A Man with a Quilted Sleeve is a painting of about 1510 by Titian in the National Gallery, London. There has been much discussion as to the identity of the sitter. It was long thought to be a portrait of Ariosto, then a self-portrait, but in 2017 is called Portrait of Gerolamo (?) Barbarigo by the gallery, having also been called merely Portrait of a Man, the title used here, The Man with the Blue Sleeve, and no doubt other variants.
Placing a parapet, a low wood or stone sill or ledge, between the subject and the viewer is a common feature of early Renaissance Italian portraits, as a useful way of solving "the principal compositional problem" of portraits at less than full-length, how "to justify the cutting of the figure". By having the large sleeve project slightly beyond the parapet, Titian "subverts" the usual barrier effect, bringing the picture space into "our space" as viewers. The turning pose, with the head slightly tilt and an eyebrow appearing raised, exactly halfway across the composition, adds life and drama. The sleeve is brilliantly painted, and the "merging of the shadowed portions of the figure with the grey atmospheric background ... is one of the most innovative and influential aspects of the painting".
The work's attribution and dating are based on its style, its ambigious signature (previously expanded to TITIANUS with a TV monogram by a later hand), and comparison with other Titian works, such as La Schiavona. The dates assigned have all been in the period of about 1509-1512; a painting in the Hermitage Museum that is "obviously inspired by it" is dated 1512. The letters "T. V." on the parapet are usually taken as Titian's initials (his name was "Tiziano Vecellio"), though there is a second V visible in infra-red reflectography, so the painting once might have carried "the mysterious abbreviation "VV"", which appears in various Venetian portraits, including several works attributed to Giorgione, such as the Giustiniani Portrait or the Gentleman with a book, as well as Titian's La Schiavona. Various moral mottos, such as "virtus vincit (omnia)" ("virtue conquers all") have been proposed as the meaning. "VV" is not usually regarded as a signature, but "TV" might be Titian's. The painting was once attributed to Giorgione.
The painting was cleaned in 1949, when the later parts of the signature were painted over. The blue sleeve is well preserved, parts of the face and the area around the hand are rubbed, and the sill is "extensively restored".
It was previously thought to be a portrait of the poet Ludovico Ariosto, but this is dismissed by all modern critics; even when it entered the National Gallery in 1904 it was only "tentatively" so identified, as it does not resemble other portraits of Ariosto, such as (probably) one by Palma Vecchio also in the Gallery. It was first suggested in 1895 that it portrays a man from the Barbarigo family, as such a Titian portrait of "a gentleman from the House of Barbarigo, [the artist's] friend, who he held in high esteem", was described precisely by Vasari.
The Barberigo identification has met with some resistance. Charles Hope, reviewing an exhibition including the piece in the National Gallery in the London Review of Books concluded that claims on early Titian are still too speculative, asking "Why not admit that we still don’t know very much about Venetian painting in the first decade of the 16th century, instead of pretending to a knowledge that we do not possess?" Nonetheless it is currently supported by the National Gallery.
Cecil Gould and Kenneth Clark thought that the painting might be a self-portrait by Titian; there are no others before his old age to compare the likeness with. The pose is convenient for a right-handed artist painting himself in a mirror, and the convex mirrors of the day may account for the slightly supercilious air of the subject, seeming to look down his nose at the viewer. Rembrandt saw the painting in Amsterdam and the next year copied the pose in his Self-portrait at the age of 34 (also National Gallery) as well as a self-portrait etching of 1639.
The work, or possibly a copy of it, was part of the collection of Alfonso Lopez, an art dealer in Amsterdam in 1639, where Rembrandt would have seen it, and it was engraved, with an inscribed identification as Ariosto. This, identified as Ariosto, was apparently sold in Paris in December 1641, and a letter survives written to a friend to advise Anthony van Dyck it was up for sale, and praising it. Van Dyck may have arranged to buy it, though he would have been dead before it arrived, as he died in London on 9 December. But a Titian portrait of Ariosto is mentioned in the inventory of his estate. It was possibly bought by Charles I – a Titian portrait of Ariosto was listed in a catalogue of his goods in 1644, perhaps from Van Dyck's estate.
The first certain appearance of the present picture was in the collection of John Bligh, 4th Earl of Darnley at Cobham Hall by 1824; he and his successors exhibited it several times, at the British Institution, the Art Treasures Exhibition, Manchester 1857, and the Royal Academy, and it became well-known, as did a version once at Mentmore Towers, now regarded as a copy.
It was sold to Sir George Donaldson in 1904. After some negotiation, the National Gallery acquired it from Donaldson for £30,000, the price he had paid for it, with contributions from Lord Iveagh, Waldorf Astor, J. Pierpoint Morgan, Alfred Beit, the government, and others. The sale marked something of a turning-point, after two decades or more when outstanding works from aristocratic British collections had been allowed to cross the Atlantic. Similar arrangements would bring Holbein's Portrait of Christina of Denmark (1909, £72,000) and Jan Gossaert's Adoration of the Kings (1911, £40,000) to the National Gallery.