Ranuccio Farnese was 11 years old when Titian began to paint his portrait. Adult responsibility came to Ranuccio when he was still a child, as Titian brilliantly conveyed through the cloak of office, too large and heavy, sliding off the boy’s small shoulders.
When this painting was commissioned, Ranuccio had been sent to Venice by his grandfather, Pope Paul III, to become prior of an important property belonging to the Knights of Malta. A member of the powerful and aristocratic Farnese family, Ranuccio went on to an illustrious ecclesiastical career. He was made archbishop of Naples at the age of 14; by the time he was 19, he was patriarch of Constantinople and archbishop of Ravenna. He became archbishop of Milan in 1564, shortly before dying when he was only 35 years old.
Portraits by Titian were in great demand, distinguished as they were for their remarkable insight into character and their brilliant technique. Here, he limited his palette to black, white, and rose and enlivened the surface with light: the dull gleam rippling over the sleeves of the velvet cloak, the pattern flickering across the slashed doublet, and the changing reflections on the satin Maltese Cross.
Titian may have been motivated to approach this painting with particular care in the hope of securing papal patronage and work with the wealthy and influential Farneses. With the success of Ranuccio’s depiction, Titian was soon invited to paint a portrait of Paul III. His initial contacts with the papal family were followed by numerous additional Farnese commissions.
Ranuccio Farnese (1530–1565) was the grandson of Pope Paul III (reigned 1534–1549); the third son of Pierluigi Farnese, duke of Castro (1503–1547); and the younger brother of Cardinal Alessandro Farnese (1520–1589).
For Ranuccio Farnese’s biography, see Gigliola Fragnito, “Ranuccio Farnese,” in Dizionario biografico degli italiani, ed. Alberto Maria Ghisalberti (Rome, 1995), 45:148–160.
Also known as San Giovanni dei Furlani, or San Giovanni dei Templari (after its previous owners, the Knights Templar), the church passed in 1312 to the order of the Knights Hospitaller (known after 1530 as the Knights of Malta). See Umberto Franzoi, Le chiese di Venezia (Venice, 1975), 495.
Roberto Zapperi, “Tiziano e i Farnese: Aspetti economici del rapporto di committenza,” Bolletino d’arte 76 (1991): 39.
The fullest contemporary information about the circumstances of the commission is provided by a letter from Leoni in Padua to Cardinal Alessandro in Rome, dated September 22, 1542. Leoni wrote that the bishop of Brescia was about to return to Rome, bringing with him the completed portrait; that the bishop commissioned it as a gift for the boy’s mother (Gerolama Orsini, duchess of Castro); and that it demonstrates Titian’s extraordinary skill as a portraitist, especially since it was executed partly in the presence of the sitter and partly in his absence.
“V. S. Rev.ma et Ill.ma saperà come il Vescovo di Brescia si va preparando al ritorno di Roma, er porterà seco un ritratto del Signor Priore, ch’egli ha fatto fare dal divino Titiano, disignato alla Signora Duchessa, dove si potrà ben admirare la su virtù, massimamente per haverlo fatto parte in presentia et parte in absentia del Signor Priore.” See Celso Fabbro, “Tiziano, i Farnese e l’abbazia di San Pietro in Colle nel Cenedese,” Archivio storico di Belluno, Feltre e Cadore 38 (1967): 3. A different passage in the same letter was already quoted by Amadeo Ronchini, “Delle relazioni di Tiziano coi Farnesi,” Atti e memorie delle RR Deputazioni di Storia Patria per le Provincie Modenesi e Parmensi 2 (1864): 130.
As is revealed by a letter from the painter’s friend Pietro Aretino to the sculptor Leone Leoni in July 1539,
Pietro Aretino, Lettere, ed. Paolo Procaccioli (Rome, 1998), 2:128–130.
Wilhelm Suida, “Miscellanea Tizianesca,” Arte veneta 6 (1952): 38–40.
Pietro Bembo, Lettere, ed. Ernesto Travi (Bologna, 1993), 4:371–372.
Gigliola Fragnito, “Ranuccio Farnese,” in Dizionario biografico degli italiani, ed. Alberto Maria Ghisalberti (Rome, 1995), 45:148–160.
The priorship of San Giovanni di Malta was the first in a succession of ecclesiastical offices and benefices conferred on Ranuccio. In 1544 he was made archbishop of Naples; in 1545 he became cardinal of Santa Lucia in Selci (a title later exchanged for that of Sant’Angelo); in 1549 he was made patriarch of Constantinople and archbishop of Ravenna; and in 1564, shortly before his premature death, he became archbishop of Milan.
Georg Gronau, “Zwei Tizianische Bildnisse der Berliner Galerie,” Jahrbuch der Königlich Preussischen Kunstsammlungen 27 (1906): 3–12.
Clare Robertson, Il Gran Cardinale: Alessandro Farnese, Patron of the Arts (New Haven and London, 1992), 137–139, 142, 177.
After being sent to Rome at the end of 1542, the portrait was presumably hung with other family portraits in the Palazzo Farnese. As pointed out by Francis Kelly, it was used by
Francis M. Kelly, “Note on an Italian Portrait at Doughty House,” The Burlington Magazine for Connoisseurs 75 (August 1939): 75–77.
See Lionel Cust, A Description of the Sketch-book by Sir Anthony Van Dyck (London, 1902), 22–23; Gert Adriani, Anton Van Dyck, Italienisches Skizzenbuch (Vienna, 1940), 69.
See Provenance, notes 1, 2.
When the picture resurfaced in the Cook collection toward the end of the 19th century, John Charles Robinson accepted the signature as genuine, and because of the Neapolitan provenance, he accurately conjectured that the sitter was a member of the Farnese family.
John Charles Robinson, “The Gallery of Pictures of Old Masters, formed by Francis Cook, Esq., of Richmond,” The Art Journal (1885): 134, 136.
Amadeo Ronchini, “Delle relazioni di Tiziano coi Farnesi,” Atti e memorie delle RR Deputazioni di Storia Patria per le Provincie Modenesi e Parmensi 2 (1864): 129–130, 145; Joseph Archer Crowe and Giovanni Battista Cavalcaselle, Titian, His Life and Times (London, 1877), 2:75–79; Georg Gronau, “Zwei Tizianische Bildnisse der Berliner Galerie,” Jahrbuch der Königlich Preussischen Kunstsammlungen 27 (1906): 3–7.
For Cook’s opinion, see Herbert Cook, “La collection de Sir Frederick Cook, Visconde de Monserrate,” Les Arts no. 44 (August 1905): 5–6. For the Berlin version, see Gemäldegalerie Berlin: Gesamtverzeichnis der Gemälde (London, 1986), 175. Painted on a much-reduced scale on panel, this has sometimes been thought to be a copy by El Greco (for instance, by Ellis Waterhouse, “El Greco’s Italian Period,” Art Studies 8, pt. 1 : 70–71, 85), and sometimes by Francesco Salviati, on the basis of an inscription on the back.
In a note appended to his corresponding entry in the catalog of the Cook collection, Tancred Borenius rejected the portrait, adding that “the slovenly signature is obviously a forgery.” But Cook disagreed, declaring in the same entry, “I cannot share any doubt as to the authenticity of this portrait; unfortunately its condition leaves much to be wished for, and this must explain its failure to command universal recognition.” See Tancred Borenius, A Catalogue of the Paintings at Doughty House, Richmond, and Elsewhere in the Collection of Sir Frederick Cook Bt., vol. 1, Italian Schools, ed. Herbert Cook (London, 1913), 170.
Oskar Fischel, Tizian: Des Meisters Gemälde, 3rd ed. (Stuttgart and Leipzig, 1907), 99, 236; Charles Ricketts, Titian (London, 1910), 107 n. 1; Tancred Borenius, A Catalogue of the Paintings at Doughty House, Richmond, and Elsewhere in the Collection of Sir Frederick Cook Bt., vol. 1, Italian Schools, ed. Herbert Cook (London, 1913), 170; Salomon Reinach, Répertoire de peintures du moyen âge et de la Renaissance (1280–1580) (Paris, 1923), 6:245; Bernard Berenson, Italian Pictures of the Renaissance: A List of the Principal Artists and Their Works with an Index of Places (Oxford, 1932), 574.
Wilhelm Suida, Tizian (Zurich and Leipzig, 1933), 89–90, 103, 165; Hans Tietze, Tizian: Leben und Werk (Vienna, 1936), 1:174, 307.
Following John Pope-Hennessy,
John Pope-Hennessy, The Portrait in the Renaissance (London and New York, 1966), 279–280, 326.
David Rosand, Titian (New York, 1978), 114.
Peter Meller, “Il lessico ritrattistico di Tiziano,” in Tiziano e Venezia: Convegno internazionale di studi (1976) (Vicenza, 1980), 332.
Luba Freedman, “Titian’s Portrait of Clarissa Strozzi: The State Portrait of a Child,” Jahrbuch der Berliner Museen 39 (1989): 177.
Rodolfo Pallucchini, Tiziano (Florence, 1969), 1:99, 107, 277.
March 21, 2019
center right: TITIANVS / .f.
Farnese family, Parma, by 1644; Farnese family, Palazzo del Giardino, Parma, by 1680; Farnese family, Palazzo della Pilotta, Parma, by 1708; by inheritance 1734 to the Bourbon collection, Naples; Bourbon collection, Palazzo di Capodimonte, Naples, by 1765; Bourbon collection, Palazzo Francavilla, Naples, by 1802; Bourbon collection, Palazzo degli Studi, Naples, by 1816. brought from Naples to London by Sir George Donaldson [1845-1925], London; sold May 1880 to Sir John Charles Robinson [1824-1913], London; sold to Sir Francis Cook, 1st bt. [1817-1901], Doughty House, Richmond, Surrey, by 1885; by inheritance to his son, Sir Frederick Lucas Cook, 2nd bt. [1844-1920], Doughty House; by inheritance to his son, Sir Herbert Frederick Cook, 3rd bt. [1868-1939], Doughty House; by inheritance to his son, Sir Francis Ferdinand Maurice Cook, 4th bt. [1907-1978], Doughty House, and Cothay Manor, Somerset; sold June or July 1947 to (Gualtiero Volterra, London) for (Count Alessandro Contini-Bonacossi, Florence); sold July 1948 to the Samuel H. Kress Foundation, New York; gift 1952 to NGA.
- Zapadnoevropeiskaia i Amerikanskaia zhivopis is muzeev ssha [West European and American Painting from the Museums of USA], State Hermitage Museum, Leningrad; State Pushkin Museum, Moscow; State Museums, Kiev and Minsk, 1976, unpaginated and unnumbered catalogue.
- The Genius of Venice 1500-1600, Royal Academy of Arts, London, 1983-1984, no. 121, repro.
- Tiziano [NGA title: Titian: Prince of Painters], Palazzo Ducale, Venice; National Gallery of Art, Washington, 1990-1991, no. 33, repro.
- A Gift to America: Masterpieces of European Painting from the Samuel H. Kress Collection, four venues, 1994-1995, no. 2, repro. (shown only at first two venues: North Carolina Museum of Art, Raleigh, and Museum of Fine Arts, Houston).
- I Farnese: Arte e Collezionismo, Palazzo Ducale di Colorno, Parma; Haus der Kunst, Munich; Galleria Nazionale di Capodimonte, Naples, 1995-1996, no. 26, repro. (shown only in Munich and Naples).
- Titian, The National Gallery, London; Museo Nacional del Prado, Madrid, 2003, no. 25 (English catalogue), no. 22 (Spanish catalogue), repros.
- Titian, Tintoretto, Veronese: Rivals in Renaissance Venice, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston; Musée du Louvre, Paris, 2009-2010, no. 42 (English catalogue), no. 43 (French catalogue), repros.
- Tiziano, Scuderie del Quirinale, Rome, 2013, no. 22, repro.
- Loan to display with permanent collection, Wadsworth Atheneum, Hartford, 2015-2016.
The plainly woven, medium-weight support, which was last lined during conservation treatment in 1948–1950, is covered with an exceptionally thin layer of white ground. The paint is applied in thin, opaque layers throughout, with some low, textured brushwork in the white collar and in the highlights of the sword hilt and belt. Dark, shadowed areas of the face are modeled wet into wet with the flesh paint of the surface and are not, as might be assumed, areas of dark-colored ground left exposed. Examination of the painting with infrared did not reveal any underdrawing, nor did the x-radiographs indicate any major pentimenti, but both infrared reflectography (Vidicon)
Infrared reflectography was performed with a Hamamatsu c/1000-03 Vidicon camera and a Kodak Wratten 87A filter.
Close examination of the signature with a binocular microscope did not reveal any cause to question its authenticity. The paint surface suffers from moderate general abrasion, particularly in the face, and elsewhere throughout the composition, the paint is abraded down to the tops of the dark-colored threads of the fabric support. Records indicate that the painting was lined by Stephen Pichetto in 1948 and cleaned and restored by Mario Modestini in 1949–1950.
Peter Humfrey and Joanna Dunn based on the examination report by Paula De Cristofaro
March 21, 2019
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