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Oil painting - A young man holding a carnation

A young man holding a carnation

  • Object:

    Oil painting

  • Place of origin:

    Italy (painted)

  • Date:

    16th century (painted)

  • Artist/Maker:

    Unknown

  • Materials and Techniques:

    Oil on leather on canvas

  • Museum number:

    69-1898

  • Gallery location:

    In Storage

The sensitive looking young man in this portrait delicately holds a red carnation in his right hand over his heart. Carnations or pinks, especially when red, were symbols of betrothal, probably originating in a Flemish wedding custom. In portrait painting especially of the 15th and 16th centuries, when held in the sitters hand it signifies betrothal. A similar, earlier example of the Italian type is Andrea Solario's Man with a Pink ca. 1495 (London, National Gallery).

This portrait is painted on leather, an ususual, though not unheard of support for this period. In some cases, a kind of parchment would be used, as in the case of Hans Holbein's portrait of Anne of Cleeves ca. 1539 (Paris, Louvre) or the portrait of Rudolf IV of Austria ca. 1365 (Dom- und Diözesanmuseum of Vienna, originally displayed above his tomb in the Cathedral) which were then mounted on panel and canvas respectively. In such cases, parchment was used for expediency ie. if there wasn't sufficient time to prepare a panel, and for easy transportability. This appears to have been the case for Holbein's portrait, probably painted in Düren for Henry VIII in England, or for Sebastiano del Piombo’s portrait of Clement VII (now in Corsini Collection, Florence) on leather which was probably painted at Michelangelo’s request to send to Florence as a model for Bugiardini.
Tooled and stamped leatherware such as in 69-1898 are more characteristic of household decoration, furniture and objects of this period in Italy such as shields, coffers, and gilt-leather hangings as depicted in Titian’s Venus of Urbino (c. 1538; Florence, Uffizi). The background of this portrait appears to be stamped with an alternating triangle and heart pattern which would fit well with its amorous subject matter. It is possible that the portrait was once part of a larger decorative scheme.

Physical description

A bust length portrait of a young man in three-quarter profile and wearing 16th-century Italian costume, holding a carnation in his right hand

Place of Origin

Italy (painted)

Date

16th century (painted)

Artist/maker

Unknown

Materials and Techniques

Oil on leather on canvas

Dimensions

Height: 45.7 cm estimate, Width: 36.2 cm estimate, :

Object history note

Purchased, 1898

Historical significance: The sensitive looking young man in this portrait delicately holds a red carnation in his right hand over his heart. Carnations or pinks, especially when red, were symbols of betrothal, probably originating in a Flemish wedding custom. In portrait painting especially of the 15th and 16th centuries, when held in the sitters hand it signifies betrothal. A similar, earlier example of the type is Andrea Solario's Man with a Pink ca. 1495 (London, National Gallery).

This portrait is painted on leather, an ususual, though not unheard of support for this period. In some cases, a kind of parchment would be used, as in the case of Hans Holbein's portrait of Anne of Cleeves ca. 1539 (Paris, Louvre) or the portrait of Rudolf IV of Austria ca. 1365 (Dom- und Diözesanmuseum of Vienna, originally displayed above his tomb in the Cathedral) which were then mounted on panel and canvas respectively. In such cases, parchment was used for expediency ie. if there wasn't sufficient time to prepare a panel, and for easy transportability. This appears to have been the case for Holbein's portrait, probably painted in Düren for Henry VIII in England, or for Sebastiano del Piombo’s portrait of Clement VII (now in Corsini Collection, Florence) on leather which was probably painted at Michelangelo’s request to send to Florence as a model for Bugiardini.
Tooled and stamped leatherware such as in 69-1898 are more characteristic of household decoration, furniture and objects of this period in Italy such as shields, coffers, and gilt-leather hangings as depicted in Titian’s Venus of Urbino (c. 1538; Florence, Uffizi). The background of this portrait appears to be stamped with an alternating triangle and heart pattern which would fit well with its amorous subject matter. It is possible that the portrait was once part of a larger decorative scheme.

Historical context note

In his encyclopaedic work, Historia Naturalis, the ancient Roman author Pliny the Elder described the origins of painting in the outlining of a man’s projected shadow in profile. In the ancient period, profile portraits were found primarily in imperial coins. With the rediscovery and the increasing interest in the Antique during the early Renaissance, artists and craftsmen looked back to this ancient tradition and created medals with profile portraits on the obverse and personal devise on the reverse in order to commemorate and celebrate the sitter. Over time these profile portraits were also depicted on panel and canvas and progressively evolved towards three-quarter and eventually frontal portraits. These portraits differ in many ways from the notion of portraiture commonly held today as they especially aimed to represent an idealised image of the sitter and reflect therefore a different conception of identity. The sitter’s likeness was more or less recognisable but his particular status and familiar role were represented in his garments and attributes referring to his character. In the16th century especially metaphorical and visual attributes were included to elaborate highly complex portraits.

Descriptive line

Oil Painting, 'A Young Man Holding a Carnation', manner of Italian School, 16th century

Bibliographic References (Citation, Note/Abstract, NAL no)

Kauffmann, C.M., Catalogue of Foreign Paintings, I. Before 1800. London: Victoria and Albert Museum, 1973, p. 153, cat. no. 184.
Lorne Campbell, Renaissance portraits : European portrait painting in the 14th, 15th, and 16th centuries New Haven, CT and London : Yale University Press, 1990.

Production Note

Considered by C. M. Kauffmann an 18th or early 19th century imitation because of doubts about the authenticity of the painted surface and the stamped leather, recent analysis suggests that this is a genuine 16th century work.

Materials

Oil paint; Leather; Canvas

Techniques

Oil painting

Subjects depicted

Portraits; Carnations; Men; Costume

Categories

Paintings; Portraits

Collection

Prints, Drawings & Paintings Collection

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