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Religion Rescued by the Empire
Fontana, Giulio -Engraver- (Author of the original work: Titian (Tiziano Vecellio))
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Fontana, Giulio -Engraver- (Author of the original work: Titian (Tiziano Vecellio))

Religion Rescued by the Empire

Ca. 1566. Etching, Burin on laid paper.
Not on display

In spring 1566, Giorgio Vasari saw a mythological painting in Titian’s Venetian workshop with a "giovane ignuda, che s’inchina a Minerva, con un’altra figura accanto, ed un mare, dove nel lontano è Nettuno in mezo sopra il suo carro." It was commissioned by Alfonso I d’Este, Duke of Ferrara, who died before it was completed. Over thirty years later, Titian returned to it, transforming the initially mythological subject into a religious allegory for Emperor Maximilian II (1527-1576). In November 1568, the imperial legate in Venice, Veit Von Dornberg, mentioned it as “Religion” in a letter to the court, and it must have reached its recipient towards the end of that same year. The painting has since disappeared, but we know its appearance thanks to the present print that Veronese engraver Giulio Fontana probably made after the painting arrived at the imperial court, where he was then employed as a painter and architect. In the foreground, the nude youth mentioned by Vasari has become a helpless young woman identifiable as Religion thanks to the cross at her feet. She is threatened by poisonous snakes that allude to the enemies of Faith, and the Empire comes to her aid in the form of a young man wearing a tunic and holding the shaft of a banner with the two-headed Habsburg eagle. The Empire figure is holding another unarmed young woman by the hand. She bears a laurel branch and can thus be identified as Peace. Neptune’s wife, Amphitrite, goddess of smooth seas, appears in the distance, crossing the waves on a chariot pulled by hippocampi. The temporizing tone of the scene painted by Titian and engraved by Fontana with explicit allusions to peace and to past conflicts—note the spoils of war at Empire’s feet—has a clear symbolic function, but it also reflects a precise political situation: the result of a peace treaty signed by Maximilian II and the Sultan of Turkey in 1567. The engraving’s Latin inscription refers to this peace, and to the emperor’s role in achieving it, and its previously mentioned conciliatory tone may be the reason why it does not clearly identify the Empire’s enemies. Instead, it refers only generically to the heretical enemies of religion: "caesaris invicti pia relligionis imago/haeresis angvicoma, et saevvs qvam territat hostis// christigenvm; passvra dolos (vt cernis) vtrinqve/virtvti, et paci se commendat amicae." The lost painting sent to Maximilian II was also the basis for one sent to Philip II in 1575: Religion Rescued by Spain (cat. P00420). There, Titian again altered the composition to suit its recipient and a different political reality. Empire is replaced by Spain, armed with a cuirass, a lance and a shield bearing its coat of arms. Peace has been replaced by Justice (the laurel branch has given way to the sword), and pacific Amphitrite is now a bellicose Turk with a turban leading a threatening Ottoman armada. By 1575, the situation was very different than in 1568, and this is clearly reflected by the differences between the paintings for Maximilian II and Philip II. Following the battle of Lepanto on October 7, 1571, the temporizing Empire gave way to bellicose Spain. The metamorphosis is fascinating, as between the original mythology conceived for Alfonso d’Este and the final religious allegory depicted for Philip II, only the iconographic attributes changed. The fact that the composition remains unaltered, and that no new expressive resources are employed illustrates the permeability of pictorial genres in Titian’s oeuvre (text drawn from Falomir, M.: Memoria de Actividades 2014. Museo Nacional del Prado, 2015, pp. 74-76).

Technical data

Related artworks

Inventory number
Fontana, Giulio -Engraver- (Author of the original work: Titian (Tiziano Vecellio))
Religion Rescued by the Empire
Ca. 1566
Etching; Burin
Laid paper
Height: 405 mm; Width: 312 mm
Michael Jacob (Empyraeum Antiquaria), Hamburg, 2011; Bequest of Pedro Mª Alberdi Buruaga, 2014.

Bibliography +

Falomir, M, 'Tiziano, Alegoría, política, religión' En: Tiziano y el Legado Veneciano., Circulo de Lectores: Galaxia Gutenberg, Madrid, 2005, pp. 149-171.

Puppi, L. (dir), Tiziano: l' ultimo atto, Skira, 2007, pp. 396 n.78.

Falomir. M, 'Giulio Fontana. La Religión socorrida por el Imperio'. En: Memoria de actividades 2014, Museo Nacional del Prado, Madrid, 2015, pp. 72-74.

Filigree +

Motive: Círculo con flor de lis

Other inventories +

Inv. Nuevas Adquisiciones (iniciado en 1856). Núm. 2890.

Inscriptions +

2248994 / 117178
Inscribed in pencil. Back, lower left area

R.s 29.
Inscribed in pen and brown ink. Back, lower right area

Lettered in the plate. Front, lower area

Displayed objects +



Shield / Coat of Arms

Lances / Spears


Update date: 12-11-2021 | Registry created on 24-08-2015

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