Lazzaro BASTIANI | Portrait of the philosopher Lucio Crasso [Ritratto del filosofo Lucio Crasso]

Venice? 1425 – Venice 1512

Portrait of the philosopher Lucio Crasso [Ritratto del filosofo Lucio Crasso] c.1500
oil on wood panel
31.9 (h) x 26.2 (w) cm Accademia Carrara, Bergamo
Acquired from Salvatore Orsetti 1804

The panel presents a severe portrait of a middle-aged man with a lined face and bright eyes, dressed in sombre Venetian black with a spherical black cap known as a calottina; the black costume suggests he is a member of the patriciate. The name of the person portrayed is indicated along the top of the painting in gold letters: ‘LVCIO CRASSO PHILOSOPHO’. Although inscribed at some time after the portrait was finished, the identity of the sitter has always been accepted as the philosopher Lucio (Alvise) Crasso. Little is known about Crasso who does not merit an entry in the Dizionario biografico degli Italiani [biographical dictionary of the Italians]. Various inventories refer to another, later portrait of the same philosopher by Giorgione or Titian.[1]

The later portrait (current location unknown), which was attributed to Titian by Carlo Ridolfi in 1648 and is mentioned in seventeenth-century inventories, is now attributed to the circle of Giorgione followers.[2] The subject is a bearded man with spectacles who stands with one hand on a parapet where the letters ‘V.V.’ appear. An inscription gives the name of the subject and the date: ‘L. CRASSUS DO MDVIII’.[3] The difference between the inscribed date (1508) and the date of the Bergamo panel suggests there may have been at least two members of the Crasso family who were philosophers, a generation apart.

The Bergamo portrait was acquired in 1804, together with some 240 paintings from the collection of Salvatore Orsetti, a Venetian lawyer.[4] The collection was formed by Cristoforo Orsetti in the seventeenth century and is referred to throughout Ridolfi’s Le maraviglie dell’arte of 1648, though little is known about Cristoforo except that the family came from Bergamo. The Orsetti collection contained distinguished works such as Giorgione’s Tempesta.[5] The first description of our little portrait is in the Orsetti sale catalogue of 1803 (no. 176), where it is attributed to Giovanni Bellini; then to Vittore Carpaccio by Carlo Marenzi in his estimates of the acquisitions in 1804.[6] The attribution to Lazzaro Bastiani is based on his marvellous dry portrait of Doge Francesco Foscari of c. 1457.[7] Bastiani’s linear portrait style is thought to be derived from his engraver’s practice.[8] The philosopher is portrayed with frown lines and deep facial creases—the minutely observed visual equivalent to descriptive literature in Venice at the time. Bastiani may have been a student of Antonio Vivarini and subsequently inspired the generation of Carpaccio.[9]

Bastiani is recorded for the first time as a painter in 1449 as a witness to a Will. In 1460 he was paid for an altarpiece for the church of San Samuele, Venice—the first of many by this artist. In 1508 he provided a valuation of Giorgione’s frescoes on the German Customs House in Venice: that such a conservative and dry artist should be asked to value these famously mysterious and stylistically adventurous frescoes may be Bastiani’s greatest claim to fame. He died in 1512. His son Sebastiano became a priest and a painter. Together with a few signed paintings these are the only data for reconstructing the life of Lazzaro Bastiani.

Jaynie Anderson

[1] Giorgione (1477/1478?–1510); Titian (1488/1490–1576).

[2] Reproduced in Terisio Pignatii, Giorgione. L’opera completa, Milan: Alfieri Edizioni d’Arte, 1978, no. A 25, plate 208.

[3] Giancarlo Fiorenza, ‘Pandolfo Collenuccio’s Specchio d’Esopo and the Portrait of the Courtier’, I Tatti studies, vol. 9, 2001, pp. 63–87.

[4] See Maria Elisabetta Manca, ‘Accademia Carrara 1796–1835: la gestione commissariale tra conservazione e innovazione’, in Rosanna Paccanelli, Maria Grazia Recanati and Francesco Rossi, Giacomo Carrara (1714–1796) e il collezionismo d’arte a Bergamo, Bergamo: Accademia Carrara, 1999, pp. 322–31.

[5] Accademia, Venice. See Linda Borean and Stefania Mason (eds), Figure di collezionisti a Venezia tra Cinque e Seicento, Udine: Forum, 2002.

[6] Manuscript in the Accademia Carrara archives. My thanks to Elisabetta Manca for these references.

[7] Museo Correr, Venice.

[8] Attribution to Bastiani recorded by Francesco Rossi, Accademia Carrara, Bergamo: Catalogo dei dipinti, Bergamo: Grafica Gutenberg Editrice, 1979, p. 43.

[9] Antonio Vivarini (c. 1418–c. 1480);  Vittore Carpaccio (1460/1466–1525/1526).