Portrait of a Man
Giorgione (Giorgio da Castelfranco), 1477/78–1510
Gift of Anne R. and Amy Putnam, 1941:100
The principal masterpiece of The San Diego Museum of Art's collection of Italian paintings, Giorgione’s Portrait of a Man (often identified as the Terris Portrait after the name of a former owner) is indeed one of the greatest Renaissance portraits in the United States.
The work epitomizes what Vasari called the modern manner, in which Giorgione sought to paint living and natural things. In a notable contrast to the sculptural surfaces common in fifteenth-century painting, Giorgione’s brushstrokes lack precise detail but surpass those of all earlier painters in their ability to describe warm flesh and soft hair.
The composition is closely cropped around the head of the sitter, and the setting or props often used to animate portrait paintings are absent, but the man’s turning gaze and ambiguous expression nonetheless make the work wholly engaging and alive. His somber demeanor seems to be emphasized by the dark tonality of the work, but technical examination has revealed that his now-black jacket was painted with blue and red pigments that have darkened with time: this serious man was originally seen in a flamboyant purple garment.