24 April 2014

The first of the hundred

Doge Leonardo Loredan, Giovanni Bellini, 1501.
National Gallery, London.

When I was a child in West Africa, my parents had a book entitled One Hundred Great Paintings, or The Hundred Greatest Paintings in the World -- it was a title that juxtaposed hundred and great and paintings. This portrait of Leonardo Loredan, Doge between 1501 and 1521, was the first of the hundred. The second was the glorious Titian Bacchus and Ariadne. Mona Lisa was in there, a Sunflowers, The Birth of Venus, The Fighting Temeraire, and a number of ladies wearing very little in the way of clothes. The ladies bemused me, because my parents were extremely intolerant of my coming in the way of noticing anything that might suggest the realities between the chin and the knees, but they apparently allowed to Art what was unacceptable for Life.

I spent a great deal of time with these paintings, and particularly with the first two. The Titian was incomprehensible -- up in the bush in West Africa, there was no place to look for Titian or mythology -- but it was intoxicating, which seems the way to respond.  I spent most of my great-paintings time with Doge Loredan. I didn't know what I was looking at, beyond the fact of a rather tense man in interesting clothes, painted in beautiful colors, but it gave me joy. 

So I was inordinately pleased, fifty years later, to come on his signature in a Venetian protocollo belonging to Jacobo Grasolario probating the will of Zorzi Cernovich.  This is a will written like a love-letter, and it has a fascinating story to it. Most wills did not require a dogal signature, but Cernovich had been the ruler of Montenegro, he died outside Venice, and had created an international incident with the French. Grasolario had to have the will translated from the Slavic Cernovich had written into Italian. 

protocollo is the permanent, legal, record of a notary, licensed by the Venetian government. This one belonged to a Jacobo Grasolario who handled the wills of my beloved Giovanni Dario. The signature says, "We, Leonardo Loredan, by the grace of God, Duke of Venice, etc, undersigned, his own hand," and it looks to me like the signature of a tense person.

There are a few other scattered Loredan signatures in the Grasolario protocollo, and what is striking about them is that by 1518 or so you can watch the writing deteriorate.  The last signature is nearly illegible and droops far down at the right.  He died less than a week later.

Thanks to Bonnie Blackburn for helping me read the signature.

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