Left. Changes in the figure of the emperor. Detail of the x-ray. Right: superposition of the x-ray to the visible image of the painting by means of a digital process.


The portrait is painted on an extremely fine canvas to which Titian applied a preparatory layer of calcium carbonate and animal glue. On the surface of this layer are traces of sketchy preparatory under-drawing applied with a brush in order to establish the principal outlines.

X-radiography revealed an important modification in the figure of the Emperor, which was originally located lower down and in an almost frontal position, holding his lance with both hands. Titian initially located the lance above the horse’s neck and altered the position of the Emperor’s face, whose gaze originally looked out towards the viewer. However, the artist finally opted for a more markedly profile pose in order to emphasise the figure’s inexpressive, distant appearance. The fact that Titian made almost no modifications to the horse other than slightly raising the head indicates that he started the portrait with the rider.

Titian used a colouristic approach characteristic of Venetian painting, deploying it with particular mastery in the highlights on the armour, the red, the gold glints on the horse’s caparison, and above all, in the lighting and atmospheric effects of the landscape that provides the setting for the figure. This landscape thus appears to be bathed in a dusk light, with some misty areas on the right, a small building and the swamps and pool still characteristic of the banks of the Elbe.

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