In painting this fine portrait, which dates about 1497, Fra Bartolomeo took as his model the work of Hans Memling, whose portraits of Florentine merchants in Bruges were well known in Italy. Like Leonardo da Vinci, Fra Bartolomeo had a keen response to nature, drawing landscape views in an album (for example, MMA 57.165; see metmuseum.org/collections). The inscription with the putative name of the sitter was added later.
Johann Peter Weyer, Cologne (by 1852–62; cats., 1852, no. 13, 1859, no. 25; his sale, Heberle, Cologne, August 25, 1862, no. 25, as "Portrait de Matthieu Sass," by Basiliano [sic] Mainardi, for 46 thalers to Herrman); [L. Herrman, London, from 1862]; R. Fleming, London (until 1919; sale, Christie's, London, December 22, 1919, no. 140, as by Bellini, for £714 to "Amor" [Smith]); A. J. Hugh Smith, London (1919–28; sale, Christie's, London, July 13, 1928, no. 67, as by Bellini, for £346.10 to Fischmann); [Norman Fischmann, Munich, 1928–at least 1929]; Edwin D. Levinson, New York (by 1931–33); [John Levy Galleries, New York, from 1933]; [Julius Weitzner, New York, until 1955; sold to Linsky]; Mr. and Mrs. Jack Linsky, New York (1955–his d. 1980); Mrs. Jack Linsky, New York (1980–82)
Detroit Institute of Arts. "The Sixteenth Loan Exhibition of Old Masters: Italian Paintings of the XIV to XVI Century," March 8–30, 1933, no. 31 (as "Portrait of Mattep Sassettiano," by Bastiano Mainardi, lent by Mr. E. D. Levinson).
New York. M. Knoedler & Co. "Fifteenth Century Portraits," April 15–27, 1935, no. 13 (as "Portrait of Matteo Sassettiano," by Bastiano Mainardi, lent by Edwin D. Levinson, Esq.).
Beschreibung des Inhaltes der Sammlung von Gemälden älterer Meister des Herrn Johann Peter Weyer in Coeln. Cologne, , p. 10, no. 13, as by an unknown painter, probably Italian; notes the inscription across the top.
Catalog der Sammlung von Gemälden älterer Meister des Herrn Johann Peter Weyer. Cologne, 1859, no. 25 [see Vey 1966 and Kier and Zehnder 1998], as "Bildnis des Mattheus Sass," by Basiliano [sic] Mainardi.
W. H. James Weale. "Notice sur la collection de tableaux anciens, faisant partie de la galerie de Mr J. P. Weyer . . ." Messager des sciences historiques (1862), p. 336, calls it a beautiful portrait, except for the eyes, which have been repainted; notes that it was sold to M. Herman, London, for 46 thalers.
A[dolphe]. Siret. "Collection Weyer à Cologne." Journal des beaux-arts 4 (July 25, 1862), p. 110, considers it a characteristic work of Sebastiano Mainardi.
Lionello Venturi. "Ein Porträt des Bastiano Mainardi." Pantheon 3 (June 1929), pp. 280–81, ill. (color) opp. p. 281, attempts to identify the sitter as Matteo Sassettiano based on similarities his likeness shares with portraits of the Sassetti family in Ghirlandaio's fresco in the Sassetti chapel in Santa Trinita, Florence; concludes that the artist of this painting is Bastiano Mainardi, a collaborator of Ghirlandaio.
Raimond van Marle. The Development of the Italian Schools of Painting. Vol. 13, The Renaissance Painters of Florence in the 15th Century: The Third Generation. The Hague, 1931, pp. 226, 228 n. 1 (beginning p. 222), as not by Mainardi; ascribes it to "an Italo-Flemish painter fairly near to Justus of Ghent".
Alfred M. Frankfurter. "Ghirlandaio and Mainardi: A Study in Portraiture." Antiquarian 17 (November 1931), p. 58, ill. (color, frontispiece).
Art News (December 23, 1933), ill. on cover, as "Matteo Sassettiano," by Sebastiano Mainardi; states that it is on loan from the John Levy Galleries, New York, to the William Rockhill Nelson Gallery of Art in Kansas City, Missouri.
Bernhard Berenson. Pitture italiane del rinascimento. Milan, 1936, p. 423, lists it as by Cosimo Rosselli, in the E.D. Levinson collection in New York.
Bernard Berenson. Italian Pictures of the Renaissance: Florentine School. London, 1963, vol. 1, p. 191; vol. 2, pl. 1009, lists it as by Cosimo Rosselli, in the Jack Linsky collection in New York.
Everett Fahy. "The Beginnings of Fra Bartolommeo." Burlington Magazine 108 (September 1966), p. 463 n. 22, identifies it as an early work by Fra Bartolomeo.
Horst Vey. "Johann Peter Weyer, seine Gemäldesammlung und seine Kunstliebe." Wallraf-Richartz-Jahrbuch 28 (1966), p. 202, no. 12, ill. (engraving).
Everett Fahy. "The Earliest Works of Fra Bartolommeo." Art Bulletin 51 (June 1969), p. 148, fig. 16, attributes it to Fra Bartolomeo, citing the landscape with tall buildings and feathery trees as characteristic of his work; notes Hans Memling's influence in the placement of the sitter against a landscape, most clearly comparable to Memling's "Portrait of a Man" (Uffizi, Florence).
Everett Fahy. Some Followers of Domenico Ghirlandajo. PhD diss., Harvard University. New York, 1976, pp. 61–62, 93–94, no. 98, fig. 44, states that it seems to be related to a silverpoint drawing of a man's head in the National Gallery of Scotland that the author ascribes to Fra Bartolomeo.
Eve Borsook. Letter to Keith Christiansen. September 2, 1983, wonders if the inscription could be read "Matthaeus Sass," the "Sass" being an abbreviation for Sassoni (i.e., from Saxony), and notes that there were many Germans in the neighborhood of San Marco.
Keith Christiansen inThe Metropolitan Museum of Art: Notable Acquisitions, 1983–1984. New York, 1984, p. 49, ill. (color), rejects the identification of the sitter as a member of the Sassetti family; notes the sensitive rendering of nature as characteristic of Fra Bartolomeo's mature work.
Keith Christiansen inThe Jack and Belle Linsky Collection in The Metropolitan Museum of Art. New York, 1984, pp. 36–38, no. 8, ill. (color), accepts Fahy's 1969 attribution to Fra Bartolomeo and his date of shortly after 1497; agrees with him that the portrait shows the influence of Memling; does not believe that the inscription is original to the painting.
Liana Castelfranchi Vegas. Italie et Flandres dans la peinture du XVe siècle. Milan, 1984, p. 198, fig. 116 [Italian ed., 1983], asserts that it is difficult to explain the resemblance of the background to certain works by Memling; links it to the school of Perugino while noting the recent attribution to Fra Bartolomeo.
Anna Forlani Tempesti and Elena Capretti. Piero di Cosimo: catalogo completo. Florence, 1996, p. 113, under no. 19, find it very similar to Piero di Cosimo's portrait of a young man (Dulwich Picture Gallery, London), noting that both show the influence of Memling's portraits on Florentine painters at the end of the fifteenth century.
Serena Padovani inL'Etá di Savonarola: Fra Bartolomeo e la scuola di San Marco. Ed. Serena Padovani. Exh. cat., Palazzo Pitti, Florence. Venice, 1996, p. 36, fig. 16, accepts a date immediately after Fra Bartolomeo's Annunciation in Volterra of 1497.
Lust und Verlust. Ed. Hiltrud Kier and Frank Günter Zehnder. Exh. cat., Wallraf-Richartz-Museum. Vol. 2, "Corpus-Band zu Kölner Gemäldesammlungen 1800–1860."Cologne, 1998, pp. 450–51, no. 13, ill. (engraving), as whereabouts unknown; identify the buyer at the 1862 sale as the importer and dealer L. Herrman of London.
Barbara G. Lane. "Memling and the Workshop of Verrocchio." La peinture dans les pays-bas au 16e siècle. Ed. Hélène Verougstraete and Roger van Schoute. Colloque 12, Louvain, 1999, pp. 245, 247, fig. 4.
Paula Nuttall. From Flanders to Florence: The Impact of Netherlandish Painting, 1400–1500. New Haven, 2004, p. 221, pl. 244, states that the background of the Memling Uffizi portrait definitely served as a model for this work.
Till-Holger Borchert. Memling's Portraits. Exh. cat., Museo Thyssen-Bornemisza, Madrid. Ghent, 2005, p. 158, under no. 8, relates it to the Memling Uffizi portrait.
Robert G. La France. Bachiacca: Artist of the Medici Court. Florence, 2008, p. 52.
Barbara G. Lane. Hans Memling: Master Painter in Fifteenth-Century Bruges. London, 2009, pp. 207, 215, 218–19 n. 100, fig. 158.
Till-Holger Borchert inVan Eyck to Dürer: Early Netherlandish Painting & Central Europe, 1430–1530. Exh. cat., Groeningemuseum, Bruges. Tielt, Belgium, 2010, p. 191.
Till-Holger Borchert inMemling: Rinascimento fiammingo. Ed. Till-Holger Borchert. Exh. cat., Scuderie del Quirinale, Rome. Milan, 2014, p. 202, under no. 40.
Serena Padovani inPiero di Cosimo: The Poetry of Painting in Renaissance Florence. Exh. cat., National Gallery of Art. Washington, 2015, p. 45, mentions it as a portrait of Matteo Sassetti.
Serena Padovani inPiero di Cosimo, 1462–1522: pittore eccentrico fra Rinascimento e Maniera. Exh. cat., Galleria degli Uffizi. Florence, 2015, pp. 36, 43 n. 28.
Bert W. Meijer inPiero di Cosimo, 1462–1522: pittore eccentrico fra Rinascimento e Maniera. Exh. cat., Galleria degli Uffizi. Florence, 2015, p. 264.
The picture has suffered from past overcleaning and abrasion, affecting especially the head and hair, where the surface is broken and much of the original glazing has been lost. There are losses along a vertical split, the most important of which is in the sitter's left cheek and adjoining hair and extending into the jaw, neck, and scarf. Little remains of the collar and black neckline. By contrast, the lower left area of the right tree and passages of the distant landscape at the left, as well as the hat, the scarf, and the sitter's left sleeve, still preserve much of the original delicacy. There are remnants on the reverse of a painted porphyry decoration.
Venturi (1929) read part of the inscription as SASS[E]TTIANUS and interpreted this as a diminutive for Sassetti, the name of an influential Florentine family. However, there is no mention of a Matteo Sassetti in the "Notizie . . ." of Francesco di Giovambattista Sassetti, the most illustrious family member, who was the head of the Medici bank and patron of Domenico Ghirlandaio. The portrait was attributed by Venturi, Frankfurter (1931), and Valentiner (1933) to Ghirlandaio's pupil and son-in-law Sebastiano Mainardi, based on the supposed identity of the sitter and the notion that a Sassetti commission would logically have been given to Ghirlandaio but was in this case carried out by a pupil. Berenson (1936 and 1963) lists it as by Cosimo Rosselli. Fahy (1969) correctly attributes it to Rosselli's pupil, Fra Bartolomeo, and convincingly dates it shortly after 1497. He also notes Flemish influence, in particular that of Memling, in the motif of the trees to either side of the head and in the placid, almost vacant expression of the face.