The expression of calculating, almost cruel, appraisal—amplified by his closed fist—gives this man an aggressive air, but we do not know his identity. The inscription on the parapet does not help. These letters, VVO, have been interpreted as a form of the Latin vivo (in life). This would suggest that the portrait was painted from life and that it confers on both subject and painter a measure of immortality. It may more likely, however, be an abbreviation of a humanist motto, perhaps virtus vincit omnia (virtue conquers all).
Like other paintings associated with Giorgione, this one presents difficulties of attribution. Both Titian and Sebastiano are know to have completed works that remained unfinished when Giorgione died prematurely in his early thirties. (It was said that Giorgione contracted the plague from his mistress.) A second hand seems to be at work in this painting. The portrait's format, with subject glancing sidelong at the viewer from behind a parapet, was developed by Giorgione, and the soft, shadowy gradations of tone also recall his style. However, its aggressive mood points to a painter with a bolder brush and more active, worldly outlook, like Titian.