Portrait of Pope Paul III Cardinal Alessandro Farnese and Duke Ottavio Farnese Titian Buy Art Prints Now
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Tom Gurney BSc (Hons) is an art history expert with over 20 years experience
Published on June 19, 2020 / Updated on October 14, 2023
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The Portrait of Pope Paul III Cardinal Alessandro Farnese and Duke Ottavio Farnes is an oil on canvas painting by Titian that is housed at the Naples-based Museo di Capodimonte.

The Farnese family commissioned the painting, and it was painted when Titan visited Rome, which was between 1545 autumn and June 1546. The painting portrays the thorny relationship that existed between Pope Paul III, who was born Alessandro Farnese, and his two grandsons, Alessandro and Ottavio. In the painting, Ottavio is in the about to kneel; to his left, Alessandro, who is wearing a cardinal's dress, is standing behind Ottavio to his right.

The Portrait of Pope Paul III Cardinal Alessandro Farnese and Duke Ottavio Farnes by Titan explores ageing effects as well as the manoeuvring that's behind a succession. At that time, Paul was in his 70s, and he was operating within a political climate that was uncertain as the Holy Roman Emperor, Charles V, came into ascendancy. Paul wasn't a religious person; he viewed the popedom as a way of consolidating his family's position. The portrait of Pope Paul III Cardinal Alessandro Farnese and Duke Ottavio Farnese by Titian depicts the tensions as well as the manoeuvring of the sixteenth-century court politics. The heavy brushstrokes and deep red background establish an anxious, tense atmosphere as well as the uneasy relationship between Alessandro Farnese and his two suitors.

The canvas has been dramatically divided in 2 by a diagonal line that is separated by tone and colour. The lower two-thirds of the painting are typically dominated by heavy red plus white pigments; whites and brown are prominent in the painting's upper right-hand side section. The division is portrayed by a diagonal that reaches the curtain upper edge down to the leggings Ottavio is wearing in the right midground. There are other echoes of the pattern and colour, including the red of the robes Paul is wearing against his chair's velvet and the overhanging curtain.

The Pope has aged, and he's sick and tired. In the eyes of some critics, he looks at Ottavio in a manner that is accusatory. The Pope's camauro or hat cloaks his baldness, but the tell-tale signs of ageing are seen in his long uneven beard, stooped shoulders, dark beady eyes and long nose. He's noticeably older when compared to the 1543 second Naples portrait. This fact is strengthened by the clock that is placed on the table, serving as a memento mori plus a reminder that his time is running out. Therefore, his grandsons' presence means the thoughts of a succession prompted the commission.

Nevertheless, Paul manages to retain elements of an alert and powerful patriarch. This painting is set at a unique angle, such that although the Pope is positioned low when it comes to the pictorial space, viewers still have to look upwards towards him in respect. He's dressed in full pomp; he's wearing nice wide fur-lined sleeves, which is a typical Venetian device for conveying status. The cape he's wearing is lying across his upper body, which suggests physical presence.