This striking and relatively unknown canvas is a mature work by Jacopo Bassano and has been thought to be of the same model as the Portrait of a Man in the J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles, which is generally dated circa 1554 (see P. Marini, in the exhibition catalogue, Jacopo Bassano, c. 1510-1592, Bassano and Fort Worth, 1992-3, no. 25). While the characterisation of the two sitters is very different, both are shown at the same angle, and there are clear physiognomic similarities, although the Getty picture clearly shows an older man. Bernard Aikema (email of 14 May 2009), however, proposes a date of about 1554 for this picture, which has traditionally been thought to portray a Venetian General, and perhaps represents an officer who had property on the terra firma near Bassano. Jacopo was inevitably aware of portraits by Titian and no doubt Paris Bordone. The latter came from Treviso, hardly forty kilometres east of Bassano, and had used a similar recessed setting for a number of portraits of comparable scale. What is remarkable is Bassano's use of the relatively confined format at his disposal to display the armour to full effect and show both the spear and the hilt of the sword. Despite its etched and gilt borders, which show that it was made for an individual of wealth and rank, the armour is field armour rather than parade armour, and characterises the sitter as an officer of the Infantry. It can be dated to circa 1545-60, corroborating the date proposed by Aikema. The spear is of a type known as a partigiana, datable to circa 1520-50, while the elaborate broadsword probably dates from circa 1530-50.
This picture may have been acquired by Henry Fox-Strangways, 2nd Earl of Ilchester (1747-1802), who suceeded his father in 1776 and made a number of purchases at Christie's, and no doubt elsewhere, in the ensuing years.