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Peter Humfrey, “Titian/Doge Andrea Gritti/c. 1546/1550,” Italian Paintings of the Sixteenth Century, NGA Online Editions, (accessed June 22, 2024).

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This painting is regarded as one of the finest of all Titian’s portraits. Doge Andrea Gritti’s ferocious expression and imposing figure convey an awe-inspiring authority. Titian’s handling of paint is boldly sketchy and energetic throughout. The architecture of Gritti’s face is emphasized with rich impasto (thick buildup of paint), and the extravagance of his robes is communicated through sheen and highlights.

Andrea Gritti (1455–1538) first came to public attention among Venetians in 1502, when following several years of residence in Constantinople, where he had been active both as a grain merchant and as a spy, he was instrumental in negotiating a peace treaty with the Turks. He was appointed commissioner of the Venetian army and eventually elected doge in 1523. Gritti had a highly ambitious, even autocratic personality. Despite his impatience with the complexities of the Venetian constitution, he nevertheless succeeded in becoming one of the most effective and influential of all post-medieval doges and played a major role as a patron of art and architecture.

The forceful hand gesture in Gritti’s portrait may be a quotation of Michelangelo’s famous sculpture of Moses (c. 1513–1515), perhaps implying a comparison between Gritti and Pope Julius II, for whose tomb the Moses was made. Both rulers were renowned for their terribilità, or their domineering personalities as leaders in war and politics. Julius also provided a striking precedent for Gritti in his vigorous promotion of art and culture as an expression of political renewal.

The composition and character of the portrait suggest that it was conceived not as an official image for a public building, but rather as a private commission, and subsequently remained in the possession of the Gritti family. The work gives powerful expression both to the majesty of the office of doge and to the physical and intellectual vitality of Gritti the man.


Since its cleaning soon after its arrival in America in 1954, the picture has been universally regarded as one of the finest of all Titian’s portraits. Previously, the authenticity of the signature was occasionally contested, as by Joseph Archer Crowe and Giovanni Battista Cavalcaselle, who reattributed the picture to Pordenone; by Henry Thode, who attributed it to Tintoretto; and by August L. Mayer, who found the “Falstaffian” bulk alien to Titian, and who suggested Palma Giovane as the author.[1] Mayer also implicitly questioned the reliability of the inscription identifying the sitter as Doge Gritti, a doubt at one time shared by Rodolfo Pallucchini.[2] In part, this doubt was the consequence of the observation by both these authors that for stylistic reasons the picture appears to date from after circa 1545, whereas Gritti had died in 1538. But comparison with the various other known likenesses of Gritti, in both painting and sculpture, provides ample confirmation that he is indeed the doge portrayed here; and the outstanding matter of debate, therefore, is whether Titian painted the portrait during Gritti’s reign as doge (1523–1538) or to commemorate him some time after his death.

Andrea Gritti (1455–1538) was a prominent figure in Venetian public life long before his election as doge in 1523.[3] He first came to public attention in 1502, when following several years of residence in Constantinople, where he had been active both as a grain merchant and as a spy, he was instrumental in negotiating a peace treaty with the Turks. Appointed commissioner of the Venetian army in 1509, he took an important early initiative in reversing the setbacks of the initial stages of the War of the League of Cambrai, in particular by reconquering the city of Padua. Captured by the French at Brescia in 1512 and taken to France, he used the opportunity to establish good personal relations with King Francis I and, as earlier with the Turks, to negotiate a favorable peace treaty. In 1517 he led the triumphal reentry of the Venetians into Verona, the last major terraferma city to be regained. Of a highly ambitious, even autocratic personality, Gritti was mistrusted by his fellow patricians and was passed over for the dogeship in 1521. Finally elected in 1523, his impatience with the complexities of the Venetian constitution led to constant frustrations of his wider political ambitions. He nevertheless succeeded in becoming one of the most effective and influential of all post-medieval doges, and during his relatively long reign he skillfully preserved the republic from the disastrous warfare that afflicted much of the rest of Italy during these years.

Despite the constraints of his office, and through the force of his personality, Doge Gritti played a major role as a patron of art and architecture, which he saw as a powerful weapon of political ideology.[4] In particular, he was concerned for the public buildings in the city’s political, religious, and commercial centers to lend expression to the revival of Venice after the disaster of the War of Cambrai and to the city’s claims to constitute a New Rome; in keeping with this aim, he successfully persuaded the sculptor-architect Jacopo Sansovino, a refugee from the Sack of Rome, to settle in Venice in 1527. From the beginning of his reign, Gritti also identified Titian as the painter best qualified to implement his cultural policy. In 1523 Titian painted large-scale figures of the Four Evangelists in fresco (lost) to flank a votive marble relief above the altar of the chapel of San Niccolò in the Doge’s Palace. Probably in the same year he painted the Saint Christopher fresco in the ducal apartments nearby. And in 1531 Titian completed the Votive Picture of Doge Andrea Gritti for the Sala del Collegio in the palace. Before the doge’s death in 1538, Titian seems also at least to have begun the succession portrait of Gritti for the Sala del Maggior Consiglio, even though he did not receive his final payment for the work until 1540.[5]

Gritti’s features are reliably recorded in a number of contemporary portraits, apart from these last two by Titian: in the votive relief of 1523 by an anonymous sculptor from the chapel of San Niccolò (now chapel of San Clemente, church of San Marco); on the medal by Andrea Spinelli, struck to commemorate the rebuilding by Sansovino of the church of San Francesco della Vigna;[6] and in Fiumicelli’s altarpiece of 1536 in the church of the Eremitani in Padua. Titian’s succession portrait of circa 1537–1540 for the Sala del Maggior Consiglio was destroyed by fire in 1577, but its composition is recorded in the substitute painted by Domenico Tintoretto, as well as in a number of studio versions by Titian’s workshop, the best of which is probably the one now in a private collection [fig. 1].[7] This lost succession portrait, which constituted the chief official likeness of Gritti, showed him in waist-length and three-quarter view, with his body and face both turning toward the (viewer’s) left. The votive picture for the Sala del Collegio was likewise destroyed by fire, three years earlier, in 1574. The composition, recorded in a woodcut attributed to Nicolò Boldrini, shows the figure of Gritti replaced by that of Doge Francesco Donà; but since the figure was obviously shown kneeling in profile, there are good grounds for supposing that both Catena’s portrait of Gritti in the National Gallery, London, and that in Tintoretto’s Votive Picture of Doge Gritti, painted for the Collegio as a substitute after the fire, are both closely based on Titian’s lost original.[8]

In composition and character, the Washington portrait is unique of its type and differs greatly from these other two well-diffused images by Titian. This suggests that it was not conceived as an official image for a public building, but was commissioned privately, and subsequently remained in the possession of the Gritti family. The question of whether it was the doge himself or a member of his family who commissioned the portrait clearly depends on the much-debated question of its date. Oskar Fischel dated it to the beginning of Gritti’s reign, circa 1523, contemporary with the Saint Christopher fresco.[9] Wilhelm Suida later advanced this date to circa 1533, the year in which Titian was knighted, since his signature is suffixed with the letter E (Eques).[10] Georg Gronau, followed by Hans Tietze, dated the picture to circa 1540, implying some connection with the documented portrait for the Sala del Maggior Consiglio of that year, and also implying that it was painted (or at least completed) after the doge’s death.[11] Fern Rusk Shapley accepted that the portrait was painted in the phase proposed by these writers, circa 1533–1540.[12]

Mayer, however, had already argued that the figure was too colossal, and the technique too broad, for Titian’s style of the 1530s; and Pallucchini agreed that the closest point of stylistic comparison was Titian’s portrait of Pietro Aretino (Pitti, Florence), painted shortly before the painter’s journey to Rome in 1545.[13] While not absolutely excluding this late date, with its implication of a posthumous commission, Harold Wethey upheld the traditional dating to the later 1530s, arguing that the way in which the figure fills the picture field is comparable to that in Titian’s portraits of the Eleven Caesars of 1536–1540 for the duke of Mantua (lost, but recorded in drawings by Ippolito Andreasi and engravings by Aegedius Sadeler).[14] Hans Ost agreed, adding that the quality of finish in Titian’s pictures is an unreliable guide to their dating, since it could vary according to the relative formality of the commission and according to its destined placing.[15] But David Alan Brown, followed by Filippo Pedrocco, was certainly correct to agree with Pallucchini’s later dating to the mid-1540s and to compare the portrait with other works by Titian of the mid-1540s, such as the Pope Paul III with His Grandsons (Capodimonte, Naples) of 1545–1546, and the Vendramin Family (National Gallery, London) of circa 1547.[16] As far as it is possible to judge from the Andreasi drawings and Sadeler engravings, the Eleven Caesars resembled Titian’s other portraits of the later 1530s, such as the Bella of 1538 (Pitti, Florence) and, especially, the Francesco Maria della Rovere of 1536–1538 (Uffizi, Florence), in the relative crispness of the modeling, in the selective attention to detail, and in the brilliant evocation of specific surface textures. Similar characteristics are still evident in the Cardinal Pietro Bembo of 1539/1540 and the Ranuccio Farnese of 1541–1542 in the Gallery. In the Doge Andrea Gritti and the Pietro Aretino, by contrast, the handling is boldly sketchy throughout, and the figures more completely dominate their fields. Indeed, the freedom of the brushwork and the richness of the well-preserved impasto suggest that the Gritti may even be slightly later than the Aretino, perhaps in the immediate aftermath of the trip to Rome, when the painter could have experienced for the first time the direct impact of Michelangelo’s Moses.[17] In any case, despite the recent attempt by Michael Overdick to return to a dating to circa 1538, within the sitter’s lifetime, the arguments in favor of a somewhat later date remain compelling.[18]

A contemporary parallel instance of the posthumous commission of the portrait of a doge by his family is provided by an entry in the account book of Lorenzo Lotto, which records that in 1542 the nobleman Giovanni Marcello commissioned a portrait of his ancestor Doge Niccolò Marcello (reigned 1473–1474).[19] Yet Titian’s portrait has nothing of the lifelessness usually associated with posthumous portraits. On the contrary, by contrast with the tame and placid official portrait of Gritti (fig. 1), the present work gives powerful expression both to the majesty of the office of doge and to the physical and intellectual vitality of Gritti the man. As in the official portrait, the figure is shown in waist-length and the head in three-quarter view; but the torso now turns energetically in a contrasting direction, the huge right hand clutches the drapery of the cloak, and the face conveys the awe-inspiring authority of an angry Jove.

Erica Tietze-Conrat plausibly suggested that Gritti is meant to be shown walking, or rather striding, in procession; according to Carlo Ridolfi, Titian portrayed two other doges in this way.[20] Although Wethey rejected this suggestion,[21] in keeping with it is the gesture of the right hand, as if holding up the cloak, as well as the vigorous contrapposto pose. Peter Meller commented on the leonine aspect of the figure, with his ferocious expression, pawlike hand and tawny robe, and on the appropriateness of suggesting an analogy between the doge of Venice and the Lion of Saint Mark.[22] Suida saw the right hand as a quotation of that of Michelangelo’s Moses, which according to the writer he would have known from a cast brought from Rome to Venice by Jacopo Sansovino;[23] but if, as seems likely, the portrait dates from immediately after the Roman journey of 1545–1546, Titian could also have known the original statue. In either case, the quotation would represent another aspect of the painter’s lifelong sense of rivalry with Michelangelo, and of the relative merits of the different artistic traditions of central Italy and Venice. As pointed out by Brown, followed by Annette Weber, the quotation may also be interpreted as an implied comparison between the personalities of Doge Gritti and of Pope Julius II, for whose tomb the Moses was made.[24] Thus, both rulers were renowned for their terribilità,[25] for their domineering personalities as leaders in war and politics; Julius also provided a striking precedent for Gritti in his energetic and ambitious promotion of art and culture as an expression of political renewal.

Finally, the recent revelation that the picture was originally framed as an oval (see Technical Summary, and implied by the infrared reflectogram [fig. 2]) may provide further confirmation both that the portrait was painted well after Gritti’s death and that it was painted for an unofficial, domestic setting. Oval and circular formats were to remain rare in Venetian portraiture of the 16th century, but a closely contemporary example would have been Titian’s circular Self-Portrait, painted in 1550 and later recorded in the collection of Gabriele Vendramin (died 1552), who happened to be Gritti’s nephew by marriage.[26]

Peter Humfrey

March 21, 2019


upper left, in black paint: ANDREAS GRITI DOGE / DI VENETIA; center right, in gold leaf: TITIANVS E. F. (Titian, Knight, made it); reverse, on paper: Bought for His Majesty in Italy, 1626.[1]

Inscription Notes

[1] The reference is to Charles I of England; as argued by Fern Rusk Shapley, Paintings from the Samuel H. Kress Collection: Italian Schools, XV-XVI Century, London, 1968: 179-180 (and Fern Rusk Shapley, Catalogue of the Italian Paintings, 2 vols., Washington, 1979: 1:488-490). The paper is written in a hand that is apparently of the 17th century, but not that of the cataloger of the royal collection, Abraham van der Doort. Formerly, as reported by Karl Wilczek, Katalog der Graf Czernin'schen Gemäldegalerie in Wien, Vienna, 1936: 88-89, the royal stamp of a CR surmounted by a crown was also visible on the back of the canvas; but after the transfer of the canvas to a new strether in 1955, the stamp has been concealed.


Purchased 1626 in Italy for Charles I, King of England [1600-1649], Whitehall Palace, London;[1] (Charles I [Commonwealth] sale, Somerset House, London, 23 October 1651); purchased by the Syndicate of the Twelfth Dividend, organized by John Jackson, lawyer.[2] Wenzel Anton, Prince von Kaunitz-Rietburg [d. 1794]; by inheritance to Wenzel Alois, Prinz Kaunitz; (Kaunitz sale, Vienna, 13 March 1820, no. 178);[3] purchased by Johann Rudolf, Count Czernin von Chudenitz [1757-1845], Vienna;[4] by inheritance through the Czernin von Chudenitz family, Vienna, to Count Eugen Czernin von Chudenitz [1892-1955], Vienna, as of 1933, until at least 1948; on commission January 1954 from Willy Haene, lawyer for Czernin, with (M. Knoedler & Co., New York); sold 1954 to the Samuel H. Kress Foundation, New York;[5] gift 1961 to NGA.

Exhibition History

Mostra di Tiziano, Ca' Pesaro, Venice, 1935, no. 31.
Europäische Barockmalerei aus Wiener Privatgalerien, Kunstmuseum, Bern, 1937-1948, no. 47.
Tiziano [NGA title: Titian: Prince of Painters], Palazzo Ducale, Venice; National Gallery of Art, Washington, 1990-1991, no. 37, repro.

Technical Summary

The painting was executed on a highly textured herringbone canvas, and since all the tacking margins are intact, the painted surface corresponds to its original dimensions.[1] Two old fold lines, one just above the hat and one between the lines of signature, indicate that at two points in its history the painting was reduced in size and later expanded back to the original dimensions. The thinly applied gesso ground has aged from an original white to light brown. The canvas has remained unlined, and the painter’s underdrawing for the figure, executed with the brush with dilute black paint as a simple contour, is clearly visible on the reverse. Infrared reflectography at 1.5 to 1.8 microns [fig. 1][2] and x-radiographs reveal further elements of underdrawing and some pentimenti, the most significant of which was a change from an original look of the eyes directly outward to the present glance to the sitter’s right. The painted surface, which survives in excellent condition, with passages of exceptionally well preserved impasto, was applied rapidly and confidently in alternating thick and thin layers. The x-radiographs have revealed further adjustments to the figure’s contours introduced at the painting stage, notably along the right side of the cap, along the proper right shoulder, and around the hand. Both the infrared reflectogram and the x-radiographs imply, as might already have been discerned with the naked eye, that the portrait was originally framed as an oval.[3] The rounded top is particularly obvious in the upper spandrels, where the framing would have covered the more thinly painted areas with the present inscription at the upper left; unlike the gilded signature at center right, this is certainly a later addition. The fact, however, that there is no difference between the pigments in the spandrels and those in the central oval indicates that any change of format must have been undertaken by the painter himself.[4] In 1955 Mario Modestini replaced the stretcher, cleaned, and inpainted the painting.

Peter Humfrey and Joanna Dunn based on the examination reports by Michael Swicklik, Elizabeth Walmsley, and Kay Silberfeld

March 21, 2019


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Valcanover, Francesco. Tiziano: I suoi pennelli sempre partorirono espressioni di vita. Florence, 1999: 43, 267.
Finlay, Robert. “Fabius Maximus in Venice: Doge Andrea Gritti, the War of Cambrai, and the Rise of Habsburg Hegemony, 1509-1530.” Renaissance Quarterly 53 (2000): 988.
Kirsh, Andrea, and Rustin S. Levenson. Seeing Through Paintings: Physical Examination in Art Historical Studies. Materials and Meaning in the Fine Arts 1. New Haven, 2000: 121-122, 262, fig. 112, color fig. 113.
Pedrocco, Filippo. Titian: The Complete Paintings. New York, 2001: 50, 189.
Hand, John Oliver. National Gallery of Art: Master Paintings from the Collection. Washington and New York, 2004: 104-105, no. 79, color repro.
Humfrey, Peter, et al. The Age of Titian: Venetian Renaissance Art from Scottish Collections. Edited by Aidan Weston-Lewis. Exh. cat. Royal Scottish Academy, Edinburgh, 2004: 128-129.
Ferino-Pagden, Sylvia, ed. Der späte Tizian und die Sinnlichkeit der Malerei. Exh. cat. Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna; Gallerie dell'Accademia, Venice. Vienna, 2007: no. I.7, 179-183, 471-473, repro. (not in the exhibition).
Ferino-Pagden, Sylvia. Late Titian and the Sensuality of Painting. Exh. cat. Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna; Gallerie dell'Accademia, Venice. Vienna, 2007: no. 1.4, 155-159, repro. (not in exhibition).
Humfrey, Peter. Titian: The Complete Paintings. Ghent and New York, 2007: 210.
Penny, Nicholas. National Gallery Catalogues: The Sixteenth Century Italian Paintings, Vol. 2: Venice 1540-1600. London, 2008: 211.
Cranston, Jodi. The Muddied Mirror: Materiality and Figuration in Titian’s Later Paintings. University Park, PA, 2010: 93-95.
Overdick, Michael. Tizian: Die späten Porträts 1545-1568. Düsseldorf, 2010: 5-10, 59-61.
Biferali, Frabrizio. Tiziano: Il genio e il potere. Rome, 2011: 86-87.
Gentili, Augusto. Tiziano. Milan, 2012: 311, 313.
Dunkerton, Jill, Jennifer Fletcher, and Paul Joannides. “A Portrait of Girolamo Fracastoro by Titian in the National Gallery.” The Burlington Magazine 155 (2013): 15 n. 74.
Nichols, Tom. Titian and the End of the Venetian Renaissance. London, 2013: 112-115.
Krischel, Roland, ed. Tintoret: naissance d'un génie. Exh. cat. Musée du Luxembourg, Paris; Wallraf-Richartz-Museum, Cologne. Paris, 2018: 26 fig. 3 (not in exhibition).

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