During the mid-16th century, Jacopo Tintoretto, aided by his workshop, supplied more pictures for the Venetian state than any other artist. In competition at different points with Titian and Veronese, Tintoretto thrived, whether undercutting his rivals on price or outwitting them to steal commissions, such as in the well-told episode for the Scuola di San Rocco. In particular, he appreciated the value of the portrait as a means to promote and publicise his work: he offered his services widely as a portraitist, serving to spread his name throughout the city and beyond and open up the chances of further, more rewarding commissions. However, his skill lay not simply in knowing how to manoeuvre his way through this overcrowded market: he was, first and foremost, a highly adept portraitist.
In Tintoretto’s early portraits, which date from around 1545, his debt to Titian is clear, with his use of a restrained palette, setting darkly clothed figures against a sombre background. But he soon developed a distinctive style characterised by a greater immediacy and naturalness: it permitted him not simply to produce a likeness of his sitter, but to explore an individual’s character and psychological depth with deceptive ease. The bravura of his style, all free flowing strokes and intuitive touches, created portraits of equal vigour: his sitters – which included many members of the political and intellectual elite of the Venetian republic – are urbane and knowing. When this picture was recorded in the collection of Franz Joseph I, Emperor of Austria in 1884, it was given to Domenico, but its execution is in fact characteristic of his father Jacopo.