Portrait of Alvise Contarini (recto) and a tethered roebuck (verso); portrait of a woman (recto) and scene in grisaille (verso), ca. 1485–95
Jacometto Veneziano (Italian, Venetian, active 1472–97)
Oil on panel; (.85) Overall 4 x 2 7/8 in. (10.2 x 7.3 cm); recto and verso, painted surface 3 3/4 x 2 1/2 in. (9.5 x 6.4 cm); (.86) Overall 4 5/8 x 3 3/8 in. (11.9 x 8.6 cm); recto, painted surface 4 1/8 x 3 1/8 in. (10.6 x 7.9 cm); verso, painted surface 4 3/8 x 3 1/8 in. (11 x 7.9 cm)
Robert Lehman Collection, 1975 (1975.1.85, 86)
These exquisite portrait miniatures with painted backs are important works by the Venetian artist Jacometto Veneziano. Painted about 1485–95, they were described by the Venetian connoisseur Marcantonio Michiel in 1543 when in the collection of Michele Contarini. He identified the man as Messer Alvise Contarini and the woman as a "nun of San Secondo," that is, a nun of the Benedictine order. He added that the portraits also had a stamped leather cover and praised them as "a most perfect work."
There has been much debate about Michiel's identification of the woman. Although he was a knowledgeable contemporary and himself the brother of abbesses, it remains open to doubt whether the woman's attire could be appropriate to a nun. Furthermore, the image on the verso of Alvise Contarini's portrait is very specifically related to love. It shows a young roebuck chained beneath a round shield with the Greek word AIEI (forever). The roe had been a familiar image of love since biblical times (as in the Song of Solomon: "My beloved is like a roe or young hart") and was additionally singled out for its monogamous behavior.
It is possible that Alvise's widow is depicted here and that the two portraits nestled together as a keepsake.