This portrait is of a young man, probably a poet, dressed all'antica. Despite former attributions to both Basaiti and Cariani, Keith Christiansen believes that the picture may well be by Bellini himself, as the quality of the better preserved passages suggests. Peter Humfrey, who has also examined the picture firsthand, concurs with this assessment, as does Professor Mauro Lucco on the basis of photographs.
For comparisons of style, Christiansen cites the Infant Bacchus in the National Gallery of Art, Washington, The Feast of the Gods, in that same museum; and the Toilette of Venus (Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna). These point to a late date and suggest the artist's response to the portraiture of Giorgione and the sculpture of Tullio Lombardo.
While the majority of Bellini's portraits use the device of a frontal parapet and some are signed in a very similar way (i.e., those in the Uffizi, Florence, no. 354, in the Pinacoteca Capitolina, Rome, no. 47, and in Washington, no. 365), none is precisely comparable in all'antica presentation, which presumably reflects a whim of the young sitter. A parallel is offered by the so-called Portrait of a Humanist, formerly attributed to Bellini, in the Castello Sforzesco, Milan, no. 248 (Heinemann, op. cit., fig. 850).
Signature: Signed 'IOANNES BELLINVS' (lower center)
G. Migeon, 'la Collection de Martin Le Roy', Les Arts, X, November 1902, pp. 7-8, illustrated, as by Basaiti.
A. Pératé, in Catalogue raisonné de la collection Martin Le Roy, V, Paris, 1909, pp. 43-44, no. 13, pl. XI, as by Marco Basaiti.
G. Lorenzetti, 'Catalogue raisonné de la collection Martin Le Roy', L'Arte, XIII, 1910, p. 236, as by Basaiti.
S. Reinach, Répertoire de peintures du moyen âge et de la Renaissance (1280-1580), IV, Paris, 1918, p. 689, no. 1, illustrated, as by Basaiti.
G. Gronau, Giovanni Bellini, Stuttgart, 1930, p. 216, no. 165, illustrated, as a late work by Giovanni Bellini.
R. Van Marle, The Development of the Italian Schools of Painting, XVII, The Hague, 1935, p. 497, as by Basaiti.
B. Berenson, Pitture italiane del rinascimento, Milan, 1936, p. 62, as a late work by Giovanni Bellini.
C. Gamba, Giovanni Bellini, Milan, 1937, p. 173.
L. Dussler, Giovanni Bellini, Vienna, 1949, pp. 73-4.
B. Berenson, Italian Pictures of the Renaissance: Venetian School, London, 1957, I, p. 33, as a late work by Giovanni Bellini.
F. Heinemann, Giovanni Bellini e i Belliniani, Venice, 1962, I, p. 231, no. V.94, II, fig. 591, as by Giovanni Cariani.
Victor Martin Le Roy (1842-1918) and by descent; sale, Paris, Galerie Charpentier, 4 December 1956, lot 13, as 'Ecole Vénitienne'.
Anonymous sale; Christie's, London, 7 July 2004, lot 7 (£274,050).