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In his final period of work, Titian concentrated mainly on religious-themed pieces but still maintained his enthusiasm for painting portraits.
In the year between 1567 and 1568 he created two paintings that are arguably among his finest masterpieces, the Vienna Portrait of Jacopo Stradathe and the Prado Self-Portrait.
The Prado Self-Portrait is the second self-portrait that Titian produced, the earlier being the Berlin Self-Portrait which he painted around 15 years earlier. The Berlin work portrays the artist as a man of vigour in an alert and dynamic pose. In it he wears the trappings of his knighthood and confidently displays his grand status. The painting has an animated feel with a sense of movement and alertness.
In contrast, the Prado Self-Portrait utilises an entirely difference thematic scheme. There is a distinct lack of the potency and strength that is portrayed in the Berlin piece. The painting is unapologetic in showing the advanced age of the artist and is devoid of any flattery. Titian looks thinner and more remote than his previous self-portrait and appears to be deep in thought and remote to the viewer.
However, the portrait still presents an air of quiet dignity and mastery. Titian may have had less self-confidence in his physical appearance when he produced the work but the brilliance of his art is clearly apparent. The sheer technical accomplishment of the painting alone is a much further advancement from his earlier Berlin portrait.
Titian was acutely aware of the way others perceived him and went to some lengths in order to maintain his reputation. For the most part, he shied away from public life and kept his matters and affairs as private as he possibly could. At this stage in his life, Titian was wealthy enough to be able to selectively choose the commissions he undertook and did not need to rely on exclusive patrons. This self-portrait is perhaps a statement of his nobility and authority that he was only able to acquire over the long years of his illustrious and successful career.
Titian is dressed in plain but expensive clothing and around his neck he wears the gold chain that reminds us that he holds the title of Knight of the Golden Spur, a knighthood bequeathed to him by Charles V. In his hand he holds a paintbrush, but its presence is understated and on first glance easy to miss. In the Berlin work, he gave no allusion to his craft and the Prado portrait is one of the first of the great self-portraits in the Western world where the master has depicted themselves as an artist.
The Prado Self-Portrait is a display of Titian's mastery and skill at the high point of his late period. There is a virtuosity in the way he uses such dull and dark shades of colour to such vivid effect. Lighter shades are mainly used in his the exposed flesh with exquisitely smalls strokes bringing light to his face, hands and the gold chain around his neck. Titian's physical features may have faded but his skill with the brush has only advanced further.
The painting undoubtedly inspired many other great artists, most notably the Spanish artists Francisco Goya and Diego Velázquez who both produced works depicting themselves in the process of painting.