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Taller italiano
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Taller italiano

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1530 - 1550. Marble. Room 033

The Pseudo-Vitellius was one of the busts most frequently copied and borrowed by Renaissance artists, at a time when it was believed to be a portrait of the Emperor Vitellius, who reigned briefly from 17 April to 22 December 69 AD. In fact, it dates from the period of Hadrian (117–138 AD).The only known Roman copy (Venice, Museo Archeologico) was discovered in 1505 during excavations sponsored by the Venetian cardinal Domenico Grimani (1461–1523) at his residence on the Quirinale in Rome. On the death of Grimani the Pseudo- Vitellius was sent to Venice with his collection as it was one of the fifteen works that he bequeathed to the Republic of Venice, which placed them on display in the Palazzo Ducale between 1525 and 1593. This location explains the sculpture’s influence on Venetian art and its echoes in the work of Titian, Jacopo Bassano and Tintoretto. Using the features of Roman emperors in art, particularly in scenes of the Life of Christ, allowed painters to reveal both their knowledge of classical art and their interest in historical ‘decorum’. Such busts were also used to characterise the figures involved, as we find with Pietro Aretino in I quattro libri de la Humanità di Christo (Venice, 1538) in which he uses classical sculpture (although not Vitellius) to describe the characters in an episode from the Passion in order to help his readers to visualise it. The exemplary nature of these classical images explains why Giovanni Battista della Porta included a bust of Vitellius in De Humanae Physiognomia of 1586 (Book II, chap. I). According to Roman sources and in particular Suetonius,Vitellius was not a paragon of virtue and Della Porta consequently made him represent individuals with very large heads, a physical characteristic which, according to classical physiognomists such as Polemon of Laodicea and Adamantius, indicated pride, coarse wit, ineptitude and troublesomeness, characteristics shared by various animals including the owl, depicted alongside him. The version in the Museo del Prado belonged to Diego Hurtado de Mendoza, who must have acquired it during his stay in Venice from 1539–1546. During this time Mendoza had copies made of Greek manuscripts in the Grimani library and may also have had replicas made of some of the sculptures in that collection.The identity of the sculptor is not, however, known, although Mendoza’s familiarity with the Venetian art scene offers some clues. Mendoza was a friend of the sculptor and architect Jacopo Sansovino, while close to both men was the Florentine sculptor Simone Banco (documented between 1512 and 1553) who was active in Venice. Banco re-worked the Grimani Pseudo-Vitellius, giving it the appearance it has retained to the present day ( Falomir Faus, M.: El retrato del Renacimiento, Museo Nacional del Prado, 2008, p. 497)

Technical data

Related artworks

El emperador Galba
White marble, XVI century
Taller italiano
Inventory number
Taller italiano
1530 - 1550
Height: 40 cm; Width: 27 cm; Base/bottom: 24 cm; Weight: 30.8 Kg
Bustos de los Doce Emperadores [serie del cardenal Montepulciano]
Collection of Diego Hurtado de Mendoza; Royal Collección

Bibliography +

Hübner, Emil, Die Antiken Bildwerke in Madrid, Druck Und Verlag Von Georg Reimer, Berlín, 1862, pp. 165.

Paz y Melia, A., Documentos, medallas y piedras grabadas que la marquesa de Zenete legó en su último testamento a Diego Hurtado de Mendoza, Revista de Archivos, Bibliotecas y Museos, 1902, pp. 310-319.

Barrón, Eduardo, Catálogo de la escultura, Museo Nacional de Pintura y Escultura, Madrid, 1908, pp. 244.

Inventarios reales : bienes muebles que pertenecieron a Felipe II, II, [s.n.], Madrid, 1956, pp. 186.

Museo Nacional del Prado, Catálogo de la escultura, Madrid, 1957, pp. 169.

Blanco, Antonio; Lorente, Manuel, Catálogo de la escultura. Museo del Prado, Patronato Nacional de Museos, Madrid, 1981, pp. 170.

Fernandez Miranda y Lozana, Fernando, Inventarios Reales Carlos III 1789-1790, Patrimonio Nacional, Madrid, 1988, pp. 84.

Coppel, Rosario, Esculturas del Renacimiento italiano en el Museo del Prado: La colección de Don Diego Hurtado de Mendoza, Accademia Spagnola di Storia, Archeologia e Belli Arti. Roma, 1996, pp. 95-97.

Museo Nacional del Prado, Catálogo de la escultura de época moderna. Museo del Prado: siglos XVI-XVIII, Museo del Prado, Madrid, 1998, pp. 198-199.

Carolus, Sociedad Estatal para la Commemoración de los Centenarios de Felipe II y Carlos V, Madrid, 2000.

Schröder, Stephan, El Coleccionismo de Escultura Clasica en España. Actas del Simposio, El Coleccionismo de Escultura Clasica en España. Actas del Simposio 21-22 de Mayo 2001, Madrid, 2001, pp. 43-60.

Cacciotti, Beatrice, La tradizione degli ''Uomini Illustri'' nella collezione di don Diego Hurtado de Mendoza ambasciatore tra Venezia e Roma (1539-1553), Annali del dipartimento di Storia, 2005, pp. 207.

Tintoretto, Museo Nacional del Prado, Madrid, 2007, pp. 395-396.

El retrato del Renacimiento, Museo Nacional del Prado, Madrid, 2008, pp. 329.

Helmstutler Di Dio, K., 'Sculpted Diplomacy. State gifts of sculpture from Italy to Spain in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries' En:, L'Arte del Dono. Scambi artistici e diplomazia tra Italia e Spagna, 1550-1650. Studi della Biblioteca Hertziana 8. Jornata di studi 14-15 enero 2008, Milan, 2013, pp. 51-65 [52 nt.9].

Elvira Barba, Miguel Angel, 'Winckelmann, Mengs y las colecciones escultóricas de Azara.' En:, El legado de Johann Joachim Winckelmann en España. Actas congreso internacional 20-21 Oct.2011, 2014, pp. 121-136 [131].

Other inventories +

Inv. Felipe II, 1598-1607. Núm. 3670.
3670. Otra estatua de mármol, del pecho arriba, con pedestal de lo mismo, de Vitelio, figura moderna; que tiene poco más de media bara de largo. Tasada en veynte ducados [Sánchez Cantón, 1956-1959, vol. II, pág. 186. Aquí aparece con una errata en el número]

Inv. Carlos III, 1789-1790. Núm. 810.
810, otra de Vitelio de dos pies en 1.800 [Fernández Miranda, vol. I, 1988, pág. 84]

Inv. Real Museo, 1857. Núm. 312.
312. Una cabeza de marmol de Carrara sobre base de lo mismo que representa a Vitelio. / Alto de la cabeza 1 pie, 6 pulg. / Id. de la base 4 pulgadas, 6 lin.

Inscriptions +

Inscribed in black. Plinth

Exhibitions +

The Renaissance Portrait
03.06.2008 - 07.09.2008

30.01.2007 - 13.05.2007

Carolus - Toledo
05.10.2000 - 12.01.2001

Location +

Room 033 (On Display)

Update date: 04-11-2021 | Registry created on 28-04-2015

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