Portrait of a Left-Handed Gentleman with Two Quartos and a Letter ('Il Gentile Cavaliere')

Image credit: The National Gallery, London

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The traditional Italian title of this portrait, ‘Il Gentile Cavaliere’, means ‘the well-born gentleman’. The prominent sword, a symbol of gentility, and the books suggest that he is a man of action as well as learning. He holds a letter addressed ‘al...Sig’ (To Lord), but the name is now illegible. Below that is written ‘Berg’, for Bergamo. His black costume decorated with gold braid and the style of his hat are similar to those worn at the French court. An unusually large number of old versions of this portrait survive, which may suggest that the sitter was someone important. Since the sword is worn on the man’s right side, he must be left-handed. It is very rare to find an explicit reference to left-handedness in a portrait of this date, as it generally had negative associations.

The National Gallery, London



Portrait of a Left-Handed Gentleman with Two Quartos and a Letter ('Il Gentile Cavaliere')


about 1564-5


Oil on canvas


H 100.4 x W 81.2 cm

Accession number


Acquisition method

Bequeathed by the Misses Cohen as part of the John Samuel collection, 1906

Work type



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