An unidentified gentleman, probably a member of the Neapolitan aristocracy, glances at the observer, holding a composed and an almost amused expression. He is dressed in an expensive embroidered silk long jacket, close-fitting at the waist and wider towards the knees, enriched with golden buttons. The petticoat, or sottabito, is elegantly decorated with abstract orange floral motifs. A velvet tricorn, a walking cane, and a small sword almost hidden in the lower right complete his elegant outfit.
The sitter is indicating a design for a tomb monument, which is inscribed with the emblematic words: DALLA CULLA ALLA TOMBA / UN BREVE PASSO (‘from the cradle to the grave – a short step.’) The oval portrait incorporated into the design of the monument is a miniature version of this portrait itself, suggesting this is the sitter’s own tomb monument. Beneath the drawing are a map, possibly of the coast of Naples, and a compass, indicating the need to navigate a careful course through life.
Giuseppe Bonito was one of the most skilled portrait painters of the mid eighteenth century and distinguished himself not only in genre scenes of everyday life but also in his portraits of the Neapolitan aristocracy and the Bourbon family. These combine the Neapolitan tradition of expressive naturalism with psychological and sentimental aspects.
Giuseppe Bonito Portrait of a Gentleman About 1740 © Compton Verney