Portrait of the Doge Francesco Venier 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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Titian (Tiziano Vecellio) produced portraits as well as building frescos of religious and mythological figures and became very popular throughout Europe for his painting.

He produced a full-length portrait of the Emperor, Charles V, and was invited to be the principal painter to the Imperial court; and his work was requested by many other courts. Titian was commissioned to produce a portrait of the Doge Francesco Venier (Doge meaning 'Duke') who was the Duke of Venice for the last two years of his life, 1554-1556. The Duke was frail and in ill-health when the portrait was produced. Titian depicted the frailty of this man wearing the heavy, embroidered clothing of his status.

Originally, the portrait was painted on the interior of the Duke's Palace in Venice, but this burnt in a fire of 1577 and the portrait was lost. A copy of this portrait was painted by Titian and has survived. The Duke is depicted standing by a window showing a lake with a burning boat. There is no historical knowledge of what this signifies, but the Duke was a leader that avoided confrontations and aggression. Titian details the gold clothing to emphasise the status of the Duke. His face is gaunt and yet shows a strength of character. This Duke was known for his austerity in Venice, which made him unpopular. Titian gives him a mild-mannered appearance that reveals a leader that preferred peace to war.

This work by Titian is incredibly detailed, from every part of the face to the gown and the detail on the Duke's cap. The stance that the Duke portrays with his hand extended appears to come between the window showing the burning boat on the lake and the person viewing the portrait; as if he is holding back the aggressive behaviour of some of his subjects. (This is a subjective look at the portrait, and not an official view.) Titian always uses great detail in his work and this oil on canvas portrait is no exception. The light and shadow on the Duke's figure are just enough to show off the gold cloak and to emphasise the Duke's facial features and expression. Titian had many influences from other artists and architects during his life, and he met Michelangelo on a trip to Rome, previous to making this portrait.

Titian underwent a review of his life's painting and began to develop his techniques and style in a freer way as more of an impressionist than painting reality. For the painting of the Doge Francesco Venier, he kept to reality; except, perhaps, for the vision of the burning boat in the window. The painting is on display at the National Thyssen-Bornemisza Museum of Art in Madrid.