Palma VecchioHe was born Jacopo Negreti or Negriti, and adopted the name Palma. He is called ‘il Vecchio’ (‘the Elder’) to distinguish him from his great-nephew Palma Giovane. He was from Serina (or Serinalta), a village in a high alpine valley north of Bergamo. The date of 1480 usually given for his birth rests only on Vasari’s statement that he was 48 years old when he died, and may be too early. He was possibly a pupil of Andrea Previtali (a fellow Bergamasque who had studied under Giovanni Bellini), and was influenced by Giorgione and Titian. By March 1510 he was in Venice, where he spent most of his short career. He died on 30 July 1528 and was buried in the church of San Gregorio in Venice.
He painted large altarpieces for churches in Venice (including the famous St Barbara Polyptych in Santa Maria Formosa), in the Veneto (Zerman and Vicenza) and in the valleys around Bergamo (Peghera, Serina, Zogno, Gerosa and Alzano Lombardo). He also painted many smaller Sacre Conversazioni (typically horizontal compositions showing the Virgin with saints and a donor in a landscape) for private clients. But he is best known for his paintings of voluptuous blonde women – usually half-length idealised portraits and sometimes reclining nudes – often in the guise of mythological characters such as Flora, Lucrezia or Venus. His paintings are richly coloured and highly finished, with monumental draped figures and sunlit landscapes. His highly individual style evolved little, and the chronology of his works is highly conjectural, since none is dated and very few are documented.
Palma founded an important artistic dynasty. His studio was inherited by his chief assistant Bonifazio de’ Pitati, called Veronese (1487-1553), whose early works have sometimes been confused with Palma’s late ones. After Bonifazio’s death, the family business was continued by Palma Vecchio’s nephew Antonio Palma (c.1515-85). Antonio’s son Palma Giovane (c.1548-1628) was a hugely prolific painter in the tradition of Tintoretto, whom he succeeded as the leading painter in Venice.
Alnwick. Duke of Northumberland’s Collection.
Lady with a Lute. Canvas, 97 x 71.
Marcantonio Michiel mentions a ‘canvas of a woman, waist-length, who holds in her right hand a lute, and has her left hand under her head by Jacopo Palma’ in 1525 in the house of Gerolamo Marcello at Venice. However, in the Alnwick picture the hands are reversed. It came from the celebrated Manfrin collection at Venice (where it was generally ascribed to Giorgione). It was among a select group of works acquired at the Manfrin sale in 1856 by the London collector Alexander Barker, and one of four paintings sold on by Barker to the Duke of Northumberland in 1857. A re-attribution from Titian to Palma was made by Crowe and Cavalcaselle (1871), who noted that the sitter appears in a nearly identical pose in the Three Graces at Dresden.
Alzano Lombardo (10 km from Bergamo). San Martino (1st altar, left).
Martyrdom of St Peter Martyr. Wood, 290 x 190.
Peter of Verona, revered as the first martyr of the Dominican Order, was ambushed by Cathar assassins in 1252 on his way from Como to Milan. He was killed by an axe blow to the head and a stab wound in the chest. At the right edge, his companion, a fellow friar called Domenico, is shown fleeing the scene. Palma's richly coloured picture was painted for the high altar of the church of San Pietro Martire at Alzano (where the original frame still remains) and transferred to San Martino in the mid-eighteenth century. Seventeenth-century sources ascribe the picture to Lorenzo Lotto and the re-attribution to Palma was made only in 1926 by Roberto Longhi. The picture may be roughly contemporary with Titian’s famous altarpiece of the same subject, which was painted for SS. Giovanni e Paolo in Venice in 1528-30 and destroyed by fire in 1867.
Bangor. Penrhyn Castle.
‘Sacra Conversazione’. Canvas, 90 x 158.
The saints are Jerome (with lion, Vulgate Bible and crucifix), Giustina (with a book, martyr’s palm and dagger in her shoulder), Bernardino (in a Franciscan habit, handing his monogram to the Christ Child) and Ursula (holding a red banner and a model of a ship in which she set sail with her 11,000 virgins). The history of the picture is unknown before 1838, when it was acquired by Prince William of Orange (with a mistaken attribution to Palma Giovane). It was acquired by Edward Douglas-Pennant, later 1st Baron Penrhyn, in the 1850s as by Palma Vecchio. It was re-attributed to Garofalo by Walter Armstrong, and it retained this strange attribution until 1986, when Alaister Laing restored it to Palma. After the death of Lady Janet Douglas-Pennant, it was accepted by the Treasury in lieu of tax and allocated to the National Trust in 2005. Probably relatively late (1520s).
Belgrade. Beli Dvor (White Palace).
Holy Family with Saints and Donor. Wood, 104 x 167.
The Christ Child climbs upon his mother's knee to bless the kneeling donor, who is introduced by the Baptist. St Joseph on the left; St Catherine behind. This largish, somewhat damaged Sacra Conversazione was acquired in England by King Alexander I Karadjordjevic in the 1920s. It currently hangs in the Golden Drawing Room of the former royal residence. Restored in 2005-6.
Bergamo. Accademia Carrara.
Madonna with St John the Baptist and the Magdalen. Wood, 74 x 99.
Probably a fairly early work (datings of '1512-14' and 'about 1517' have been suggested). The pose of the Christ Child, twisting in the Virgin's lap to clutch the lid of the Magdalen's alabaster jar, resembles that of the putto riding a shell in Raphael's famous fresco of Galatea in the Villa Farnesina. The picture has been identified with the 'most rare effort' described by Ridolfi (1648) in the collection of Bortolo da Fino at Venice. It was bequeathed to the Accademia Carrara in 1859 by Conte Guglielmo Lochis, who had acquired it in Bergamo in 1830. There is a similar, probably rather later picture in the Palazzo Bianco at Genoa.
Saint Monica. Wood, 53 x 45.
She is shown, half-length, holding white flowers, a book and a heart pierced by a crucifix. She wears the black habit of an Augustinian nun. Probably a panel from the upper tier of a polyptych. Bequeathed in 1919 with the collection of the Bergamasque art historian Gustavo Frizzoni.
Young Woman Baring Her Breast (no. 197B). Wood, 79 x 62.
The voluptuous beauty, blonde hair tumbling loose onto her shoulders, clutches her red drape with both hands, while exposing her bare breast and engaging the viewer with a flirtatious sideways glance. A typical and well-preserved example of the many half-length erotic portraits painted by Palma of unidentified beautiful women ('belle donne'). The pose, with the gesture of the hand held over the breast, is repeated in a picture in the Poldi Pezzoli Museum, Milan. A ‘portrait of a woman with her hand on her breast, almost finished’ is recorded among the pictures left in Palma’s studio at his death. Acquired in 1884.
Another version (on canvas) was once in the famous Manfrin collection at Venice. It was sold, as an autograph replica, at Christie's. New York, in June 2010 with the estate of the disgraced dealer Lawrence Salander.
Portrait of a Man. Wood, 74 x 61.
He wears a dark pelisse with a fur collar, and holds a glove in his right hand. Much restored. The attribution was doubted by Giovanni Mariacher in his 1968 monograph on Palma, but has been accepted by almost everyone else. Acquired in 1829 from one of the German royal palaces.
Madonna Reading. Wood, 68 x 53.
This damaged and overcleaned picture, which appears to be largely a copy of one by Carpaccio, is sometimes regarded as Palma’s earliest surviving work (about 1508-10). The signature, with crossed palms, has been doubted but seems to be old. Acquired with the Solly collection in 1821.
A Young Woman (no. 197A). Canvas, 65 x 54.
Blued-eyed and blonde, she leans her head on her right arm and looks directly at the spectator. In the background, a vine trellis. This picture (or a variant of it) was included in a 1627 catalogue of drawings (now in the British Museum) of pictures in Andrea Vendramin’s Gallery at Venice. Heavily restored, and the attribution has sometimes been doubted (eg. by Mariacher in his 1968 monograph). Acquired by the Berlin Museum at Stuttgart in 1862.
Birgu (Vittoriosa in Malta). Chapter House Museum.
Virgin and Child with St Peter and Donor. Wood, 82 x 72.
According to a 1993 guidebook to Birgu, this picture had been recently bequeathed to the museum. The attribution to Palma was made in 1998 by Philip Cottrell (Melita Historica, New Series, 12). The picture has been cut down at the sides, but the composition is otherwise identical to that of a Sacra Conversazione by Palma in the Galleria Colonna, Rome. Probably fairly early (around 1515).
Bordeaux. Musée des Beaux-Arts.
Portrait of a Man. Canvas, 79 x 65.
The young man, wearing a flat broad-brimmed hat and a doublet with voluminous red velvet sleeves, is shown half-length, standing in a niche and resting his right arm on a parapet. There is a letter in his right hand and a glove in his left. The portrait was acquired by the town of Bordeaux in 1829 with the collection of the Marquis de Lacaze. The old attribution was to Paris Bordone. The attribution to Palma Vecchio was made by Roberto Longhi and has been adopted by the museum. An alternative attribution to Lorenzo Lotto was supported by Bernard Berenson in the second (1956) edition of his famous monograph on that artist.
Brunswick. Herzog Anton Ulrich Museum.
*Adam and Eve. Canvas, 202 x 152.
Adam takes the apple from Eve, while the serpent looks out from the branches of a tree, the figures slightly more than life-size. Probably the painting by Palma of this subject seen by Marcantonio Michiel in the house of Francesco Zio. Michiel’s Zio collection notes were once believed to be dated 1512, leading to the assumption that the picture is early. However, the date should probably be read as 1521. The composition may have been influenced by Albrecht Dürer's famous Adam and Eve engraving of 1504. Acquired in Italy in 1767 with an attribution to Giorgione.
Budapest. Museum of Fine Arts.
Portraits of a Betrothed Couple. Wood, each 39 x 29.
These small busts of a young girl, with flowing hair, and a youth, crowned with a garland, are recorded in the early seventeenth century in the collection of Bartolomeo della Nave as ‘Portraits of a Roman Consul and His Wife’ by Giorgione. They were bought in 1636 by the Duke of Hamilton, whose collection was dispersed during the English Civil War, and subsequently acquired by Archduke Leopold Wilhelm. Transferred from Buda Castle to the museum in 1848. They have been attributed (perhaps optimistically) to Palma as very early works.
Calvagese della Riviera (near Lake Garda). Fondazione Sorlini.
Portrait of a Young Woman. Wood, 72 x 54.
A characteristic 'bella donna' painting, depicting a seductive buxom blonde with loose hair and wearing a revealing chemise. Its provenance has been traced back to the famous collections of Queen Christina of Sweden, the Duc d'Orléans and the Duke of Bridgewater. It passed through the hands of the the New York dealers Oscar Klein and Wildenstein & Co., before its acquisition by the Brescian entrepreneur Luciano Sorlini. There is another version – identical in size but more loosely and thinly painted – in the British Royal Collection. The Museo d'Arte Sorlini, inaugurated in 2018, can be visited only by prior appointment.
Cambridge. Fitzwilliam Museum.
Venus and Cupid. Canvas, 118 x 209.
Rather damaged (especially the upper sky). Other Venuses by Palma at Dresden and the Courtauld Institute exclude the Cupid, who is having an arrow taken from his hand by Venus. Usually dated around 1520-25. Palma appears to have used the same model for his Blonde Woman (Flora) in the National Gallery, London. The picture was in the collection of Queen Christina of Sweden, and was part of the Orléans collection sold in London in February 1800. Bequeathed to the museum by its founder, Viscount Fitzwilliam, in 1816.
Cardiff. National Gallery of Wales.
Mars, Venus and Cupid. Canvas, 91 x 137.
Venus (similar to the figure in the Cambridge picture but fully clothed) holds Cupid’s arrow and points to Apollo (?) in the sky. (Apollo revealed Venus’s adultery to her husband Vulcan, and she may be warning Mars of the scandal that their affair could cause.) The history of the picture is unknown before it was sold at Christie’s in 1892. It was acquired by the National Gallery of Wales in 1987, having been previously on loan to the Southampton Art Gallery.
Chantilly. Musée Condé.
Virgin and Child with Saints and Donor. Wood, 96 x 140.
St Peter protects the donor, a young man in profile lower left; on the right, St Jerome. The inscription on the marker in St Jerome’s book, giving Palma’s name and the date 1500, is usually held to be a forgery. The attribution is disputed: Berenson (1958) and Mariacher (1975) accept the picture as an early work; Gombosi (1932) and Rylands (1992) reject it. Bequeathed in 1879 with the Reiset collection; previous owners included the Duc de Talleyrand and Lord Northwick.
Coral Gables (Miami). Lowe Art Museum.
Triumph of Caesar. Wood, 70 x 146.
Caesar rides in a triumphal car in the midst of captives in Oriental costume and soldiers carrying trophies. The artist is likely to have drawn on a wide range of sources – including prints after Mantegna's famous set of canvases (now at Hampton Court) and ancient Roman reliefs, coins and portrait medals. The panel was formerly in the celebrated collection of Sir Francis Cook at Richmond, where it was attributed to the Brescian painter Girolamo Romanino. It was acquired, as a work of Palma Vecchio, by Samuel H. Kress in 1948 and given to the Lowe Art Museum in 1961. The panel is one of a series depicting episodes from Caesar's life and times. Two others are known. One, representing the Death of Pompey, was in the collection of Lady Ashburnham at Ashburnham Place in Sussex, and later belonged to the painter and art director Vincent Korda. The other, representing the Head of Pompey being brought to Caesar, was formerly in the collection of Lord Darnley at Cobham Hall. It still retained its traditional attribution to Giorgione in 1957, when it was sold at Sotheby's for £2,500. The long panels were once thought to have belonged to wedding chests (cassoni), but they are more likely to have been affixed to the walls of a room to form a frieze.
*Nymph in a Landscape (‘Venus’). Canvas, 112 x 186.
The subject of the naked nymph in a landscape originated in Giorgione’s Venus of about 1509-10 (also at Dresden). Palma’s picture may have been painted about ten years later. It is possibly the Ceres by Palma noted by Marcantonio Michiel in 1521 (?) in the house of Francesco Zio and again in 1532 in the house of Andrea Odoni. It was bought for the Saxon Electoral Collections in 1728 through the dealers Lorenzo Rossi and Kindermann.
*Three Graces. Wood, 88 x 123.
Half-length figures of three young women grouped in a landscape; also called the Three Sisters. The central figure is repeated in the Lady with the Lute at Alnwick. Noted by Michiel (1525) in the house of Taddeo Contarini and by Boschini (1660) in the Giustiniani collection. Bought by the Dresden Gallery in 1743 from the Procuratessa della Ca Grande for 600 ducats.
Madonna and Child with Saints (no. 188). Wood, 67 x 98.
The Virgin, standing on the left with the Child in her arms, takes the scroll from John the Baptist. St Catherine stands between them. Probably fairly early (about 1515?). From the Casa Pisani di Santo Stefano, Venice. Bought by Augustus III of Saxony (through the dealer Guarienti) in 1721.
Holy Family with St Catherine (no. 191). Wood, 75 x 106.
The Christ Child, held by the reclining Virgin, embraces the infant St John. St Joseph sits on the right and St Catherine, leaning on an open book, on the left. In the landscape are a shepherd and his flock, with rams fighting. Purchased (as by Palma) in 1725 from an unknown source. It is perhaps the picture described by Ridolfi (1648) in the collection of Cristoforo Orsetti at Venice as a work of Bonifazio.
*Meeting of Jacob and Rachel. Canvas, 146 x 250.
The story of the young traveller Jacob meeting his lovely cousin Rachel at the well and falling in love with her is told in Genesis (29: 1-11). The rustic landscape (with, to the left, shepherds replacing a stone cover on the well and pouring water into a trough and, in the background, a proliferation of herds and flocks) seems to anticipate Bassano. The buildings in the right distance are like those in Titian's woodcut of the Sacrifice of Isaac (1515). The size of Palma's picture and its themes of greeting and hospitality suggest that it was painted for the portego of a Venetian palazzo – the large upper hall used as a reception room and for entertaining. In 1684 it was in a convent at Treviso; it was acquired, as a work of Giorgione, for the Elector of Saxony by 1747 from the Palazzo Malipiero in Venice. The attribution to Palma was made by Giovanni Morelli in 1880, after Crowe and Cavalcaselle had proposed Cariani. Morelli’s dating of around 1520 has been generally accepted.
*Judith. Canvas, 90 x 71.
The Old Testament temptress, voluptuous and blonde, holds a sword in her right hand and clutches the beard of Holofernes's severed head with her left. The picture came to Florence in 1631 (as a work of Palma or Titian) with the collection left to Vittoria della Rovere (later the wife of Ferdinando II de’ Medici) by the last Duke of Urbino. Though the attribution was changed to Pordenone for a time in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, the picture is a pre-eminently characteristic work of Palma. Probably late (around 1525-8).
Holy Family with SS. John the Baptist and Mary Magdalene. Wood, 80 x 117.
The picture appears in David Tenier’s 1653 painting of Archduke Leopold Wilhelm’s Gallery at Brussels. It came to the Uffizi in an exchange of pictures in 1793. It has been cut down at the bottom (removing part of the foreground, including a large rabbit), and the landscape is in bad condition. The figure of St Joseph seems to be based on a soldier in Michelangelo’s cartoon of the Battle of Cascina.
Raising of Lazarus. Wood, 94 x 110.
Mary Magdalene, golden-haired and richly dressed, looks beseechingly towards Christ as she kneels beside her brother's tomb. Lazarus's other sister, Martha, is cowled in white. The man standing on Christ's right might be a portrait of the patron. Signed along the edge of the lid of the sarcophagus. Worn and retouched. Acquired in 1916 from a private collector, A. Salvadori of Venice, for 35,000 lire. There is a smaller variant (in which the general composition is reversed) at Philadelphia.
Two-Sided Portrait. Wood, 68 x 54.
One side shows a young blonde woman. She wears a red dress with a low neckline over a white chemise, and her right hand is pressed to her heart. On the other side, there is a very unfinished portrait of a bearded man. Only the head is laid in. It has been conjectured that the unfinished painting could be a self-portrait. (The man's features bear some resemblance to those of other possible self-portraits, including the Young Man in a Fur at Munich and a chalk drawing at Edinburgh.) The picture was acquired by the Uffizi in 2001 and has been dated around the mid-1510s.
Frankfurt. Städel Museum.
Two Nymphs in a Landscape. Wood, 98 x 152.
Two voluptuous blonde nudes repose on the bank of a stream, one reclining and the other sitting in a pose recalling the 'gypsy' in Giorgione's Tempest. The plants and flowers on the bank are meticulously described. A duck (mallard drake?) is on the water. The picture is thought to be one of Palma's earliest erotic mythological paintings, and has been recently dated around 1513-14. The subject, like that of the Nymphs Bathing at Vienna, has sometimes been interpreted as Jupiter, disguised as Diana, seducing Callisto; but it is not clear that any specific narrative is intended. Little is known of the picture's history. It was with a London dealer (Dowdeswell Gallery) in 1907, when it was published as a work of Palma by Claude Phillips in a note in the Burlington Magazine. It was acquired by the Frankfurt museum later that year.
Genoa. Palazzo Rosso.
Madonna with SS. John the Baptist and Mary Magdalene. Wood, 71 x 108.
The naked Child, seated on the Virgin's left knee, gestures towards the Baptist (holding his scroll and slender cross), while turning his head to glance towards Mary Magdalene (who holds up her jar of ointment). This Bellinesque composition of the half-length Virgin and Child with flanking saints in a landscape has been judged both an early picture (about 1508-10) and a mature work (1520 or later). It is well preserved by the standard of many of Palma’s paintings. Probably the picture (‘Out Lord, St John the Baptist and a Virgin saint by Palma Vecchio’) recorded in 1658 in a posthumous inventory of Giovanni Battista Balbi. It passed by inheritance to the Durazzo and then Brignole-Sale families, and was bequeathed to the city of Genoa by the Duchess of Galliera in 1889.
London. National Gallery.
*Blonde Woman. Wood, 77 x 64.
One of Palma's more blatantly erotic 'bella donna' paintings. The plump beauty, ash blonde and with flawless alabaster skin, has untied her chemise, which slips down to reveal her breast. She holds a posy of wild flowers (primroses, buttercups and forget-me-nots) in her right hand and may represent Flora. Her pose largely repeats that of Titian’s (more restrained) Flora in the Uffizi. Palma seems to have used the same model for his Venus and Cupid in the Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge. The picture is first certainly recorded only in 1870, when it was sold at Christie’s (as by Paris Bordone). It was acquired by Ludwig Mond in 1889 and bequeathed by him to the National Gallery in 1924.
*Portrait of a Poet. Canvas (transferred from panel in 1857), 83 x 63.
Perhaps the finest of Palma’s few male portraits. The sitter is identified as a poet by the book in his hand and the laurel leaves behind him. He could (as argued by Cecil Gould in the 1975 National Gallery catalogue) be Lodovico Ariosto (1477-1533), author of Orlando Furioso, though comparisons with known likenesses of the poet are inconclusive. The portrait (twice transferred to a new support and much restored) was purchased with the Beaucousin collection in 1860, and was once ascribed to Titian. The attribution to Palma (first published by Frédéric Reiset in 1876) has been unchallenged since the early twentieth century. Dated stylistically between 1515 and 1525.
St George and a Female Saint. Canvas (transferred from panel), 102 x 73.
Fragment of a Sacra Conversazione; damaged and repainted and sometimes ascribed to Palma’s workshop. Acquired by Sir A. H. Layard in Venice from the Grimani family.
London. Courtauld Institute Galleries.
Venus in a Landscape. Canvas, 76 x 151.
Signed on the tree trunk. The landscape is unfinished. The picture has been cut down at the top and a strip of modern canvas has been added to make up the height. Two unfinished Venuses are recorded in the inventory of Palma’s possessions drawn up after his death. There is another version of the Courtauld picture – close so far as the figure of Venus is concerned but with the addition of a Cupid and with a different landscape – in the Norton Simon Museum (California). X-rays have revealed that the Courtauld version also originally included a Cupid – leaning against Venus’s left arm. Acquired by Count Seilern (who bequeathed his collection to the Courtauld Institute in 1978) in 1934 from Count Radetzsky.
London. Royal Collection.
Sibyl. Wood, 74 x 55.
She has dyed blonde hair, darker at the roots, and her white chemise falls off her left shoulder, exposing the top of one breast. The theory that a sibyl is represented, rather than simply a 'bella donna', dates from the nineteenth century and assumes that the (garbled) Arabic inscription on the parapet refers to the ancient sibylline mysteries. Presented to Charles II by Edward Montagu, 1st Earl of Sandwich. The traditional attribution to Palma was later changed to Paris Bordone, but was reinstated by Berenson in the first edition of his Venetian Painters (1894). There is another, more highly finished version in the Fondazione Sorlini at Calvagese della Riviera (Lake Garda).
‘Sacra Conversazione’. Wood, 60 x 81.
The Virgin holds out the Child towards the kneeling Baptist, who holds the lamb, and St Catherine, who holds a piece of her martyr’s wheel. In Charles I’s collection; sold by the Commonwealth in 1650 for the high price of £225, but recovered at the Restoration. The picture has always been attributed to Palma, except for a time in the nineteenth century when it was catalogued as by Titian. Probably very late (about 1527-8). The figure of the Baptist also appears in earlier Sacre Conversazioni by Palma at Glasgow and Vienna. The painting has a marked craquelure (caused by the lower paint layers drying more slowly than the upper ones), but the colours have remained remarkably fresh.
The Sacra Conversazione and Sibyl currently hang in the 'King's Closet' at Windsor Castle.
London. Royal Academy.
Woman at Well. Canvas, 166 x 76.
This very damaged picture, sometimes said to represent Temperance, was given to the Royal Academy in 1827 by Henry Thomson as a work of Giorgione. It was heavily restored in 1934. Listed by Berenson (1968) as either a repainted original by Palma or a copy, but its condition makes attribution hazardous.
Madrid. Thyssen-Bornemisza Collection.
*‘Sacra Conversazione’. Canvas (transferred from panel), 105 x 136.
On the right: a kneeling donor, who receives the blessing of the Child, and St Catherine, with her martyr’s palm and wheel. On the left: the Baptist, who crouches in attention, and the Magdalen, with her jar of ointment. In his Venezia Città Nobilissima (1581), Francesco Sansovino describes this picture in the Palazzo Priuli. The donor is Francesco Priuli, who was Palma’s patron according to Sansovino. In 1661 the picture was bequeathed by Marina Priuli to the Venetian State, and it was subsequently hung in the Hall of the Council of Ten in the Doge’s Palace. It fell into the hands of Eugene Beauharnais (Napoleon’s step-son) in 1808 during the French occupation, and was later in the Duke of Leuchtenberg’s collection at St Petersburg. It may date from about 1516-18.
*‘La Bella’. Canvas, 95 x 80.
The blonde beauty is superbly attired in a red silk mantle with blue lining over a white pleated chemise and embroidered over-sleeves. She is shown three-quarter face, but her eyes are turned boldly towards the spectator, one hand playing with the tresses of her hair, the other holding a jewel box. A marble relief, now barely visible in the dark top right corner, depicts a horse and rider trampling a naked man. The inscription ‘AMB/NB’ on the parapet has not been deciphered (though the ‘ND’ has been thought to stand for noblidonna). Of all Palma’s pictures of beautiful women, this seems one of the most likely to represent an actual person. In the nineteenth century it was in the Sciarra Gallery, Rome, where it was known as ‘La Bella di Tiziano’. The attribution to Palma was made in 1853 by the German artist and art historian Johann David Passavant. Acquired by Baron Heinrich Thyssen-Bornemisza in 1959 from Baron Guye de Rothschild.
*St Helena Triptych.
The central panel (143 x 84) shows Constantine and Helena supporting the cross; it resembles Cima’s picture in San Giorgio in Bragora at Venice. The side panels (143 x 61) show St Sebastian (similar to the figure in Palma’s altarpiece at Santa Maria Formosa) and St Roch. The three panels formed the lower tier of a polyptych painted for the high altar of the church of Santa Croce at Gerosa, near Bergamo. When the church was rebuilt in the eighteenth century, the polyptych was sold. The three panels were presented to the Brera at the beginning of the nineteenth century by Count Francesco Melzi d'Eril, Vice-President of the Napoleonic Italian Republic, as works of Lorenzo Lotto. They were re-attributed to Palma by Crowe and Cavalcaselle (1871).
*Adoration of the Magi. Canvas, 470 x 260.
From the high altar of the church of Sant’Elena in Isola at Venice (hence the inclusion of St Helena with her cross). It is one of Palma’s few documented pictures, and one of only half-dozen of his works mentioned by Vasari. It was ordered from Palma by the Olivetan Benedictines on 3 July 1525 and was to be finished by Easter 1526. The fee was 110 ducats. According to some critics, the altarpiece may have been executed largely by Palma's pupils after his death some three years later. The church was closed by the French in 1807 and the picture was sent to the Brera in 1811. From 1945 to 1972 it was on loan to the Castello Sforzesco, and then from 1972 it was deposited at the Seminario Arcivescovile at Venegano (Varese). Previously darkened by old varnish and repaint, the picture was restored in 2006-8.
Milan. Museo Poldi Pezzoli.
*'La Cortigiana' ('The Courtesan'). Canvas, 85 x 71.
Her golden tresses fall over one shoulder and down her back, while her gown of rich orange brocade and white undergarment slip from her shoulders, exposing both breasts. This characteristic (but damaged) 'bella donna' portrait was acquired (with an attribution to Giorgione) by Conte Gian Giacomo Poldi-Pezzoli in 1865 from the dealer Terzaghi of Milan. Restored twice in the nineteenth century (first by Giuseppe Molteni and then Luigi Cavenaghi). Repaint on the face and hand was removed in 1985.
Moscow. Pushkin Museum.
‘Sacra Conversazione’. Canvas (transferred), 121 x 156.
St Jerome (leaning on his Vulgate Bible and offering a stone to the Christ Child) and St Anthony of Padua are on the left. St Mary Magdalene (with jar of ointment) and St Catherine of Alexandria (with martyr's palm) are on the right. Damaged by old restorations (the left side is particularly heavily repainted) and sometimes considered a work of Palma's studio or school. Acquired by Catherine the Great with the Crozat collection in 1772, and transferred from the Hermitage to the Moscow museum in 1924.
Munich. Alte Pinakothek.
Madonna with St Roch and the Magdalen. Wood, 67 x 93.
St Roch, holding his pilgrim's staff and exposing the plague ulcer on his thigh, kneels to take a string of rosary beads from the Madonna and Child. His hat, decorated with scallop shells and pilgrim badges, lies on the ground. Mary Magdalene holds her alabaster jar of ointment. The meticulously detailed plants and flowers may have symbolic as well as decorative value. For example, the vine climbing up the column might allude to Christ as the 'true vine'. This comparatively small sacra conversazione is from the Dusseldorf Gallery, where it was ascribed to Paris Bordone. Attributed to Palma by Crowe and Cavalcaselle (1871), and considered by most critics to be a fairly late work.
Portrait of a Young Man in a Fur. Wood, 69 x 53.
Sometimes identified with the self-portrait so highly praised by Vasari: ‘… however highly esteemed the works by Palma may be, the best of all, and surely the most stunning, is a self-portrait he did by looking in a mirror, of himself draped in camel skins, with tufts of fur …’ However, the fur coat in the Munich portrait is fox rather than camel-hair. The picture was formerly attributed to Giorgione, whose name is inscribed on the back. It has also been ascribed to several other Venetians of the early sixteenth century (Titian, Sebastiano del Piombo and Paris Bordone). The 1986 Gallery catalogue classes it merely as ‘Venetian School’. Ridolfi (1648), who described it as a work of Giorgione when it was in the Van Vearle collection in Antwerp, identified the sitter as 'a German of the house of Fugger'. The Fuggers were an immensely rich and powerful family of bankers and merchants from Augsburg. The sitter has been identified specifically (by Simon Oakes in Renaissance Studies, April 2008) as Anton Fugger (1493-1560), who spent time in Venice after the death in 1506 of his father Georg Fugger (represented in Giovanni Bellini's portrait at Pasadena). At Munich since 1748.
*‘Sacra Conversazione’. Wood, 134 x 201.
One of the finest of Palma’s large Sacre Conversazioni. St Jerome introduces to the Christ Child the donor and his wife, who appear (head and arms) in the bottom right-hand corner. On the left, the pointing John the Baptist draws the Virgin’s attention to the couple; St Catherine holds her broken wheel. Possibly the picture mentioned by Ridolfi (1648) in the Casa Barbarigo at San Polo, Venice. It was acquired by the museum in 1841 from the estate of Domenico Barbaia, a wealthy opera impresario. It was slightly damaged when it was hurriedly transported to Germany during the Second World War.
Newport (Rhode Island). Rough Point.
Annunciation. Wood, 80 x 153.
Possibly the picture of the Annunciation recorded in 1797 in an inventory of the property of the monastery of Sant'Agostino at Bergamo. The monastery was turned into a barracks during the Napoleonic occupation of Italy, and its property was sold. Rough Point, formerly the residence of the heiress Doris Duke, who furnished it with art and antiques, was opened to the public as a museum in 2000. The Annunciation hangs over the Dining Room fireplace. It was bought for that spot by Doris Duke's father, the tobacco magnate James Buchanan Duke, in 1924 from the dealer Joseph Duveen.
Oxford. Ashmolean Museum.
Holy Family with St Mary Magdalene. Wood, 61 x 99.
Probably early (about 1513-14). Very damaged and heavily repainted. Presented by Dr Arthur Waters in 1937. There is a copy, attributed to Jacopo Pisbolica, in the Museo Civico at Padua.
*Adoration of the Shepherds. Canvas, 140 x 210.
Behind the Virgin, a richly dressed female donor kneels at a prie-dieu. To the right, angels appear in the sky to shepherds on a hillside. Usually considered a comparatively late work (early or mid-1520s). Acquired in 1685 by Louis XIV as a work of Titian (whose forged signature is still on the painting) from the painter and dealer Antoine Benoist for 2,200 livres.
Pasadena (California). Norton Simon Museum.
Venus and Cupid in a Landscape. Canvas, 89 x 167.
Possibly one of the two Venuses left unfinished in Palma’s workshop at his death. The landscape is thought to have been completed by another (possibly Northern) artist. There is a similar picture (without the Cupid) in the Courtauld Institute, London. Formerly in a private Swedish collection (and for a time on loan to the National Museum in Stockholm); acquired by Norton Simon in 1976.
Peghera (Bergamo). San Giacomo Maggiore.
Polyptych of St James.
Still in situ on the high altar. Lower panels (115 x 55): St James the Great between the plague saints Sebastian and Roch. Upper panels (52 x 62/55): Christ in the sepulchre between half-lengths of St Ambrose and St Anthony Abbot. Lunette (52 x 62): Eternal Father. There is no early information on this altarpiece, which was first recognised as a work of Palma Vecchio in 1867. It seems to belong to the same early phase of Palma’s career as a polyptych at nearby Serina (about 1515). The figure of St Sebastian seems to have been copied from a print by Marcantonio Raimondi. The frame dates from the early twentieth century. Restored in Florence in 2002-9, and subsequently returned to its original position above the high altar of the church.
Philadelphia. Museum of Art (J. G. Johnson Collection).
Raising of Lazarus. Wood, 53 x 61.
This small panel was acquired by Johnson (on Berenson’s recommendation) in 1910 from the art historian Gustavo Frizzoni for 12,000 francs. There is larger painting by Palma of this subject in the Uffizi.
Prague. Castle Gallery.
‘Sacra Conversazione’. Canvas, 103 x 110.
The Madonna is seated between St Michael and St Dorothea (left) and Mary Magdalene and a bearded saint (who has been variously identified as Joseph, Mark, Jerome and Peter). Probably a fairly early work (about 1513-14). There are a large number of old copies. It is first recorded (as a work of Palma) in 1635 in the Duke of Buckingham’s collection, and has been at Prague since the late seventeenth century.
Rome. Galleria Borghese.
Lucretia. Wood, 78 x 56.
The paragon of Roman virtue is represented as a voluptuous blonde, about to plunge the dagger into her breast. Recorded in the Borghese collection in 1650 as a work of Titian. The attribution to Palma Vecchio was made in 1880 by Giovanni Morelli. The execution is rather mechanical and might be largely by Palma’s workshop.
Madonna, Saints and Donor. Wood, 71 x 108.
The saints are Francis and Jerome; the donor is a middle-aged lady in prayer. Usually accepted as an early work by Palma (about 1512?), although Rylands in his 1988 monograph attributes it to the so-called ‘Master of the Chantilly Madonna’. Recorded in the Borghese collection since the eighteenth century.
Portrait of a Young Man. Wood, 30 x 24.
He wears the simple black robe and biretta of a Venetian citizen. The Roman numerals XXIII, inscribed on the plague behind the sitter's right shoulder, probably indicate his age (23). The date 1510 has sometimes also been read, and the portrait has sometimes been regarded as Palma’s earliest precisely dateable picture. First recorded in the Borghese collection in 1693 as a work of Pordenone, and later ascribed to Giovanni Bellini. The attribution to Palma was made by Longhi in 1926, and is accepted by Rylands (1988) among others.
Madonna and Child Enthroned with Saints. Canvas, 135 x 191.
The Madonna is enthroned under an orange tree. The male donor kneeling on her left is recommended by St Barbara, who holds a model of the tower in which she was imprisoned. The female donor kneeling on the right is recommended by St Christina of Bolsena, who holds a martyr's palm and the millstone with which she was drowned. The picture has been attributed to Lorenzo Lotto. It has also been considered (by Bernard Berenson in both the 1895 and 1956 editions of his Lorenzo Lotto) a copy of a lost original by him. However, an attribution to Palma, as a very early work, is now generally preferred.
Rome. Capitoline Museum.
Christ and the Adulteress. Canvas, 73 x 77.
The subject, popular in Venice at this time, is from John's Gospel (8, 2-8). Pharisees brought before Christ a woman caught committing adultery – an offence punishable by stoning. Asked for his judgement, Christ directed his reply at the self-righteous accusers, saying: 'He that is without sin among you, let him cast the first stone at her'. The painting is in poor condition and has been cut down at the bottom. Possibly identical either with a picture of this subject by Palma noted by Marcantonio Michiel in the house of Francesco Zio or another included among the inventory of Palma’s goods at his death. The picture was formerly attributed to Titian, which is understandable as the figure of Christ greatly resembles that in Titian’s Tribute Money at Dresden. Acquired by the Commune of Rome in about 1750 with the collection of Prince Gilberto Pio of Savoy. Recognised as a work of Palma since the 1880s.
Rome. Galleria Colonna.
Madonna, St Peter and a Donor. Wood, 90 x 108.
The picture is darkened by old varnish, and suffers from paint losses and retouching. In the seventeenth century it belonged to Cardinal Gualtieri of Orvieto; by 1763 it was in the Colonna collection (with an attribution to Giovanni Bellini). Probably fairly early (mid-1510s). There is another version in the Chapter House Museum at Birgu (Vittoriosa in Malta).
Rovigo. Accademia dei Concordi.
Virgin and Child with Saints. Wood, 76 x 104.
St Jerome with the book; St Helena with her cross. Recorded in the eighteenth century in the church of the Cappuccini at Rovigo, where it hung over the door of the chapel of Beato Lorenzo de’ Brindisi. Taken to the Accademia after the Napoleonic suppression of convents. The attribution was occasionally doubted before 1958, when the picture was cleaned. An early work (around 1512?).
St Petersburg. Hermitage.
Christ and the Adulteress. Canvas, 82 x 70.
There have been conflicting views about this picture. It has sometimes been considered a replica of the picture in the Capitoline Museum, Rome; and the Hermitage catalogued it in 1992 as a copy, after Palma Vecchio, by Moretto da Brescia. However, the monographs by Gombosi (1937), Mariacher (1968) and Rylands (1988) all accept it as an autograph Palma. It has sometimes been identified with a picture of this subject by Palma noted by Marcantonio Michiel (in 1521?) in the house of Francesco Zio. Acquired by Catherine the Great in 1772 with the Crozat collection (with an attribution to Pordenone).
Madonna and Child in a Landscape. Canvas, 59 x 72.
On the left, a man (St Roch?) sits in a meadow with a little dog. Probably fairly early (dated 1515-16 by Rylands). From the Nabokov collection, Petrograd; acquired in 1919 (as by Gerolamo Romanino).
Portrait of a Man with a Glove. Canvas, 93 x 72.
The bushy-haired young man grips the fur collar of his tunic with his left hand and holds a glove – an aristocratic attribute – in his right. Acquired, without attribution, in 1886 from the Golitsin Museum, Moscow. The subsequent attribution to Palma – made in 1896 by Fritz Harck – has been generally accepted, but with little agreement on dating.
Serina (north of Bergamo). Santissima Annunziata.
Altarpiece of the Presentation of the Virgin. Wood.
The polyptych originally stood over the first altar on the left of the old parish church. The central panel (147 x 62) represents the Presentation of the Virgin. The young Mary, bearing a candle, is received by the High Priest. The woman behind her holds a basket with the pair of doves required for the Jewish purification rite. The flanking panels (each 144 x 52) show full-length figures of St John the Evangelist and St Francis, while above are half-lengths of St Joseph (70 x 64) between St Apollonia and Beato Alberto Carmelitano (each 60 x 50). When the paintings were restored in 1910 and reassembled in a simple modern frame, two panels from Palma's other altarpiece in the church were mistakenly included in the lower tier. These were removed during a restoration begun in 2013. The restoration, completed for the 2015 Palma Vecchio exhibition at Bergamo, revealed less damage than had been feared. The colours, previously dimmed by old varnish and repaint, are now strikingly vivid.
Altarpiece of the Resurrection. Wood.
The Resurrection of Christ (197 x 74) was the central panel of another polyptych, located over the third altar on the left of the nave. It shows the risen Christ, draped in a white burial shroud and holding the red-cross banner of victory, hovering over the tomb. In the bottom corners of the panel are the heads of soldiers, one holding a halberd and the other a wooden club with metal spikes. The two flanking panels (each 135 x 50) represent full-length figures of the apostles St Philip and St James the Great. They were previously framed with the panels of the Presentation of the Virgin Altarpiece, but were reunited with the Resurrection in 2016. Above these were two smaller panels representing half-length saints. Neither has been certainly traced (though a St Monica in the Bergamo gallery is a candidate for the one on the left).
The alpine village of Serina was Palma's place of birth. The two polyptychs are not documented but are mentioned by Ridolfi (1648). The Presentation of the Virgin Altarpiece is probably comparatively early (around 1515?), while the Resurrection Altarpiece is probably somewhat later (early 1520s?).
Strasbourg. Musée des Beaux-Arts.
Salvator Mundi. Wood, 74 x 63.
The devotional image of Christ as Salvator Mundi, or Saviour of the World, dates back to Byzantine times and was popularised by fifteenth-century Netherlandish painters. Christ is usually shown raising his right hand in blessing, but here he holds the orb with both hands. The colours of Christ's robe and cloak (red symbolising his humanity and blue symbolising his divinity) are traditional. Christ's pose is very like that of the Poet in Palma's famous portrait in the National Gallery, London. The attribution has not always been accepted; but the painting was included in the 2015 Palma exhibition at Bergamo as an autograph work of the painter's maturity (1518-20).
*Sacra Conversazione with the Holy Family, St John the Baptist and St Catherine. Canvas, 127 x 195.
This picture shows the strong influence of Titian. Indeed, Suida (1931) suggested that Titian finished part of the picture (including the head of St Catherine) after Palma’s death. This theory, which was rejected after a restoration and X-ray examination carried out in the early 1950s, has been revived in the light of further technical analysis. It is now believed that Titian painted not only the entire figure of St Catherine but also the face of the Baptist, the large column and the landscape. It is possibly the Sacra Conversazione noted by Ridolfi in the Casa Widmann at Venice. It was bought by the Accademia in 1900 from Alessandro Bedendo of Mestre. The figure of St Catherine is repeated (as St Agnes) in the Sacra Conversazione, attributed to Titian or his studio, at Dijon.
*Assumption. Wood, 191 x 137.
The Virgin ascends in a choir of seraphs, the apostles standing below. She is removing her girdle. According to legend, it was caught by St Thomas, who is shown rushing down the hillside in the right distance. From the Scuola of Santa Maria Maggiore (next to the Franciscan monastery of the same name), which was closed in 1812. Palma was paid 50 ducats for the picture in February 1514. Tullio Lombardo was paid twice as much for the marble frame. The gap at the bottom was probably made when a tabernacle was installed. Restored in 1993.
St Peter Enthroned with Saints. Canvas (transferred), 287 x 183.
St Peter, enthroned high on a pedestal, points to the text of a book. John the Baptist, standing to the left, reads the passage indicated, while pointing to the lamb lying at the base of the throne. St Paul, with his sword, stands to the right. Mark the Evangelist reads in the left background and St Titian of Oderza (a sixth/seventh-century Bishop of Ceneda) stands at the right edge. The two female saints with martyrs' palms are traditionally identified as Giustina of Padua and Augusta of Treviso. The picture probably dates from the early 1520s. It came from a church at Fontanelle, a village near Oderza (25 km northeast of Treviso), where it was described by Ridolfi (1648) as a work of Pordenone. It was acquired by the Venetian State in 1821. It was transferred from its original panel to canvas in 1846 and is much damaged. Restored in 2011. It has been transferred to a new synthetic ('fiberglass and aluminum honeycomb') support.
The Widow of Nain(?). Wood, 92 x 153.
The subject is traditionally interpreted as Christ raising the widow's son at Nain (Luke: 7, 11-17). However, as the child in the picture looks more like a girl than a boy, the miracle depicted seems more likely to be the healing of the daughter of the Canaanite woman (Matthew: 15, 22-28). Much restored and retouched. Possibly the ‘Christ and the Twelve Apostles and Two Women, half finished’ recorded in Palma’s studio at his death. The execution is probably at least partly by Palma’s workshop. Bequeathed to the Accademia by Girolamo Contarini in 1838.
*St Mark saving Venice from the Ship of Demons. Canvas, 360 x 406.
The picture illustrates an episode in the famous legend that in February 1341, during a terrible storm, Venice was threatened by a ship filled with demons. The city was saved from destruction by three strangers – who later revealed themselves as St Mark, St George and St Nicholas – who were being ferried across the lagoon by a fisherman. In the centre foreground, four muscular nudes are straining to keep their small rowing boat afloat, while the three saints are in the boat behind on the right. Venice is just visible through the storm clouds on the horizon to the right. St Mark, raising his hand in blessing, appears towards the left of the picture, where the sky is beginning to clear over the tower guarding the entrance to the lagoon. The huge canvas was painted for the Sala dell’Albergo of the Scuola Grande di San Marco. Vasari – who named Giorgione as the painter in the first (1550) edition of his Lives but Palma as the painter in the second (1568) edition – describes it very fully, praising its representation of the ‘fury of the winds, the strength and dexterity of the men, the surge of the waves, the flashes of lightning in the sky, the water broken by oars, and the oars bent by waves, and the force exerted by the rowers’. It is now generally thought to have been left unfinished at Palma’s death and to have been subsequently worked on by Paris Bordone (who painted the companion picture of the Fisherman Presenting the Ring to the Doge) and possibly others as well. The Scuola was closed in 1806, and the picture was installed in the Accademia in 1829. In 1948 it was placed on temporary deposit at the Ospedale Civile (which now occupies the Scuola building), and it has been returned to the Accademia only very recently.
Venice. Madonna dell’Orto.
St Vincent, St Dominic and St Helena. Canvas, 280 x 180.
Commissioned on 21 September 1523 by the prior Piero Marin, using funds (some 500 ducats) left by Vincenzo Valier (died 1520) for the construction of a funerary chapel. On 14 March 1525 Palma was paid six ducats to add the figures of Pope Eugenius IV and the Beato Lorenzo Giustiniani (whose cult as a bishop-confessor had just been licensed by Pope Clement VII). Already in 1674, the picture was described by Boschini as damaged by candle burns. The lower part was transformed in 1794 by a ‘restoration’, which added a marble balustrade and tiled pavement. A restoration of 1956 sought to return the picture to its original appearance. In 1981 the picture was moved to the south side of the nave.
Venice. Santa Maria Formosa.
**St Barbara Altarpiece. Wood.
St Barbara was the patron saint of the Venetian gunners (Bombardieri), who had their chapel in the church. The centre panel (214 x 85) shows the saint as a robust Venetian beauty, crowned and with the palm of martyrdom in her hand, standing on a pedestal with two cannon. A tower, her emblem, looms in the background. At the sides are smaller panels of Saints Sebastian and Anthony Abbot (each 138 x 48/45) and half-lengths of John the Baptist and Vincent Ferrer (each 62 x 58). Above, in a lunette, is a Pietà (63 x 89). The altarpiece, while undocumented, is mentioned as Palma’s by both Vasari and Francesco Sansovino, and is perhaps his most famous work. It may date from around 1522-24.
Venice. Galleria Querini-Stampalia.
Portraits of Francesco Querini and Paola Priuli. Wood, each 85 x 70.
These companion portraits were probably commissioned to mark the couple’s wedding on 28 April 1528. The portrait of Francesco Querini is recorded among the forty-five pictures left in Palma’s studio at his death. It is slightly unfinished, while the portrait of Paola Priuli is barely laid in.
Vicenza. Santo Stefano.
*Madonna and Saints. Canvas, 310 x 208.
The portly Virgin sits enthroned between an armoured saint (probably St George although he has also been identified as St Vincent, St Teodoro or St Liberale) and St Lucy (who holds up a glass containing her eyes). This large and important altarpiece was commissioned by the Capra family according to Ridolfi. The specific patron is likely to have been the Vicentine nobleman Girolamo di Giorgio Capra. George was his father’s name saint, while the presence of St Lucy could be explained by his marriage to a Lucia Angaran in September 1527. Despite the complete reconstruction of the church in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, the picture remains in its original position. It has usually been considered a very late work (1525-28), but has recently been dated about 1518-20. The composition appears to have been influenced by an altarpiece painted in 1511 by Lorenzo Luzzo (Morto da Feltre) for the church of Santo Stefano at Feltre and now at Berlin. Restored in 1996.
Vienna. Kunsthistorisches Museum.
*Nymphs Bathing. Canvas (transferred from panel), 78 x 124.
The subject has been interpreted as Diana discovering Callisto or Diana Bathing; but in the seventeenth century it was described simply as ‘a bath with fourteen figures washing themselves at a fountain in a faire landskip’. The satyrs, romping in the left distance, suggest that the girls represent classical nymphs. Their poses are based on contemporary prints and classical marbles. Up to about 1636 the picture was in the collection of Bartolomeo della Nave in Venice; it subsequently passed to England (collection of the 1st Duke of Hamilton), to Brussels (Archduke Leopold Wilhelm’s collection), and in 1659 to Vienna (where the Archduke retired and bequeathed his collection to his nephew Emperor Leopold I of Austria).
*‘Sacra Conversazione’. Wood, 133 x 198.
John the Baptist kneels on the right with his lamb and reed cross; the two female martyr-saints with palm branches are Catherine of Alexandria and Barbara; and the bearded monk holding the triple cross is probably St Peter Celestine (Pope Celestine V). This fine, well-preserved picture may date from around1520. It is probably the ‘piece of Nativity, wherein are five figures of olde Palma’ recorded in 1638 in the Duke of Hamilton’s collection, and is certainly included (also correctly attributed to Palma) in the 1659 inventory of Archduke Leopold Wilhelm’s collection.
‘Portrait of Violante’. Wood, 65 x 51.
She is turned to the right, with golden hair falling over her shoulders, and wears a blue silk dress with full sleeves of brownish-yellow brocade. A tiny violet is tucked into the neck of her chemise; but there is no serious basis to the claim (first published in 1660 by Marco Boschini) that she is Violante, Palma’s beautiful daughter, with whom Titian supposedly had an affair. (In fact, Palma is not known to have married or to have had a daughter.) Titian seems to have used the same girl as a model for the St Dorothy in his Madonna and Saints in the Prado and possibly also for the St Catherine in his Balbi Madonna now in the Fondazione Magnani-Rocca at Mamiano (near Parma). The portrait was described in the 1636 inventory of Bartolomeo della Nave's collection as 'a woman called the faire catt' and by Ridolfi (1648) as the 'dama della gattina'. It was engraved with an attribution to Palma in Tenier’s Theatrum Pictorium of 1660. The alternative attribution to Titian was proposed by Roberto Longhi (1927) and was supported at first mainly by Italian critics. Philip Rylands catalogues the picture among Palma's works in his 1988 L'Opera Completa, but most recent opinion has favoured Titian.
Woman in Blue. Wood, 63 x 51.
Her blonde hair is carefully curled and braided, and a tiny blue flower is tucked behind her left ear. She is superbly dressed in a blue dress with a laced bodice, green sleeves and striped cuffs. She holds a black fan in her right hand and gestures with her right, throwing a haughty sideways glance at the viewer. Another of the pictures by Palma recorded in 1636 in Bartolomeo della Nave’s collection at Venice, which were acquired by the Duke of Hamilton and subsequently, after the English Civil War, passed into Archduke Leopold Wilhelm’s gallery at Brussels.
Woman in Green with Her Hand on a Box. Wood, 50 x 41.
Voluptuously plump with flawless creamy skin, she has dyed and crimped blonde hair, darker at the roots. Her green silk dress is slashed in the sleeves to show orange lining and untied at the front to reveal her white chemise. There is a small round sewing box in her hand. Possibly the portrait 'with hair tumbled on the shoulders and dressed in green' listed in the inventory of pictures left in Palma's studio at his death in 1528. Recorded as a Palma in Bartolomeo della Nave’s collection at Venice, the Duke of Hamilton’s collection in England (‘a woman half a figure very faire with a box in her hand’), and Archduke Leopold Wilhelm’s collection in Brussels.
Portrait of a Woman in Profile. Wood, 49 x 42.
The lovely young woman turns away from us with a provocative glance over her shoulder. Also clearly described in the Duke of Hamilton’s collection: ‘Another woman with a box in her hand of the same [Palma], half figure being a head in profile most rare’. Well preserved, but clearly unfinished.
Visitation. Canvas, 168 x 354.
The subject is from Luke: 1, 36-56. The meeting of the pregnant cousins, Mary and Elizabeth, is traditionally shown in the open air, outside the house of St Zacharius. This large canvas might date from the early 1520s. It is possibly from the Cappella Messinese in the church of San Cassiano, where Antonello’s famous altarpiece originally hung and Palma painted scenes from the Life of the Virgin according to Sansovino. It is another of the pictures that passed from Bartolomeo della Nave to the Duke of Hamilton and then to Archduke Leopold Wilhelm. In poor condition. There is a small oil copy, made by David Teniers for his Theatrum Pictorium (1660), in the Kelvingrove Museum, Glasgow.
St John the Baptist. Wood, 75 x 56.
Half-length, with staff and lamb. Very damaged. Recorded in the inventory of Palma's studio at his death, and among the Duke of Hamilton's pictures acquired by Archduke Leopold Wilhelm.
Lucretia. Wood, 63 x 51.
The shadowy form of Tarquin (or Lucretia’s husband Collatinus) is just visible in the dark (partly repainted) background. The left breast, originally exposed, was covered by the bodice at some later date. Recorded as a work of Titian in Charles I’s collection. Acquired by Archduke Leopold Wilhelm in 1651 at the Whitehall sale. The attribution to Palma seems to have been made in 1860 by Erasmus von Engerth. The traditional attribution to Titian was revived by Roberto Longhi (1927) and has won significant support among Italian critics.
Woman in Black. Wood, 60 x 45.
The young blonde woman, probably a courtesan, holds her black dress loosely over her white shift, which falls off her shoulders and exposes her cleavage. The attribution of this well-preserved portrait has also oscillated between Palma and Titian. Recorded as a Palma in an inventory of 1720. Roberto Longhi (1927) was the first to suggest Titian’s name. What may well be the same woman appears seated at the right of Palma’s Nymphs Bathing (also at Vienna).
Woman in a White and Yellow Striped Dress. Canvas, 96 x 77.
Her hair is bound up with pearls. Her right hand holds a feather fan; her left, lost in its sleeve, rests on her hip. Acquired as by Palma in 1864 from the collection of Erasmus von Engerth. There have also been attributions to Pordenone and Cariani.
York. Art Gallery.
St Mark; St John the Baptist. Two panels, each 83 x 33.
Two fragments of a polyptych. The St Mark appears to be of lesser quality and has been ascribed to Palma’s studio. There is a half-length, badly damaged version of the Baptist at Vienna. Presented (along with most other Italian pictures in the gallery) by F. D. Lycett Green in 1955.
Zerman (near Treviso). Parish Church.
Madonna enthroned with Saints. Canvas (transferred), 230 x 150.
The four saints are Helena (with her cross), Peter (with keys), Mark (with his Gospel) and John the Baptist (offering his scroll to the Christ Child). A boy angel (similar to the one in Dürer's Madonna of the Rose Garlands) sits at the base of the throne playing a lute. The picture was probably painted for its current location – the main altar of the church, dedicated to St Helena. Dated about 1511-15 (Dillon) or 1518-20 (Rylands). Transferred from panel to canvas in 1878 and in poor condition.
Zogno (18 km north of Bergamo). San Lorenzo Matire (1st altar right).
Adoration of Shepherds. Canvas, 243 x 157.
The kneeling shepherd appears to have the attributes (hat, staff and dog) of St Roch. The altarpiece is described by Ridolfi (1648) in the church of Santa Maria dei Serviti at Zogno as a work of Giovanni Cariani. It hung in a chapel maintained by the Confraternita di San Giuseppe and dedicated to St Joseph and the Nativity. Transferred to San Lorenzo in 1816 and drastically restored. During the twentieth century, the traditional attribution to Cariani was gradually abandoned in favour of one to Palma. Early (mid-1510s?). Restored in 1958 (when much of the early nineteenth-century repaint was removed) and again in 2014.