Doge Leonardo Loredan (1501-1502)

Bellini, Giovanni (c.1430-1516)

Doge Leonardo Loredan
Oil on poplar, 61.4 x 44.5 cm
National GalleryLondon

Leonardo Loredan knows that he is being looked at, but he does not return our gaze. He is the doge, the ruler of the Venetian Republic; elected in 1501, he ruled until his death in 1521.

He wears white silk damask robes woven with gold and silver metal thread, clothing reserved for the most splendid occasions, including the feasts of Candlemas and the Annunciation. The armless, half-length representation recalls classical marble busts of emperors. Often placed on plinths – recalled here by the parapet – these were adopted in the Renaissance period for sculpted portraits of the powerful and wealthy.

Bellini no doubt wanted to make this visual connection, but here he shows how he can surpass sculptural portraits through his mastery of oil paint. The subtle blending of colour in this slow-drying medium allowed him to create convincing tonal transitions when painting flesh. Oil paint also lends itself to slightly blurred contours; Loredan’s expression seems changeable, making him appear lifelike and immediate as well as distant and imposing. (NG)

See also:

• Loredan, Leonardo (1436-1521)