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Portrait of Pietro Aretino

Titian (Pieve di Cadore 1488/90 – Venice 1576)

Venus Room
Oil on canvas
96.7 x 77.6 cm
1912 no. 54

This portrait of Pietro Aretino was painted by Titian in early 1545 and was later donated by the Tuscan poet, who commissioned the work, to Duke Cosimo I de’ Medici in October that year. A well-known writer and courtier of sixteenth century Italy, Aretino first came to Rome to visit the Papal Court in the 1520s before moving to Venice where he became both famous for his innovative and shrewd writings and feared for his fiery and satirical nature and frank and divisive treatment of illustrious and powerful people, earning him the epithet from Ludovico Ariosto of “the scourge of the princes”. In this painting, Titian has succeeded in capturing his subject's defining characteristics, arranging him in a proud and resolute pose with a long beard to emphasize his virility, a heavy gold chain around his neck and the wide red cloak which encompasses his imposing frame.  It is a powerful, Michelangelesqueue painting which is rightly considered one of the masterpieces of Titian’s portrait work. It is characteristic of his later works when the painter experimented with a “sketched” style, evidenced here by the unfinished cloak, splendid in its representation of the folds and reflections of the fabric but sparingly embellished. This artistic license, known as the “unfinished” style of Titian’s final years, did not appear to be completely understood by Aretino who, despite being a friend and admirer of the artist, accused him of rushing the work. In a letter to Cosimo de’ Medici he said the following of the painting: “Certainly [this semblance of myself], breathes, raises the blood and moves the spirit in the way I myself do in life; and had there been more coins, which I have given in truth [to Titian], the strokes would have been brighter, softer and more solid”, joking, in his usual abrasive tone, that Titian painted in proportion with the money he received! 

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