Skip to main content
Venice 2014

The Doge at War

Tintoretto, Portrait of Doge Sebastiano Venier

Tintoretto, Portrait of Doge Sebastiano Venier (1570's) Vienna, Kunsthistorisches Museum. Oil on Canvas. 

Tintoretto’s Portrait of Doge Sebastiano Venier (1570’s) connects the viewer with what is happening in Venice. Tintoretto’s portrait of Doge Venier depicts Venice’s 76th Doge in full military armor, equipped with both sword and bronze helmet, standing beside an open window of Venice. Outside, the scene appears to depict a naval battle with a mass of burning ships. Doge Venier stands to the side, giving the viewer a full view of the battle, and grasps his sword, as if he is ready to advance into battle. He has a stern, holding gaze and makes direct eye contact with the viewer. His portrait conveys militaristic pride as well as sharpened wit. His fervent gaze recalls Titian’s Portrait of Doge Andrea Gritti (1540), however in Tintoretto’s portrait, Doge Sebastiano Venier looks the viewer directly in the eye and seems to say “Look at what we have done.” As capitano generale da mar, or “Chief Admiral” of Venice at the Battle of Lepanto in their war against the Ottoman Turks in 1571, Sebastiano Venier served as a military officer before eventually becoming Doge. His portrait by Tintoretto reflects his military accomplishments and represents him as a strong leader during Venice’s conquest against the Ottoman Turks. 

Agnolo Bronzino, Portrait of Duke Cosimo I de' Medici

Bronzino, Portrait of Duke Cosimo I de' Medici in Armor (1545) Oil on Canvas. 

To include an example from Florentine portraiture, Bronzino’s Portait of Duke Cosimo I de’ Medici in Armor (1545) is unmistakably similar to Tintoretto’s Portrait of Doge Sebastiano Venier. The Duke of Florence wears a striking suit of armor, analogous to the suit of armor worn by Doge Venier. The expression of Cosimo I de’ Medici is one of advisability and insight. Like in Tintoretto’s portrait of the Doge, the Duke of Florence stands to the side and is turned in the viewer’s direction, making direct eye contact. There does not seem to be a disconnect in this portrait, unlike other portraits of the Medici by Bronzino, instead “this picture is painted with a virtuosity that makes the subtler details of the armor and its reflections wholly convincing; the figure of the Duke- rendered with manifest suavity, clarity, and intensity- creates a vibrant and unforgettable presence.”[1] Through examination of all the details in this painting, Bronzino must have surely viewed Tintoretto’s portraits of the Doges. Cosimo’s pose is also very similar. Like Venier, he stands upright, and places his left hand over his sword hanging at his side while his right hand rests on his helmet. Truly a portrait to commemorate the Duke’s successes in battle for the city of Florence, the portrait is rich in detail and iconography. The Duke leans against a row of Doric columns as to symbolize the history of the Medici family. There is also an open window in the portrait, a detail not included in many of Bronzino’s portraits of the Medici. Usually painted against a dark background, Bronzino’s portraits rarely include any other details to indicate an interior or exterior setting. The scene unfolding outside of the window in Bronzino’s portrait also depicts a sort of naval scene. The colors are more muted in this work as opposed to the bright reds and silvers in Tintoretto’s Portrait of Doge Sebastiano Venier. Aside to being images of militaristic pride, both Tintoretto’s Portrait of Doge Sebastiano Venier and Bronzino’s Portrait of Duke Cosimo I de’ Medici in Armor can be interpreted as images of propaganda.

[1] Simon, Robert B, “Bronzino’s Portrait of Cosimo I in Armor,” The Burlington Magazine 125, no. 966 (1983), 528.