Portrait of a Chorister

Portrait of a Chorister
Marcantonio Bassetti (Italian, 1588-1630)
c. 1620s
Oil on canvas 
31-1/2 x 26 in. (80.01 x 66.04 cm) 
Credit Line:
Norton Simon Art Foundation, from the Estate of Jennifer Jones Simon 
Accession Number:
© Norton Simon Art Foundation 
On View

Dressed in a white surplice, a chorister looks out at us, holding a hymnal. The intimate portrait is distinguished by its unpretentiousness and direct observation, important elements of Bassetti’s style, and consonant with the Baroque pictorial language initiated by Caravaggio and the Carracci. A sense of the unknown subject’s inner life is vividly conveyed by means of his expressive gaze, with lips slightly parted as if to speak. The informality of the portrait suggests that it may have been a friend of the artist. Though the readable music is accurate for the period, its identification eludes us because it shows only the tenor part and contains no text.

Marcantonio Bassetti was a native of the city of Verona. As a youth he studied the paintings of Jacopo Tintoretto and Paolo Veronese in Venice. In Rome, where he is documented in 1616, Bassetti assimilated the characteristics of Caravaggism, some of which appear here—the unarticulated background, pitched in shadow, with a strong directional light source to illuminate the sitter in a moment of suspended action. Bassetti’s great facility with brushwork, in the creamy application of pigment on the vertical folds of the surplice, in the deft touches that describe the lace trim, and in the sensitive build-up of flesh tones on the chorister’s face and hands, recalls his training in the Veneto.


[Sir George Donaldson (1845-1925), Hove, Sussex, by 1895, sold to];
James Mann, Castlecraig, Dolphinton, Peeblesshire (†sale, London, Sotheby’s, 3 July 1929, lot 35, as Spanish School 17th century, sold for £500 to);
[Durlacher Brothers, stock no. 519, sold for $7500, 31 December 1929 to];
Mr. (d. 1944) and Mrs. Percy S. Straus (d. 1957), New York.
Private Collection, New York (sale, New York, Sotheby Parke Bernet, 6 July 1978, lot 248, ill., as Portrait of a Cleric, to);
Norton Simon, by bequest to;
Jennifer Jones Simon Art Trust, to;
Norton Simon Art Foundation.

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