The subject of the painting is Isabella d'Este(1474-1539) who was the Marquess of Mantua, a political and cultural leader in what was a leading art centre in Renaissance Italy. She was an avid art collector and patron of the arts. It followed that she commissioned many portraits of herself by prominent artists of the time such as Leonardo Da Vinci, Andrea Mantegna & Titian.
She was an ambitious woman and a portrait by a renowned artist would serve to elevate her position and power in society at that time. Titian was certainly a sought after artist of the era and was known to bring out the positive aspects of the powerful clients he painted. Isabella commissioned the painting herself at around the age of 62. She was known to provide complex and detailed art briefs. Titian produced the painting from written descriptions she provided which conveyed her essence, rather than in person sittings. The painting became an idealised portrait resembling a much younger woman in her 20s with a radiant flawless complexion.
What stands out from the portrait is the beautiful depiction of the skin. Titian was said to use very thin layers of paint with a lot of medium painted on like a glaze so the underlying colours showed through, giving a luminosity to the skin. Also striking is the texture and detailing in the clothing and the expressive brushwork of the fur. Titian would paint in a solid colour and then add texture with a dry brush painting technique on top to give the impression of fabric.
The artist is well known for his vibrant brushwork, bold sweeping strokes of colour and atmospheric effects which become more noticeable on closer inspection. Drama was added to the appearance of the figure with thinly painted dark backgrounds. The painting feels alive with a wonderful overall effect that conceals the labour that has gone into it. The heightened colour contrast and complex compositions he undertook gained him high status by the 1530s. Aspiring artists would regularly study his techniques.
Titian is one of the best examples of the Venetian style of painting of which colour was a major factor. His handling of colour, brushwork and composition had great influence on a new generation of painters. Rembrandt, Diego Velázquez, and Peter Paul Rubens were among those influenced by his work. His body of work greatly affected the course of European painting and the drama effect he created was an element in the development of the Baroque style of painting. Portrait d'Isabella d'Este is currently housed in the Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna.