(b. 1655, Bergamo, d. 1743, Bergamo)

Portrait of a Gentleman

c. 1740
Oil on canvas, 109 x 87 cm
Museo Poldi Pezzoli, Milan

Vittore Ghislandi was the son of a quadraturista and as a young man often helped his father paint the illusionistic perspective decorations in which he specialized. Ghislandi took vows as first as a lay-brother and then as a friar in the Order of St Francis of Paola. After some time in the Paolotti Monastery in Venice he moved back home to the Galgario Monastery, whose name he adopted. We know little about his work as a painter before the beginning of the eighteenth century. By then he was over 40 years old and it may have been Salomon Alder who suggested that he start to concentrate on portraits. In any case he ended up specializing in them exclusively. Although he was abreast of what was going on in the creative worlds of Milan, Bologna, and Venice, he preferred to look for his inspiration to the local tradition in Bergamo, in particular to the work of Gian Battista Moroni. Thus started an abundant number of portraits of noblemen and ladies from the local aristocracy.

Fra Galgario showed no mercy in the way he starkly depicted their physical and moral reality. Fra Galgario's portraits (some of which are in museums in Bergamo and Milan but most still in private collections) are extremely varied. This is thanks also to the richness of his palette and loaded brush. It was precisely this vivacity, combined with his sureness of composition and peremptory way of capturing the sitter's psychological make-up, that makes the Bergamo portraits a faithful mirror of provincial life in the eighteenth century.

In this portrait the gentleman represented wears a tricorn hat bordered by a silver decoration; his face is framed by a grey wig secured to the neck by means of a black ribbon resembling a fashionable tie. Underneath the silk jacket we can recognise a metallic waistcoat bearing the stem of a knight order, specifically a red cross with four lilies. This was the symbol of the Holy Constantinian Order of St George, a group linked to Byzantine traditions which in the early eighteenth century had many followers in northern Italy. However, the precise identity of the man represented is still unknown.

Suggested listening (streaming mp3, 3 minutes):
Lodovico Viadana: La Bergamasca