Titian’s Pope Paul III and His Grandsons (1545-6)

This well-known painting by Titian of the aging Pope Paul III with his two grandsons has, like most great masterpieces, more to it than often meets the eye. Titian had painted a single-figure portrait of the Pope two or three years earlier in which he looks significantly younger. As I have already shown of that painting, the Pope is the spitting image of Titian.

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Captions for image(s) above:

Titian, Pope Paul III and His Grandsons (1545-6) Oil on canvas. Museo di Capodimonte, Naples

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From the curve of the eyebrow to the shape of the moustache there can be little doubt that Titian has fused his own features with the Pope's. Yet a distinguished art historian writes: "The sitter's facial features have been forcefully and perceptively taken from life, capturing both the physical likeness and the highly intelligent personality of the Pope."1 The illusion in art, it seems, is not the illusion of reality but, the reverse, the illusion that it is reality.

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Captions for image(s) above:

L: Titian, Portrait of Pope Paul III, detail (1543) Oil on canvas. Museo di Capodimonte, Naples.
R: Britto, Engraved detail after Titian's lost Self-portrait.

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The pontiff in his later portrait, whose apparent age belies the three-year gap between the two, still looks remarkably like Titian. He thus clearly represents the artist's pathway to God. Pontiff, after all, derives from the Latin for bridge, thus signalling the Pope's ability to straddle the material world and the divine one.

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Captions for image(s) above:

L: Detail of Titian's Pope Paul III and His Grandsons, rotated.
R: Britto, Engraved detail after Titian's lost Self-portrait.

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Just as Titian's likeness has not been seen nor has the veiled image in the Pope's hand (left) though I reveal similar images in Titian's Danae.2 Here the papal ring is the artist's eye, the bent finger his nose and the shading below his beard. Titian's eye and hand, like his vision and craft, are one. The prevalence of this method is little known beyond this website yet has been practiced since the Middle Ages.3 Although you might expect it in Picasso's fractured images, it is just as common in the smooth illusions of Titian and his Renaissance peers. There, though, the illusion beguiles us to sleep.
 

Captions for image(s) above:

Detail of Titian's Pope Paul III and His Grandsons with inset of Titian's later Self-portrait (c.1550-1562)

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Notes:

1. Pierre Rosenberg in Titian (Washington: National Gallery of Art) 1991, p. 246

2. Simon Abrahams, Titian's Danae (all versions), 8th Feb. 2012

3. See examples by Albrecht Dürer in Abrahams, "Hidden Faces: Art in the Artist's Mind", June 2007.

Original Publication Date on EPPH: 18 May 2013. © 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.