The Virgin Dolorosa with her Hands apart1555. Oil, 68 x 53 cm.
We know from a letter of 30 June 1553 from the Spanish Ambassador in Venice that Titian was waiting for instructions from the emperor to paint a panel of Our Lady the same as the Ecce Homo which Your Majesty has. This painting was completed in 1554 and can be identified with The Virgin Dolorosa with her Hands joined (P443). In another letter of 1554 there is a reference to another Virgin Dolorosa which Charles specifically asked to be painted on stone, allowing us to identify it with The Virgin Dolorosa with her Hands apart (P444). Until March 1555 Titian did not find the required support, and on 31 May of that year Charles announced from Brussels that he would be sending the Patron de la Imagen de Nuestra Señora.
This correspondence reveals Charles´s interest in these subjects, to the extent of specifying the support and sending a model for the second one. This model was probably a Flemish painting, given that he was familiar with works by Quintin and Jan Massys, some in his own collection. Both Virgins, as well as the Ecce Homo, share a religious sensibility closer to the northern type (which in turn influenced Spanish art) than to the Italian one. Particularly notable here are the tears, absent in earlier works by Titian (although found in the works of contemporaries such as Lorenzo Lotto), and probably present in the model sent by the emperor. These are the tears of a mother for her son´s suffering, but also tears of supplication and intercession in favour of the devout spectator, in this case Charles V. This is how Titian himself explained to Philip II the significance of the tears on the face of The Magdalen which he sent to him in 1561. This concession towards northern devotional imagery is in striking contrast to Michelangelo´s contemporary criticism of Flemish painting for its sentimentality and preference for tears, as recorded in Francisco de Hollanda´s Da pintura antigua (1548), worth bearing in mind given the rivalry between Titian and Michelangelo and the cool reception which Vasari gave to Titian´s Ecce Homo painted for Paul III.
The devotional character of the paintings and their identity of their patron explains their notable material value, as The Virgin Dolorosa with her Hands apart is painted on marble, while The Virgin Dolorosa with her Hands joined uses lapislazuli in the robe. This reworking by Titian of Flemish devotional paintings, particulady The Virgin Dolorosa with her Hands joined, was extremely successful in Venice, where they clearly influenced the work of Jacopo Bassano. The same was also true in Spain, evident in the work of Luis de Morales.
These two paintings went with Charles V to Yuste. The later history of The Virgin Dolorosa with her Hands apart parallels that of the Ecce Homo, to which it formed a pendant. Philip II sent The Virgin Dolorosa with her Hands joined to the Escorial in 1574, where it remained until it entered the Museo del Prado in 1839 (Text drawn from Falomir, M.: Tiziano, Museo Nacional del Prado, 2003, pp. 385-386).