrid, 1970, p. 1097 and 1099, figs. 940 and 941.
T. Frati, Tout l’oeuvre peint de Greco, Paris, 1971, p. 99, no. 45, 'San Luigi Gonzaga (?)'.
M.B. Cossio, El Greco, Barcelona, 1972, pp. 260-262, 395, no. 365, 'San Ignacio de Loyola'.
J. Giudiol, Domenikos Theotokopoulos, El Greco 1541-1614, London, 1973, pp. 112, 344, no. 72, fig. 98, 'Saint Aloysius Gonzaga(?)'.
M. Paganella, San Luigi Gonzaga, un ritratto in piedi, Milan, 1991, illustrated on the cover.
J. Álvarez Lopera, El Greco: la obra esencial, Spain, 1993, p. 282, no. 84, as 'Retrato de un estudiante (San Luis Gonzaga)'.
B. Wismer and M. Scholz-Hänsel, El Greco and Modernism, exhibition catalogue, Ostfildern, 2012, p. 343.
Madrid, Museo Nacional del Prado, Catálogo ilustrado de la expocision de las obras de Domenico Theotocopuli, llamado El Greco, 1902, no. 16, as 'Retrato de un estudiante'.
Paris, Grand Palais, Salon d’Automne, 1 October-8 November 1908, no. 5.
Budapest, Szépmuvészeti Múzeum, Marczell von Nemes Collection, 1909.
Munich, Alte Pinakothek and Düsseldorf, Städtische Kunsthalle, Katalog der aus der Sammlung des Kgl. Rates Marczell von Nemes, Budapest, ausgestellten Gemälde, June-December 1911, no. 13; July-December 1912, no. 63.
London, Thomas Agnew & Sons, The Auspitz collection of Old Master Paintings, November-December 1932.
Boston, Museum of Fine Arts, 24 May-8 November 1939, on loan, as 'St. Ignatius Loyola (?)'.
New York, M. Knoedler & Co., El Greco; loan exhibition for the benefit of the Greek war relief association, commemorating the 400th anniversary of the birth of El Greco, 17 January-15 February 1941, no. 17.
Santa Barbara, CA, Santa Barbara Museum, Santa Barbara collects: a community celebrating the reopening of the Santa Barbara Museum of Art, Part one: European and American art, 26 January-24 March 1985.

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Lot Essay

El Greco’s portraits of Spanish grandees and ecclesiastics are remarkable for their refined severity of representation and incisive characterization, rendered with an intensity and insight to match that of his religious works. El Greco’s portraiture was profoundly influenced by the example of Titian, which he encountered when he moved to Venice in 1567, and he sought to emulate the dignity, sobriety and psychological penetration of his style (fig. 1). In 1577, El Greco moved to the Spanish city of Toledo where he discovered an enthusiastic audience for his religious images and portraits. Spanish men of the period dressed typically in somber black, relieved only by the stiff white collars that framed their faces, and El Greco rendered these austere visages with a psychological perceptiveness evocative of introspection and contemplation (figs. 2 and 3).

The artist’s singular approach to portraiture is evident in the present work. Though the palette is restrained, a convention for male portraiture of this period dictated in part by the costume, the young subject’s attenuated facial features and elongated hands and fingers glow with an almost otherworldly light. This mystical element is enhanced by his gestures, one hand resting on a seemingly sacred text, the other pointing heavenward.

The identification of the sitter has been a matter of some scholarly debate, with many contending that the work depicts Saint Aloysius (Luigi) Gonzaga, an Italian aristocrat who became a member of the Jesuit order and was canonized following his death caring selflessly for the victims of plague. His mother, a member of Della Rovere family, was a lady-in-waiting to Isabel, the wife of Philip II of Spain, and between 1582 and 1584 the family was called to Spain, where Aloysius became a page to the young Infante Diego, Philip II’s fourth son. In 1583 Aloysius accompanied an Italian relative, Fra Francesco Gonzaga, to attend a meeting in Toledo of the Franciscan order held in the church of San Juan de los Reyes. The young Aloysius would have been around fourteen at the time, and this hypothetically would have been the moment at which he sat for a portrait by El Greco.

This traditional identification has been challenged by some scholars, who have suggested that the sitter is instead a Spanish youth, possibly a young priest or student, for he wears garments associated with the latter. It would not, however, be unusual to represent Aloysius in such attire, as he is the patron saint of students. Perhaps lending further credibility to the identification with the saint, old photographs show that a halo was at some subsequent stage added to the painting. This has since been removed, thereby returning the painting to its original appearance. As Harold Wethey (loc. cit.) notes, the halo could not have been painted by El Greco himself, as Aloysius Gonzaga was not canonized during the artist’s lifetime, and El Greco never painted halos of this type.

A second, also temporary, alteration was made to the painting prior to 1908 when it was in the collection of Pablo Bosch y Barrau in Madrid. According to August L. Mayer, and documented in an early photograph, the youth’s left hand was overpainted with the page of a book, so that the hand appeared to be resting in between the pages of the open book (fig. 4). Perhaps it was this photograph that led both Mayer (op. cit., 1926, p. 52) and Camón Aznar (op. cit., 1950, pp. 1097 and 1908) to speculate, incorrectly, that the composition might exist in two versions. The overpaint was removed at some point before 1913, as demonstrated by the illustration in the sale catalogue of the collection of Marczell von Nemes. There the hand appears as it was originally painted by El Greco, and as it appears today. The overpaint may have been removed by the Paris dealers Trotti et Cie, who had the painting in 1908. A pigment analysis conducted by the University of London has provided further proof that El Greco originally painted the left hand on top of the book as it now appears.

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