Painted in 1545, this striking portrait of the young Genoese aristocrat, Nicolò Doria, is among Jacopo Tintoretto's earliest known essays in the genre and a rare example of his use of the full-length format. Born circa 1525, Nicolò belonged to the ancient, noble Doria family, the most powerful in 16th-century Genoa. A direct descendant of the celebrated naval commander, Lamba Doria (1245-1323), Nicolò was the first-born son of Giacomo (or Jacopo) Doria and Bettina De' Mari. As was the case with his brothers and sisters, Nicolò made an advantageous marriage, taking as his bride a member of the Genoese patriciate, Aurelia Grimaldi, daughter of Nicolò Grimaldi, the banker to King Philip II of Spain. The marriage took place during the civil strife in Genoa of 1575-1576 that pitted the old nobility, such as the Dorias, against the new nobility, as represented by the Grimaldis. Nonetheless, the union resulted in nine children, of which the two sons eventually married into the illustrious Spinola family. By the time of his marriage, Nicolò had become one of the wealthiest men in Genoa.
Doria's distinguished political career began some ten years after Tintoretto painted this portrait. With the support of his paternal uncle, the Doge Giovanni Battista Doria (c.1470-1554), he was appointed a member of Genoa's main legislative body, the Maggior Consiglio, in 1555. In 1566, he was among the Genoese representatives sent to Rome to witness Pius V's ascension to the papal throne, and in the later 1550s and 1560s, held numerous other important diplomatic and administrative posts. His political career culminated in 1579, when he was elected Doge of the Republic, receiving the largest majority of votes recorded to date. Nicolò died on 13 October 1592, and was buried in the family church of San Matteo, where his brother Agostino, also Doge, (1534-1608) was later laid to rest.
As Tintoretto is not known to have visited Genoa, Nicolò must have posed for the artist on a visit to Venice, where his father had lived from 1529-1541, and where the family still had many close ties. In the early 1530s, Nicolò's father had commissioned Titian to paint his portrait, now preserved in the Ashmolean Museum, Oxford (fig. 1). It is not surprising that for his own portrait, the twenty-year-old Nicolò would turn to Tintoretto--a less established but promising artist of his own generation, who, like him, was then coming into his own. As in other of Tintoretto's early portraits, Titian's influence is here seen in the restrained palette and strong light which focuses on the sitter's relatively firmly defined facial features and hands. While Nicolò's intense and penetrating gaze echoes that of his father in Titian's portrait, he is here presented life-size and full length, a grander, more imposing format which may signal his youthful ambitions. While unusual at this time, the use of this format was likely inspired by Titian's so-called Portrait of Diego Hurtado de Mendoza of circa 1541, now in the Palazzo Pitti, Florence (fig. 2), which Tintoretto surely knew.
In the present portrait, the sitter is turned at a three-quarter angle, with his right arm akimbo and his left hand poised on the hilt of his sword, suggesting energy and decisiveness. The sweeping curve of the curtain at left, with its zig-zag pattern of folds, underscores the figure's vitality, as does the strong diagonal accent of the sword. Set close to the picture plane and gazing resolutely at the viewer, Nicolò projects a commanding, forceful presence. While the monumental stone pier on the right augments this impression, it also identifies Nicolò as a member of Genoa's ancient ruling elite, who since the early 13th century had built churches and palaces faced with similar alternating bands of dark and light stone. The painted pier may specifically allude to the façade of San Matteo, the Doria family church since its founding in 1125, which is still faced with such stone coursings today (L'Età di Rubens, op. cit., p. 198).
As Boccardo has shown, this picture is probably identifiable with 'uno ritrato in piedi mano del Tintoretto' [a portrait, full-length, by the hand of Tintoretto] listed in the inventory of the sitter's nephew, Giovanni Carlo Doria (1576-1625), drawn up by late 1621 (L'Età di Rubens, op. cit., pp. 194, 198). It subsequently passed to his brother, Marc'Antonio Doria (1572-1651), in whose inventory of 1651 it was erroneously given to Titian: 'Del quondam Illustrissimo Nicolò Doria zio paterno quando era giovine per mano di Titiano' [sic]. [Of the late most worthy Nicolò Doria, paternal uncle, when he was young, by the hand of Titian.] (Pacelli, op. cit., p. 84). The picture then passed, along with other of the most important family portraits, to Marc'Antonio's son, Giovanni Francesco Doria (1601-1653), after which it was lost to notice until circa 1830, when recorded in the collection of Giuseppe Finetti in Milan. The Portrait of Nicolò Doria resurfaced in the mid-20th century in the collection of Algernon Heber-Percy at Hodnet Hall, Shropshire. He may have inherited it from the descendants of Algernon Percy, nephew of the 5th Duke of Northumberland, who had married Emily Heber, daughter of Bishop Heber, in 1839. Sold by Heber-Percy at Christie's, London, in 1967, the Portrait of Nicolò Doria has remained in the same collection until the present day.
Signature: Inscribed and dated 'NICOLAI DORIA / IACOBI · ANN·XX / MDXXXXV·' (center right, on the pier)
Genoa, Palazzo Ducale, El Siglo de los Genoveses e una lunga storia di arte e splendori nel Palazzo dei Dogi, 4 December 1999-28 May 2000, no. XI.8 and p. 326, under no. XI.9 (entries by P. Boccardo).
Genoa, Palazzo Ducale, L'Età di Rubens: Dimore, committenti e collezionisti genovesi, 20 March-11 July 2004, no. 25 (entry by P. Boccardo) and p. 200, under no. 26 (entry by M. Priarone), illustrated, p.199.
P. Rossi, Jacopo Tintoretto, I ritratti, Venice, 1974, I, pp. 21, 25, 110, fig. 3.
F.R. Shapley, Catalogue of the Italian Paintings, Washington, D.C., National Gallery of Art, 1979, I, pp. 462-463, under no. 209 and 464, note 8.
R. Palucchini and P. Rossi, Tintoretto, le opera sacre e profane, Milan, 1982, I, pp. 37, 125, 236, under no. R6.
V. Pacelli, 'Il testamento di Marcantonio Doria: un avvio per la migliore conoscenza dei rapporti artistici fra Napoli e Genova', in Ricerche sul '600 napoletano, Milan, 1985, p. 84.
P. Boccardo, 'Ritratti di genovesi di Rubens e di Van Dyck: Conteso ed identificazioni', Studies in the History of Art, XLVI, 1994, pp. 81-82, fig. 4.
Venice, Gallerie dell'Accademia, Jacopo Tintoretto: ritratti, 1994, p. 167 (chronology by P. Rossi).
P. Boccardo, 'Ritratti di Marc'Antonio Doria e di suoi famigliari', in F. Abbate and F. Sricchia Santoro, eds., Napoli, l'Europa: ricerche di storia dell'arte in onore di Ferdinando Bologna, Catanzaro, 1995, pp. 194 and 195, note 10.
F. Polleross, 'Della Bellezza & della Misura & della Convenevolezza: Bemerkungen zur venezianischen Porträtmalerei anlässlich der Tintoretto- Ausstellung in Venedig und Wien', Pantheon, LIII, 1995, p. 35.
W.R. Rearick, 'Reflections on Tintoretto as a Portraitist', Artibus et Historiae, XXXI, 1995, pp. 55, 66, note 8, fig. 3.
P. Boccardo, 'Ritratti di collezionisti e committenti', in S. Barnes et al., eds., Van Dyck a Genova: grande pittura e collezionismo, exhibition catalogue, Milan, 1997, pp. 34-35, 42, fig. 7.
T. Nicholas, Tintoretto: Tradition and Identity, London, 1999, p. 6.
P. Boccardo, 'Il collezionismo delle classe dirigente Genovese nel Seicento,' in O. Bonfait et al., eds., Geografia del collezionismo: Italia e Francia tra il XVI e il XVIII secolo. Atti delle giornate di studio dedicate a Giuliano Briganti (Roma, 19-21 settembre 1996), Rome, 2001, p. 131 and note 5, pl. I (with incorrect caption as Domenico Tintoretto).
V. Farina, Giovan Carlo Doria, promotore delle arti a Genova nel primo Seicento, Florence, 2002, pp. 125-126.
V. Farina, 'Gio. Carlo Doria (1576-1625)', in P. Boccardo, ed., L'Età di Rubens: dimore, committenti e collezionisti genovesi, exhibition catalogue, Milan, 2004, pp. 190, 194, item 525.
M. Falomir, 'Tintoretto's Portraiture', in M. Falomir, ed., Tintoretto, exhibition catalogue, Madrid, 2007, pp. 96, 100, and 113, note 33, p. 220, under no. 8 (entry by M. Falomir), and pp. 278, 280, under no. 28 (entry by M. Falomir), fig. 148.
(Probably) Giovanni Carlo Doria (1576-1625), the sitter's nephew, Palazzo Doria di Vico di Gelsomino, Genoa, from whom inherited by his brother,
Marc'Antonio Doria (1572-1651), Principe d'Angri (as of 1636), Genoa, from whom inherited by his son,
Giovanni Francesco Doria (1601-1653).
Giuseppe Finetti, Milan, by circa 1830.
Algernon Eustace Hugh Heber-Percy (b. 1944), Hodnet Hall, Hodnet, Market Drayton, Shropshire; Christie's, London, 24 November 1967, lot 62 (16,000 gns. to J. Lewis).
About Jacopo Tintoretto
Jacopo Robusti obtained his more familiar nickname Tintoretto (or “little dyer”) after his father’s profession. He was one of the most prolific artists in Venice during the High Renaissance, specializing in large-scale religious narrative scenes, altarpieces, mythological subjects, and portraits. His style was characterized by an exaggerated and dramatic use of perspective and foreshortening. To paint complex poses, Tintoretto sometimes made small wax models for reference, which explains the repetition of certain figures from different angles in his compositions. Though he was a masterful painter, Tintoretto was sometimes censured for his rapid and sketchy brushwork, which appeared to his peers and critics as unpolished. Tintoretto found few likeminded peers locally, but discovered an affinity with El Greco.