TIZIANO Vecellio
(b. 1490, Pieve di Cadore, d. 1576, Venezia)

Federico Gonzaga, Duke of Mantua

Oil on panel, 125 x 94 cm
Museo del Prado, Madrid

Titian's most important patron in the 1530s was Federico Gonzaga, Duke of Mantua and nephew of Alfonso d'Este. The artist's portrait of Federico is of unsurpassed poise and elegance and may have been intended to support the sitter's matrimonial intentions. The flattery is not unalloyed. The Duke's love of pleasure, indicated by his sumptuous costume and the pampered dog, may be subsumed by his seigneurial dignity but the slight inclination of his head and the small sensuous mouth evoke the flippant selfishness of the same Duke in Verdi's Rigoletto.

The way the dog recognizes its master would have been seen as a conventional tribute to the power of portraiture to achieve a vivid likeness.