Titian’s Portrait of a Gentleman (c.1520)

This portrait has been the subject of a long-running identity hunt. It depicts a man with his right hand on a book in the lower right-hand corner. Specialists find it curious because its pose and composition are unlike other Titian portraits but similar, as pointed out in an exhibition catalogue, to those "adopted by Raphael in portraying the intellectuals of his day." The curators also note, clearly mystified, that the man bears some resemblance to Raphael's 1518 self-portrait.1

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Captions for image(s) above:

Titian, Portrait of a Gentleman (c.1520) Oil on canvas. Palazzo Pitti, Florence

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If we compare the man's face to Raphael's (far left), the beard, moustache and shape of the eyebrows are identical. The man, then, clearly represents Raphael even if it is not Raphael. However, no-one has noted that he also resembles Titian.

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Captions for image(s) above:

Left: Detail of Raphael's self-portrait in Raphael and A Friend (1518) Oil on canvas. Louvre, Paris
Right: Detail of Titian's Portrait of a Gentleman (c.1520)

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If the gentleman's head is placed next to Titian's presumed self-portrait as John the Baptist in 1515 (far left), one of very few early self-portraits, there appears to be strong similarity to Titian as well, even when compared to a profile.

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Captions for image(s) above:

Left: Detail after Titian's Self-portrait as John the Baptist in Salome with the Head of John the Baptist (c.1515) Doria-Pamphilj Gallery, Rome
Right: Detail of Titian's Portrait of a Gentleman (c.1520)

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How does this all make sense? The portrait is dated around 1520, the year of Raphael's untimely death. Thus, more than likely, this portrait is Titian's memorial tribute to a great master who even though he competed against him in life now honors him in death. Titian, identifying with Raphael, has painted (or more properly, imagined) a portrait of himself in the style and pose that Raphael himself used "in portraying the intellectuals of his day." The sitter, assuming there was one, is hardly present in this mirror-reflection (or mental image) of "the artist".  

Captions for image(s) above:

Titian, Portrait of a Gentleman (c.1520) Oil on canvas. Palazzo Pitti, Florence

Click image to enlarge.

Notes:

This article was first published in March 2012.

1. Renaissance Venice and the North: Cross-currents in the Time of Bellini, Dürer and Titian, ed. Berbard Aikema and Beverly Louise Brown (New York: Rizzoli) 2000, p. 378

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