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

Allegory of Time Governed by Prudence

c. 1565
Oil on canvas, 76 x 69 cm
National Gallery, London

Connected to Titian's late portraits is the Allegory of Time Governed by Prudence. This is an exceptional portrait which depicts the aged Titian on the left above a wolf's head, his son Orazio in the centre above the head of a lion, and his nephew Marco above a dog's head. The wolf, the lion and the dog, symbolize the past, present and future. In the upper part of the painting there is an inscription which is the key to the complex allegorical meaning of the work: "EX PRAETERITO PRAESENS PRUDENTER AGIT, NI FUTURUM ACTIONE DETURPET" ("From the (experience of the) past, the present acts prudently, lest it spoil future action").

Though it was common enough during the Renaissance to use three human heads to symbolize the ages of man, and to use three animal heads to symbolize prudence, it was very unusual to use them as the theme of a painting. As Titian used personal motifs, it can be assumed that he chose the subject matter himself.