Published for the first time by Professor Paul Joannides in 2006, this picture has only recently come to the attention of scholars, amongst whom it has gained wide acceptance as a newly discovered, early work by Titian. Judgement is made difficult by the abraded state of the paint surface, but notwithstanding its condition, this portrait displays an assuredness of handling and sensitivity that point persuasively to Titian's authorship in the years around 1510-15.
The bearded man, with dark, shoulder-length hair, wears a black doublet with a fur-trimmed coat over a white chemise. He is shown in half-length, standing, with his right hand resting on a parapet, holding a pair of kidskin gloves. His torso faces very slightly to the right but his head is turned away to the left in three-quarter profile. His distant gaze gives his portrait a detached, lyrical quality that suggests the influence of Giorgione.
Both the structure of this portrait and the character of its sitter elicit comparison with several works by Titian from the early 1510s. Joannides, who dates it to circa 1511, compares it closely with the Young Man (Frick Collection, New York), who is similarly shown in fur, looking away to the left in a valedictory manner. Professor Peter Humfrey has remarked on the contemplative, Giorgionesque character of this head, likening it to that of Christ in another major work by Titian of this date - the Christ carrying the Cross in the Scuola San Rocco, Venice. This introspective mood and the use of a parapet as a compositional device suggest to him an early date around 1511. The picture has also been compared, this time by Professor Mauro Lucco, more on stylistic grounds, to the Portrait of a Man in Ajaccio (Musée Fesch), in which the sitter is holding a glove in his right hand.
Joannides remarks on this picture's 'textural variety and easy breadth of handling' (loc. cit.), and the handling of paint, in those passages that are properly legible, seems entirely characteristic with Titian's technique at this early stage of his career. For example, the thick striations of lead white used to describe the folds of the chemise; the rapid, flickering brushstrokes in the rendering of the gloves; and the looser touch visible in the fur on the left shoulder.
The directness with which the subject was addressed by the artist is attested to by the infra-red reflectogram that, as with most Venetian portraits of this date, shows no careful mapping out of the design, but an immediate and decisive approach with no significant re-adjustments to the man's pose. The broad outlines of the shoulders are altered by the fur coat which suggest the fur may have been added as an afterthought.
We are grateful to Professor Paul Joannides, Professor Mauro Lucco and Professor Peter Humfrey, who have all independently confirmed the attribution to Titian (the latter only on the basis of photographs).