The Kimbell's 2001 exhibition European Masterpieces: Six Centuries of Paintings from the National Gallery of Victoria, Australia brought together—for the first time in over 400 years—two versions of Jacopo Tintoretto's Portrait of Doge Pietro Loredan. The version belonging to the Kimbell was hung next to its Melbourne mate throughout the exhibition, providing a rare opportunity for visitors and scholars alike to examine the two paintings side by side. Their similarities are striking, but it is their differences that provide insights into both Tintoretto’s studio practice and 16th-century Venetian ducal portraiture. These differences may lie in the functions of the paintings. It has been suggested that the Melbourne version served as a modello, a painting that was kept in the studio as a reference from which other versions and variations were painted. The official portrait of Loredan was destroyed in the 1577 fire in the Doge’s Palace. The Kimbell painting may have been the portrait destined for the sitter’s family.
The X-radiographs of both the Melbourne and Kimbell paintings reveal changes by the artist during the painting process. In X-ray images, areas where dense pigments such as lead white were used appear as lighter regions. The wooden framework of the stretcher and the weave of the canvas are also visible.
The focus in the Melbourne paintings is on the sitter's face, which is carefully modeled with thickly built-up highlights and has an immediacy that suggests a study from life. Evidence in the X-radiograph indicates that Tintoretto began with the traditional format of a ducal portrait, but then modified it into a more personal characterization that reflects the weight of the doge's advanced years. The artist dropped the sitter’s right shoulder, moved his head forward, shifted the fur trim of the robe to allow for an expanded waistline, and raised his belt.
The Kimbell portrait suggests a return to a more formal presentation of the sitter with emphasis on the splendor and dignity of the office of the chief magistrate of Venice rather than on Loredan’s individual personality. Although Tintoretto increased the tilt of the doge’s head, his posture appears more rigid due to the straighter lines of the buttons and robes. The X-radiograph shows that originally the lines of the cape and fur trimming were more curved. The additional space that surrounds the doge serves to heighten the impression of remoteness and reserve.
In contrast to the cursory treatment of the hands, fur cape, and red drapery in the Melbourne painting, the Kimbell portrait has the level of finish that would have been expected of a ducal portrait. While research continues into the painting technique of the twin portraits of Doge Loredan, it appears the Kimbell version must have been painted when the two portraits were in Tintoretto’s studio, side by side.