The First Doge of the 16th-Century: Leonardo Loredan
Stoic, calculated, commanding; these few words can be used to describe Venetian painter Giovanni Bellini’s Portrait of Doge Leonardo Loredan from 1501. Recalling Imperial busts from Roman antiquity, Bellini executes a frontal portrait of the Venetian Doge who ruled from 1501 to 1521. With a reign marked by war, more specifically, the War of the League of Cambrai, as well as battle with the Papacy, Doge Leonardo Loredan’s wisdom and experience is exhibited in his portrait. This assertive plasticity of his expression is heightened by the solid light-blue background, which draws the focus to his face, apparent in the Doge’s old age. Bellini’s Portrait of Doge Leonardo Loredan is unusual for a variety of reasons, the first being his pose. In portraiture, regardless of origin, depicting a figure frontally is a pose reserved for sacred subjects such as Christ, as mortal men were almost always depicted in profile. The background is also bare, which is so different from the later portraits of the Doges such as Tintoretto’s Portrait of Doge Sebastiano Venier and his Portrait of Doge Marino Grimani (1576).In this work, Bellini boldly asserts the new standard of Venetian portraiture of the Doge.
An important comparison of Venetian and Florentine portraiture can be made between Giovanni Bellini’s 1501 Portrait of Doge Leonardo Loredan and the 15th century Portrait of Federico da Montefeltro, Duke of Urbino (1465-6) by Piero della Francesca. In this work, the centrail Italian artist Piero della Francesca is most known for essentially setting the standard in Florentine portraiture. Part of a double portrait featuring Montefeltro and the Duchess of Urbino, Battista Sforza, the portrait of Federico da Montefeltro shares some of the same qualities as Bellini’s portrait of Lorenzo Loredan. Undoubtedly Bellini must have referenced this work which was produced only thirty five years before. Both portraits depict these noble men candidly and are unidealized images. Though Piero della Francesca’s portrait is done in profile position, it still has the same effect and conveys the same concepts of position and power as Bellini’s portrait of the Doge. Both portraits are viewed as early works from which both Florentine and Venetian portraiture evolved. Giovanni Bellini’s depiction of the Doge frontally and in the style of an Imperial bust is not a style that is repeated in later 16th century portraits of the Doges. Florentine artists such as Bronzino also do not embody the portraiture style of Piero della Francesca. However, an exception is made for Bronzino's 1551-3 Portrait of Cosimo il Vecchio, in which the Pater patriae of the Medici family is depicted strikingly similarly to Piero della Francesca’s Portrait of the Duke of Urbino, Federico da Montefeltro.
In Giovanni Bellini’s Portrait of Doge Leonardo Loredan as well as in Venetian artist Vittore Carpaccio’s Portrait of Doge Leonardo Loredan (1501), clothing plays an important role in asserting the richness of the Venetian Republic and the prestige of the Doge. Egerton Beck’s article “Ecclesiastical Dress in Art,” discusses almost every aspect of clothing worn by clergymen, though he also discusses the clothing work by the Doge. A prominent feature in the portraits of Doge Leonardo Loredan by both Bellini and Carpaccio depict the Doge in a curious type of headdress and cap which is seen throughout portraiture of the Doges. Beck begins by comparing the headdress to the headdress of the Pope, “a similar headdress was worn by the Doge of Venice under the corno, or ducal cap; this is seen Bellini’s portrait of the Doge Leonard Loredano.” This cap is a feature which distinguishes the Doge from any other ruler. The rich brocade on the gown of Doge Leonardo Loredan is featured in both Bellini and Carpaccio’s work. Attention to the quality of the detail on the cloth conveys its lavishness and expense as a fabric only a wealthy person could afford.
 Beck, Egerton, “Ecclesiastical Dress in Art”, The Burlington Magazine for Connoisseurs, 8, no.33, (1905), 198
When examining Bronzino’s Portrait of Cosimo il Vecchio (1551-3) alongside Vittore Carpaccio’s Portrait of Doge Leonardo Loredan (1501) for comparison purposes, this attention to detail in the clothing is illuminated. Bronzino portrays Cosimo I de’ Medici in the same profile position as Carpaccio’s depiction of Doge Leonardo Loredan. Their faces both are defined by wrinkles, and the heavy lines under their eyes denoting both wisdom and old age. Though the Doge’s status is enhanced by his rich gown of sepia-colored brocade and his ducal cap, Bronzino represents Cosimo il Vecchio de’ Medici dressed lavishly understated. Though this may seem oxymoronic, Cosimo il Vecchio is adorned in what appear to be simple red robes and a rounded red cap, yet upon closer examination, the sumptuousness of the red fabric and the fur collar of his robe can be noted. Bronzino emphasizes his wealth and power in this portrait, set against a black background.