How Titian Painted Himself

The basis of this site is its name: that every painter paints himself. We believe, contrary to conventional belief, that all poetic art is an image of the poet's own mind. Nowhere is the truth of this more easily demonstrable than in portraiture. Indeed, so many famous portraits resemble the artist in his or her own self-portrait that likeness was clearly not an artist's principal goal. It may have been what the patron expected but it is not what great masters provided. Take Titian. 

Emperor Charles V was the most powerful ruler of the day but even his portrait by Titian resembles the artist. There is no doubt that Titian retained enough of the Emperor's own features to maintain an arguable likeness to the sitter. Nevertheless, the resemblance to the artist is equally obvious.

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Captions for image(s) above:

L: Titian, Detail of Emperor Charles V (1548) Oil on canvas. Alte Pinakothek, Munich
R: Detail of engraving after lost self-portrait of Titian

Click image to enlarge.

Amazingly, Titian's portrait of Pope Paul III resembles the same self-portrait even though the face is quite different and probably resembled the Pope as much as the prior portrait resembled the Emperor. By fusing features, Titian allowed each viewer to corroborate their own expectations. 

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Captions for image(s) above:

L: Titian, Pope Paul III (1543) Oil on canvas. Museo di Capodimonte, Naples
R: Detail of engraving after lost self-portrait of Titian

Click image to enlarge.

And, lastly, a third portrait of the Duke of Urbino resembles the same self-portrait. This may be why the future husband of an adolescent Archduchess on receiving a portrait of her by Titian was assured at the same time that the portrait resembled the sitter "as much as a wolf does a donkey."1

See conclusion below

Captions for image(s) above:

L: Titian, Francesco II Della Rovere, Duke of Urbino. (1536-1538) Oil on canvas, Uffizi Gallery, Florence
R: Detail of engraving after lost self-portrait of Titian

Click image to enlarge.

The reasons why Titian and other artists painted themselves are complex. When Titian was painting these portraits, secular art was still relatively novel. Most art in the Middle Ages had been religious and, as you can discover under the Inner Tradition, medieval artists believed, in common with mystics, that divinity (and reality) was inside one's own mind. When a demand for realistic portraiture reappeared after a thousand-year absence in the first half of the fifteenth century, artists continued to paint their inner selves. It was a part of artistic tradition. The idea that naturalistic art portrays the exterior world was a concept developed by Renaissance patrons and art theorists, not artists, who continued to paint representations of their own minds and remained silent. They have remained so ever since.

See also a series of short papers titled: Who's Who in Portraits.

Notes:

Original Publication Date on EPPH: 09 Dec 2010. © Simon Abrahams. Articles on this site are the copyright of Simon Abrahams. To use copyrighted material in print or other media for purposes beyond 'fair use', you must obtain permission from the copyright owner. Websites may link to this page without permission (please do) but may not reproduce the material on their own site without crediting Simon Abrahams and EPPH.