The portrait is a part of a 2 piece series, in which the portrait of Francesco's wife, Eleonora Gonzaga della Rovere, constitutes the companion piece. Both portraits are currently on public display and reside in the Uffizi Gallery, located in the City of Florence, in the region of Tuscany, Italy. The Uffizi holds multiple works of Titian and the City of Florence is the official owner of the portrait and its' companion piece. Francesco Maria della Rovere was the Duke of Urbino and commissioned the painting in the summer of 1536. Both portraits were painted using oil on canvas.
Titian was a self-critical perfectionist who would constantly refine his pieces, adding subtle details which enhanced his paintings and contributed to his incomparable reputation as a renaissance artist. The portrait of Francesco took Titian approximately two years to complete and a multitude of symbolic expressions are conveyed within the painting as a whole. Francesco is depicted from mid-level in his glistening parade armour; however, he was not present as a model for the painting. The parade armour was sent separately to Titian so that he could reproduce an accurate depiction of the Duke wearing his armour.
Francesco was a military man, the General Captain of the Serenissima. The individualised and sharp portrayal of Francesco emphasises his capacity as one of the most important military leaders to serve the Republic of Venice. The alert pose and stern expression of Francesco, combined with the Venetian baton wielded in Francesco's fist, superimposed against a crimson velvet backdrop, conveys the impression of a man of unrivalled might and power.
The characteristics of courage, pride, wisdom, and honour are all present in the portrait. Beneath the armour, the Duke wears the heraldic colours of the Montefeltro house, black and yellow, which reminds the viewer of the Dukes powerful ancestors. Behind the Duke sits a dragon topped helmet and the symbolic batons of Florence and Venice, which represent a command of the papacy. The oak branch is another reference to Francesco's heritage, the house of della Rovere, and by association Francesco's famous uncle of the time, Pope Julius II.
The portrait of Francesco dates to approximately 1536 – 1538. Prior to its delivery to the Duke, the portrait was admired by Pietro Aretino, a poet, figure of significant influence during the era, and a close friend of Titian. Aretino's commentary, in Two Sonnets, regarding the portrait reinforces the commendable artistry of Titian, describing the admirable moral qualities of the duke and duchess captured to perfection in Titian's two piece series. The portrait of Francesco influenced later pieces by Titian and two portraits of Aretino himself were later produced. In the spring of 1538, the portrait of Francesco was delivered to the Ducal Palace of Pesaro and completed the two piece series.
The portrait of Francesco Maria della Rovere is impassioned and meticulous. Although the portrait centres on the individual and does not contain as many additional metaphoric references as some of the other works of Titian, it is a prime example of Titian's skill and devotion, and rightfully deserves its' place as a masterpiece.