Italian (Venetian School), 1470-1531
Oil on poplar panel
Gift of the Samuel H. Kress Foundation
Although information on Vicenzo Catena’s life is scarce, he has managed to be a surprisingly divisive figure in art history. He was criticized by modern critics for being unoriginal, owing to the fact that his paintings of religious subjects are considered derivative of other artists and styles. He was, however, highly respected in his time as a portrait artist. Portrait of a Young Man in Black is also surrounded by some controversy. The painting is inscribed with a Latinized name, presumably the name of the subject, and a date in Roman numerals: 1460. This date is too early for Catena to have painted it, so the most likely explanations are that it refers to an event in the life of the subject, or that this is actually a posthumous portrait. Mysteries aside, this portrait is an excellent example of why Catena was so respected by his peers. The dress of the subject and background of the painting are rather plain, but the naturalistic, almost skeptical, facial expression of the sitter gives the portrait a lively quality.