Sisyphus, Titian. Oil on canvas, 237 x 216 cm, 1548 - 1549, Madrid, Museo Nacional del Prado

The “Furias” were part of the iconographic programme for the Great Hall in the palace at Binche (in modern-day Belgium), which included other paintings, sculptures and tapestries and conveyed a dual message: firstly, the punishment meted out to those who rebelled against established order; and secondly, the start of a Golden Age after the battle of Mühlberg. Distinctive within the Hall’s decoration was the use of allegory, which was unusual for the Habsburgs but was considered appropriate for conveying the timelessness of the Golden Age.

The “Furias” offered Titian a challenge. Conceptually, this was his first imperial commission that was not a portrait and his first incursion into political allegory. Formally, these were enormous, single-figure compositions which demanded a monumentality and dramatic pathos for which classical sculpture and Michelangelo were obligatory references, particularly after Titian’s period in Rome in 1545-46.


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