Director Emeritus Grant Holcomb speaks about this object.
In a room regaled with portraits by such luminaries as Rembrandt, and Hals and van Dyke, it may seem strange that I'm always first drawn to this haunting portrait of a young man—this capturing of an arrested moment, as though we have interrupted his contemplation of Albrecht Durer's woodcut entitled The Man of Sorrows Seated.
The dark palette, dramatic lighting and the strong naturalism indicate the artist's familiarity with the work of the 17th-century master Caravaggio. (In fact, this painting had been sold as a Caravaggio in the 19th century.) But, aside from the art historical associations, the interrupted moment, the slightly parted lips (as though he was about to speak), the curl sweeping around the left cheek and the deftly painted right thumb holding the print are all equally engaging and significant.
The identity of the sitter is not known. Perhaps, as some speculate, the plain attire and the religious print suggest a man of the cloth. We do know that Paolini’s two brothers were priests. Or, perhaps, this is simply a portrait of a man of cultivation and learning, the full light illuminating his forehead (his mind) and a lambent light reflecting his visual and literary interests from the print in his hand to the books and scrolls at the upper right hand side of the painting.
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