Religion assisted by Spain1572 - 1575. Oil on canvas, 168 x 168 cm.
Religion succoured by Spain (c.1572-75), belongs to the last group of paintings that Titian sent to Philip II in 1576, one year before the artist’s death. As such, it is almost seven decades older than the earliest work by Titian included in this exhibition, The Virgin and Child between Saint Anthony of Padua and Saint Roch, c.1510. Contemplating the two together allows viewers to recognise and admire Titian’s exceptional stylistic evolution over the course of a very long career. This work commemorates the Spanish Monarchy’s achievement at the Battle of Lepanto (1571) and is a fine example of the malleability of allegorical elements, with which Titian embodies three different meanings in a single, barely altered composition. In 1568 Giorgio Vasari saw a mythological canvas in Titian’s workshop. Commissioned by Alphonse I d’Este, Duke of Ferrara, and unfinished at the time of the latter’s death in 1534, it depicted a young male nude, which bows to Minerva, with another figure, and the sea, in the distance is Neptune in his chariot. The painting was modified and sent to Emperor Maximilian II before November 1568, when the imperial legate to Venice mentioned it as Religion. That same year it was engraved by Giulio Fontana, whose print bears a composition similar, although subtly different, to the Museo del Prado’s painting. In the engraving, it is the Empire that comes to the aid of Religion, and while the remains of a battle are equally visible, the tone is more compromising. In the painting, Spain appears armed with a cuirass, lance and shield, hand in hand with a woman carrying a sword (Justice). In the engraving, however, the Empire wears a tunic and carries a banner rather than a lance. The woman behind her is unarmed, bearing only a laurel branch symbolising Peace. A similar message is transmitted by the figure in the marine chariot pulled by seahorses: in the engraving she is Amphitrite, goddess of tranquil seas, but in the painting Poseidon takes her place, wearing a threatening Turkish turban. The meaning of these changes is clear: after Lepanto, the compromising Empire gives way to bellicose Spain. This process is fascinating, as the transition from the original mythological setting to the final religious allegory requires only a few iconographic changes, without altering the composition or resorting to new expressive means. Amphitrite becomes Poseidon, while Minerva turns into Spain, bearing Philip II’s coat of arms. Finally, the giovane ignuda (young male nude) mentioned by Vasari is transformed into the Catholic religion. Spain is thus shown defending the Catholic faith, not only against the Turks, but against all enemies -the snakes symbolise Protestant heresy. The most enigmatic figure is the man on the right, probably Philip II’s half-brother Juan of Austria, who commanded the Christian fleet at Lepanto.
X-rays show that the Museo del Prado’s work is derived from the one sent to Maximiliano, now lost, as it bears elements present in Fontana’s engraving. Thus, the figure of Spain originally wore a flared tunic rather than a cuirass and held the hand of the woman following her, who did not carry a sword. In addition to Maximilian II’s lost original, there is also an unfinished version at the Galleria Doria Pamphilj in Rome. Philip II sent this painting to the Alcázar Palace in Madrid, where it remained in the Spanish Royal Collection until 1839, when it entered the Museo del Prado (Text drawn from Falomir, M.: Italian Masterpieces. From Spain´s Royal Court, Museo del Prado, 2014, p. 80).