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Venice 2014

Militaristic Might: Titian and Bronzino

Portrait of Doge Leonardo Loredan

Giovanni Bellini, Portrait of Doge Leonardo Loredan. (1501) National Gallery, London. Oil on canvas, 2' 0" x 1' 6" (62 cm x 45 cm) 

Titian’s Portrait of Doge Andrea Gritti (1540) is similar to Giovanni Bellini’s Portrait of Doge Leonardo Loredan in its ability to present a commanding frontal figure pitted against a solid background. Compared with Bronzino’s Portrait of Cosimo I de’ Medici (1545), both portraits communicate the authoritative presences of the Doge and Cosimo I de’ Medici. At this time, Titian was considered to be one of the premier portrait artists of Venice for his vivid use of the Venetian colori as well as his ability to capture even the most fleeting of expressions of his sitter. Producing work at around the same time in Florence, Bronzino unquestionably would have been familiar with the work of Titian because the Portrait of Doge Andrea Gritti and his Portrait of Cosimo I de’ Medici contain similar characteristics. The use of a dark background and a frontal figure glancing towards the right are present in both portraits, even the position of the right arm is near exact. What is perhaps the most important feature of both of these works is the emphasis on militarry achievement.  


"Portrait of Doge Andrea Gritti"- Titian (1540)

Titian, Portrait of Doge Andrea Gritti (1540), National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C, Oil on canvas, 133.6 x 103.2 cm (52 5/8 x 40 5/8 in

With a distinguished diplomatic and military career, Doge Andrea Gritti who ruled Venice from 1523 to 1538, is commemorated as a resilient and powerful leader in Titian’s portrait. Though he is not shown with any armor or objects to indicate his militaristic status as seen in Bronzino’s Portrait of Cosimo I de’ Medici, his authority is communicated through his hawk-like gaze. Like a general surveying a battlefield, power, wisdom and militaristic might are articulated through his expression, where he makes no eye contact with the viewer. Instead, his steely gaze is focused to the right of the painting and he clutches his red robe in his right hand, revealing his opulent ring. In Robert Finlay’s article, “Fabius Maximus in Venice: Doge Andrea Gritti, the War of Cambrai, and the Rise of the Habsburg Hegemony, (1509-1530),” Finlay discusses the comparison of Doge Gritti to Roman general who opposed Hannibal in the Second Punic War. Finlay remarks on Titian’s portrait and his ability to capture his military grandeur: “brow furrowed, mouth grimly set, massive chest swirling beneath a cape, the head of state violently clutches his crimson robe and glares at the viewer.”[1] The abrasiveness of the Doge’s personality is embodied in a quote that Finlay provides from Gritti’s 16th-century biographer “in giving or receiving compliments, it was impossible to be livelier or wittier in manner; but if provoked by some malevolence or rancor, there was no aspect more terrifying than his.”[2] However, in Bronzino’s Portrait of Cosimo I de’ Medici, a more passive tone is suggested despite the menacing appearance of Cosimo I’s armor.

[1] Finlay, Robert, “Fabius Maximus in Venice: Doge Andrea Gritti, the War of Cambrai, and the Rise of the Habsburg Hegemony, (1509-1530),” Renaissance Quarterly, 53. No. 4 (2000), 988.

[2] Ibid. 

Portrait of Cosimo I de' Medici

Agnolo Bronzino, Portrait of Cosimo I de' Medici, (1545), Galleria degli Uffizi, Florence, Tempera on panel, 74 cm × 58 cm (29 in × 23 in)

As painters for their cities, both Titian of Venice and Bronzino, a Florentine, sought to venerate their most important leaders and honor their military accomplishments. Both in Venice and especially in Florence, political strife was rampant as families such as the Medici tried to regain control of their city. As the de facto rulers of Florence, the Medici family made Agnolo Bronzino court painter, a very prestigious honor. Cosimo I de’ Medici, Grand Duke of Tuscany, assumed power at the age of seventeen when the twenty-six year old Alessandro de’ Medici was assassinated. Cosimo I was a member from a different branch of the Medici family, but was widely accepted as Duke of Florence. His portrait by Bronzino depicts him in his armor, with his right hand resting on his helmet and the same body position and side gaze as Titian’s Portrait of Doge Andrea Gritti. In this portrait however, there is a certain passivity though Cosimo I in his spiked armor appears ready to march off into battle at any moment. His face has an air of uncertainty and Cosimo appears deep in the midst of thought. In contrast to the fierce expression of Doge Gritti as depicted in Titian’s portrait, here in the portrait of Cosimo I, he embodies the Medici regime motto “He who does not think of things in advance, does not do them well.”[1] Comparing the portraits of the Doge and of Cosimo I, there is a contrast between the resilience and hardness of Gritti’s expression and the princely nature of Cosimo I.

[1] McCorquodale, Charles, Bronzino, New York City: Harper & Row, Publishers (1981), 68.