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Federico Gonzaga, Ist Duke of Mantua
Titian (Tiziano Vecellio)
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Titian (Tiziano Vecellio)

Pieve di Cadore, Belluno, Veneto (Italy), 1490 - Venice (Italy), 1576

Titian (Tiziano Vecellio) See author's file

Federico Gonzaga, Ist Duke of Mantua

1529. Oil on panel.
Room 041

On 16 April 1529 Federico II Gonzaga, First Duke of Mantua (1500-1540), apologised to his uncle Alfonso d’Este for retaining Titian: perché ha conienzo un retratto mio qual molto desidero sii finito (because he has started a portrait of me which I greatly desire to be finished). In 1530 a second portrait of Federico in armour is also recorded. Typologically and conceptually, the present portrait of Federico is notably similar to the one of his uncle Alfonso I d’Este painted by Titian around 1523-1525 and known through copies (New York, Metropolitan Museum of Art). These early court portraits offered the painter new challenges which he resolved through the adoption of an innovative three-quarter format, a use of exquisite detail in the recreation of the texture of the clothing (which were not subject to Venetian sumptuary laws), and the inclusion of elements alluding to the sitter’s social rank or personal abilities. Examples of the latter include the cannon in the portrait of Alfonso, who was an expert on artillery, and the dog in Federico’s, as the Duke was known for his love of these animals. The pose of the two aristocrats is also identical, with the left hand on the sword and the right resting on an object (in the case of Alfonso) or an animal (Federico).

The portrait of Federico also bears similarities to that of Laura Dianti, the lover of Alfonso d’Este (Kreuzlingen, Heinz Kisters Collection), both in its three-quarter format and particularly with regard to the spectacular use of ultramarine blue in the clothing. In the portrait of Laura Dianti the position of the little dog is occupied by a black servant, both of which are the object of affection on the part of their owners. Federico wears red hose and a doublet of blue velvet with gold embroidery, and from his neck hangs a costly gold and lapis lazuli rosary. He rests his left hand on the pommel of his sword while the right, adorned with two precious rings, caresses a Maltese dog. Although a dog of this type might seem to be more appropriate as a symbol of fidelity for female portraits than for masculine ones, in which larger dogs were usually depicted, its inclusion here, like the rosary, is not incidental. The portrait has been related to Federico’s matrimonial intentions in 1529 and the need to whitewash his dissolute past. The portrait, in which he is shown as affable and pious while retaining his aristocratic dignity, would thus form part of this strategy, which was brought to a successful conclusion with his marriage in 1531 to Margherita Paleologa, heiress of the Marquis of Monferrato.

The present work is an outstanding example of the triumph of art and the power of the portrait. More important than the dog’s breed is its participative pose that makes it comparable to the fawning, adoring dogs of classical poetry who recognise the image of their master. This is similar to the way in which the young grandson gives life to the dead grandfather in the portrait by Domenico Ghirlandaio, a work that can be considered the greatest homage to the illusionistic and empathetic powers of painting.

Museo Nacional del Prado, El retrato del Renacimiento, Madrid, Museo Nacional del Prado, 2008, p.215/216


Technical data

Related artworks

Inventory number
Titian (Tiziano Vecellio)
Federico Gonzaga, Ist Duke of Mantua
Height: 125 cm; Width: 99 cm
Collection of the Marquis of Leganés, 1642; Royal Collection (Royal Alcázar, Madrid, "galería del mediodía", 1700, no. 60; New Royal Palace, Madrid, "primera sala de la Furriera", 1747, no. 21; New Royal Palace, Madrid, "antecámara del señor infante don Luis", 1772, no. 21; Museo del Prado, 1821).

Bibliography +

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Other inventories +

Inv. Felipe V, Palacio Nuevo, 1747. Núm. 21.
PINTURAS EXISTENTES ANTIGUAS [...] En la primera Sala de este Oficio [de la Furriera] [...] {10240} 21 / Vn retrato en tabla original del Ticiano de vn hombre agasajando a vn perro de aguas de vara y media de alto y vara y quarta de ancho = en cinco mil reales

Inv. Carlos III, Palacio Nuevo, 1772. Núm. 21.
Antecámara del señor Infante don Luis [...] {13222-13223} 21 - 22 / Dos iguales en tabla el vno de vn veneciano agasajando a vn perro de aguas y el otro que parece su consorte con tres niños de vara y media de alto y vara y quarta de ancho originales de Ticiano

Catálogo Museo del Prado, 1872-1907. Núm. 452.
Representa el personaje de 30 á 35 años de edad. tez morena, barba suave, crecida y de color castaño; cabello crespo y más oscuro, cejas arqueadas, rostro agradable y de expresión benigna, postura noble sin arrogancia. Lleva ropa ceñida de terciopelo negro, con faldillas y franja bordada de oro, repetida en las hombreras. Entreabierto el pecho, deja ver un jubón negro interior, sujeto con lazos y puntales de oro, y la camisa bordada. Al cuello tiene una especie de rosario de cuentas negras y doradas, á la cintura un lazo azul y rojo, los puños de batista, encañonados y recamados...

Inv. Testamentaría Carlos II, Alcázar de Madrid, 1701-1703. Núm. 60.
Galeria del Mediodia [...] 60 / Ytten ottra Pinttura de Vara y media de altto quasi en quadro de Vn rettratto del Duque de ferrara Con Vn Perro de mano del tiçiano Con marco negro tasada en Çiento y Cinquentta Doblones ... 150

Inv. Real Museo, 1857. Núm. 926.
Tiziano. / 926. Alfonso, duque de Ferrara. / Tiene barba y cabellos oscuros, vestido ceñido a la cintura de color morado oscuro, bordado de oro; la mano izquierda, en la espada y la derecha apoyada sobre un perro blanco de lanas. (Retrato hasta las rodillas.) (tabla.) / Alto 4 pies, 5 pulg, 6 lin; ancho 3 pies, 6 pulg, 8 lin.

Inscriptions +

TICIANVS · F [en el cordón que sirve para atar el jubón]
Signed. Front, center

Inscribed in red color. Front, lower left corner

Inscribed in white. Front, lower left corner

Exhibitions +

El retrato del Renacimiento. The Renaissance Portrait
03.06.2008 - 07.09.2008

10.06.2003 - 07.09.2003

Location +

Room 041 (On Display)

Update date: 03-09-2022 | Registry created on 28-04-2015

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