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Peter Humfrey, “Anonymous Artist, Titian/Andrea de' Franceschi/late 16th or early 17th century,” Italian Paintings of the Sixteenth Century, NGA Online Editions, (accessed May 17, 2024).

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Mar 21, 2019 Version

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Andrea de’ Franceschi pursued a highly successful career in the civil service, ultimately rising to become grand chancellor of Venice. This office, which was the highest attainable to any Venetian from a nonnoble family, was held for life. In rank it was senior to that of senator, and it was junior only to that of doge and procurator of San Marco.

A 17th-century biographer of Titian noted that De’ Franceschi was a close friend of the painter. De’ Franceschi’s will, dated 1535, mentions that at the time he owned two portraits of himself by Titian. Evidence indicates that this painting was not one of them, as the style is difficult to reconcile with that of Titian. The handling of paint is harsher and cruder, and the colors are less subtly modulated. Also, scientific analysis of the present portrait reveals no underdrawing or alterations that would suggest it is an original composition. The work is most likely a copy either of a version of the composition now in the Detroit Institute of Arts, or of another close version of it. The Gallery’s painting has been cut along the bottom; originally, the sitter may have been depicted holding a letter, as he does in other versions of this portrait.


The portrait is known in two other main versions, respectively in the Detroit Institute of Arts [fig. 1] and the Royal Collection [fig. 2]; in the latter, known as Titian and His Friends, the sitter is accompanied by portraits of Titian himself (a variant of the Self-Portrait in the Gemäldegalerie, Berlin) and of another man (a variant of the male portrait in the Fine Arts Museum of San Francisco). (A third version, in the Indianapolis Museum of Art, clearly represents the same sitter, but at a significantly more advanced age.) Both of the other main versions show the sitter in waist length and include his left hand holding a letter. The truncation of the tablet with an inscription in the present version indicates that the picture has been cut at the left edge, and the technical evidence suggesting that it has also been cut below confirms the natural supposition that this version likewise originally included the hand holding the letter.

Critics have not always agreed about the relative merits of the various versions. The Royal Collection group portrait was generally accepted as an autograph painting by Titian until it was demoted by Joseph Archer Crowe and Giovanni Battista Cavalcaselle in 1877,[1] and although its exact status remains problematic, it is now universally regarded as inferior to and considerably later than the Detroit version.[2] Crowe and Cavalcaselle, Bernard Berenson, Charles Holmes, Hans Tietze, Wilhelm Suida, and Gunter Troche all accepted the Gallery’s version as autograph, and the last two even considered it to be superior to that in Detroit.[3] But Rodolfo Pallucchini, followed by Harold Wethey, Fern Rusk Shapley, John Shearman, and Filippo Pedrocco, thought the opposite to be the case;[4] and, indeed, compared with the pictorially and psychologically much more refined Detroit version, the present picture appears coarse and veristic. The absence of any underdrawing or pentimenti (see Technical Summary) further suggests that it postdates the Detroit version and was based on it.

The sitter was first identified, with respect to the Royal Collection picture, as Andrea de’ Franceschi, grand chancellor of Venice, by Anna Jameson, on the basis of an engraved portrait after Titian.[5] Crowe and Cavalcaselle rejected the identification, proposing instead that the sitter is the mosaicist Francesco Zuccato, on the grounds that Carlo Ridolfi described a picture in which Titian portrayed himself with Zuccato.[6] But in 1927 Jameson’s identification was independently reaffirmed from two different quarters. Berenson pointed out that the sitter reappears prominently in a group of bystanders next to the papal throne in Palma Giovane’s Pope Alexander III and Doge Ziani Receiving the Emperor’s Son, painted circa 1583 for the Sala del Maggior Consiglio in the Doge’s Palace (in situ),[7] and that Ridolfi had mentioned the presence of Andrea de’ Franceschi in this group.[8] Berenson further pointed out that Palma Giovane’s posthumous portrait must have been based on an original by Titian, since such a portrait, mentioned in the grand chancellor’s will, was also recorded by Ridolfi in the Widmann collection in Venice.[9] Writing in the same year as Berenson, Stephan Poglayen-Neuwall reasonably surmised that the engraving to which Jameson was referring was the one by the 18th-century master Crescenzio Ricci, which carries the inscription “ANDREAS DE FRANCISCIS / Eques Magnus Cancellarius Venetus” (Andrea de’ Franceschi, Knight and Grand Chancellor of Venice) [fig. 3].[10]

Poglayen-Neuwall also provided basic biographical information about Andrea de’ Franceschi (1473–1552),[11] which has now been supplemented by Sergio Zamperetti, Thomas Weigel, and especially Deborah Howard.[12] A member of the cittadinanza (citizen class), De’ Franceschi pursued a highly successful career in the civil service, rising to become secretary to the powerful government magistracy of the Council of Ten in 1519, and, finally, to become grand chancellor in 1529. This office, which was the highest attainable to any Venetian from a nonnoble family, was held for life. In rank it was senior to that of senator, and it was junior only to that of doge and procurator of San Marco. It entitled the holder to wear the distinctive red robe, with a black stole—and presumably large open sleeves—worn by the sitter in the present portrait and in that in Detroit.[13] A person of high intellectual and social distinction, De’ Franceschi was also, according to Titian’s 17th-century biographer Carlo Ridolfi, a close friend of the painter.

A particularly valuable document for Andrea de’ Franceschi’s biography is provided by his will, drawn up in 1535.[14] This mentions that at this date he owned two portraits of himself by Titian. The natural assumption that one of these was the portrait now in Detroit is confirmed by its style, which as pointed out by Pallucchini and Wethey, fits comfortably with Titian’s other portraits of the early 1530s, such as the Ippolito de’ Medici (Pitti, Florence) and the Charles V with a Hound (Prado, Madrid).[15] The identification of the other portrait of De’ Franceschi is more problematic. In theory this could have been of a quite different composition, possibly painted before his election as grand chancellor in 1529, and now lost or unrecognized. It is more likely, however, that the second portrait was simply a close variant or copy of the Detroit picture—especially since the various other versions provide clear evidence that such copies were made by Titian’s workshop.

Holmes proposed a reading of the truncated inscription ( . . . TIS/ . . . OIX) on the present portrait as AETATIS ANNO LX, suggesting that the penultimate letter has been reduced from an L to an I by abrasion.[16] Although Howard has plausibly suggested that this should be modified to AETATIS SVO LX, both readings would interpret the inscription as indicating that the sitter was aged 60, giving a date for the portrait of circa 1533. On this basis Howard drew the seemingly obvious inference that the Gallery’s portrait—in which the sitter arguably appears slightly older than in the Detroit portrait—is identical with the “second” portrait mentioned in De’ Franceschi’s will and that it was painted just three or four years later than the original, which was presumably painted circa 1529, directly after the sitter’s election as grand chancellor.[17]

This attractive interpretation of the documentary and orthographic evidence is not, however, borne out by the style of the present portrait, which is difficult to reconcile with that of Titian in the early 1530s. As indicated above, the handling is harsher and cruder than that of Titian at any date, as is evident not only in the treatment of the head, but also in the change of the color of the gown from a subtly modulated crimson to a crude scarlet. Indeed, although a majority of recent scholars have accepted it as a product of Titian’s workshop, the more severe verdict by Shapley—that it was painted independently of the master’s supervision, perhaps even after his death—remains more convincing.[18] The work may be seen, then, as a copy either of the Detroit original, or of a close version of it, dating from the later 16th or the early 17th century. In that case the information on the sitter’s age provided by the now-truncated inscription would have been taken from the now-illegible inscription in minuscules on the letter held by the sitter in the Detroit picture—which may well have been painted in 1533.[19]

Peter Humfrey

March 21, 2019


upper left on tablet: ...TIS/...OIX


("Anthony," London); purchased before 1859 by Francis Richard Charteris, Lord Elcho [1818-1914, from 1883 the 10th earl of Wemyss], London, and Gosford House, Lothian, Scotland;[1] by inheritance to his son, Hugo Richard Charteris, 11th earl of Wemyss [1857-1937], Gosford House, until 1927; (Wildenstein & Co., New York); sold 1928 to (M. Knoedler & Co., New York); purchased January 1928 by Andrew W. Mellon, Pittsburgh and Washington, D.C.; deeded 28 December 1934 to The A.W. Mellon Educational and Charitable Trust, Pittsburgh;[2] gift 1937 to NGA.

Exhibition History

Pictures by Italian, Spanish, Flemish, Dutch, French, and English Masters, British Institution, London, 1859, no. 40, as Head of a Man by Titian.

Technical Summary

The painting was executed on a coarse, plain-weave fabric. It has been lined, and the tacking edges are no longer extant. Comparison with the version of the composition in Detroit, together with the fragmentary character of the inscription, suggests that the painted surface has been reduced along the right, left, and bottom edges. This supposition is confirmed by the fact that cusping of the original fabric is absent along those three tacked edges but is present along the top edge. The support was prepared with a thin, white ground. Infrared reflectography (Vidicon)[1] has not exposed any underdrawing, and no compositional changes have been revealed by x-radiography. The paint was applied thinly, and the individual strokes are well blended. The x-radiographs of the painting suggest that the image was originally stronger in painterly expression, as the surface has suffered extensively from abrasion. The inpainting is extensive and has darkened, and the surface coating is thick and somewhat discolored.

Peter Humfrey and Joanna Dunn based on the examination report by Susanna Griswold

March 21, 2019


Catalogue of Pictures by Italian, Spanish, Flemish, Dutch, French, and English Masters with which the Proprietors have favored the Institution. Exh. cat. British Institution, London, 1859: 9, no. 40.
Crowe, Joseph Archer, and Giovanni Battista Cavalcaselle. Titian, His Life and Times. 2 vols. London, 1877: 2:64-65.
Berenson, Bernard. “While on Tintoretto.” In Festschrift für Max J. Friedländer zum 60. Geburtstage. Leipzig, 1927: 231-235.
Holmes, Charles. “The Inscription upon Titian’s Portrait of Franceschi.” The Burlington Magazine for Connoisseurs 55 (1929): 159-160.
Berenson, Bernard. Italian Pictures of the Renaissance: A List of the Principal Artists and Their Works with an Index of Places. Oxford, 1932: 577.
Suida, Wilhelm. Tizian. Zürich and Leipzig, 1933: 164.
Berenson, Bernard. Pitture italiane del rinascimento: catalogo dei principali artisti e delle loro opere con un indice dei luoghi. Translated by Emilio Cecchi. Milan, 1936: 496.
Tietze, Hans. Titian: Paintings and Drawings. Vienna, 1937: 320.
Preliminary Catalogue of Paintings and Sculpture. National Gallery of Art, Washington, 1941: 196, no. 35, as by Titian.
Book of Illustrations. National Gallery of Art, Washington, 1942: 240, repro. 200, as by Titian.
Riggs, Arthur Stanley. Titian the Magnificent and the Venice of His Day. New York, 1946: 133.
Berenson, Bernard. “Ristudiando Tintoretto e Tiziano.” Arte Veneta 1 (1947): 29-30.
Paintings and Sculpture from the Mellon Collection. National Gallery of Art, Washington, 1949 (reprinted 1953 and 1958): 37, repro., as by Titian.
Tietze, Hans. Titian. The Paintings and Drawings. London, 1950: 403.
Pallucchini, Rodolfo. Tiziano. Lezioni di storia dell’arte. 2 vols. Bologna, 1953-1954: 1:174.
Catalogue of the Paintings and Sculptures given by E. B. Whitcomb and A. S. Whitcomb to the Detroit Institute of Arts. Detroit, 1954: 107.
Suida, Wilhelm. “Miscellanea Tizianesca, II.” Arte Veneta 10 (1956): 76.
Berenson, Bernard. Italian Pictures of the Renaissance. Venetian School. 2 vols. London, 1957: 1:192.
Gore, St. John. “Five Portraits.” The Burlington Magazine 100 (1958): 352.
Valcanover, Francesco. Tutta la pittura di Tiziano. 2 vols. Milan, 1960: 1:101 no. 214a.
Summary Catalogue of European Paintings and Sculpture. National Gallery of Art, Washington, 1965: 129, as by Titian.
Troche, Gunter. “Venetian Paintings of the Renaissance at the M. H. De Young Memorial Museum.” Art Quarterly 28 (1965): 98.
National Gallery of Art. European Paintings and Sculpture: Illustrations. Washington, 1968: 117, repro., as by Titian.
Pallucchini, Rodolfo. Tiziano. 2 vols. Florence, 1969: 1:78-79, 266.
Valcanover, Francesco. L’opera completa di Tiziano. Milan, 1969: 107.
Wethey, Harold. The Paintings of Titian. 3 vols. London, 1969-1975: 2(1971):101.
Fredericksen, Burton B., and Federico Zeri. Census of Pre-Nineteenth Century Italian Paintings in North American Public Collections. Cambridge, Mass., 1972: 203, 513, 645.
European Paintings: An Illustrated Summary Catalogue. National Gallery of Art, Washington, 1975: 344, repro.
Shapley, Fern Rusk. Catalogue of the Italian Paintings. 2 vols. Washington, 1979: 1:506-508; 2:pl. 355, as After Titian.
Fasolo, Ugo. Titian. Florence, 1980: 39-41.
Shearman, John. The Early Italian Pictures in the Collection of Her Majesty the Queen. Cambridge, 1983: 268, 271.
European Paintings: An Illustrated Catalogue. National Gallery of Art, Washington, 1985: 398, repro.
Magani, Fabrizio. Il collezionismo e la commitenza artistica della famiglia Widmann, patrizi veneziani, dal Seicento all'Ottocento. Memorie dell’Istituto Veneto di Scienze, Lettere ed Arti, vol. 41. Venice, 1989: 42.
Hochmann, Michel. Peintres et commanditaires à Venise (1540–1628). Rome, 1992: 356-358.
Pedrocco, Filippo. Titian: The Complete Paintings. New York, 2001: 152.
Weigel, Thomas. “Begräbniszeremoniell und Grabmäler venezianischer Grosskanzler des 16. Jahrhunderts.” In Praemium Virtutis: Grabmonumente und Begräbniszeremoniell im Zeichen des Humanismus. Edited by Joachim Poeschke, Britta Kusch, and Thomas Weigel. Münster, 2002: 148.
Humfrey, Peter. Titian: The Complete Paintings. Ghent and New York, 2007: 149.
Howard, Deborah. “Titian’s portraits of Grand Chancellor Andrea de’ Franceschi.” Artibus et Historiae 37, no. 74 (2016): 139-151.

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