Lot 233
  • 233

Workshop of Tiziano Vecellio, called Titian (Pieve di Cadore c.1490-1576 Venice), Italy

200,000 - 300,000 GBP
505,250 GBP
bidding is closed


  • 72.4 x 61cm.
    107.5 x 74.4cm. framed
Oil on Canvas


Probably executed for Frederico Gonzaga, Duke of Mantua, 1538

Bishop Paolo Giovo (1483-1552), Como.

With Commendatore E. Marinuci, Rome, by 1935

Christie's London, 24 March 1961, lot 39; bought by Agnew's London, where bought by present owner.


Venice, Palazzo Ducale, Venezia e l'Islam 828-1797, 28 July - 25 November 2007, cat. no.18, illustrated in colour p.106.

Catalogue Note

The present cinquecento painting is a work of great historical importance. Not only is this importance on account of its association with Titian's workshop, but as a representation of the inter-cultural and political exchange between Venice and the East and within the context of notions of portraiture.

Suleyman the Magnificent, the Ottoman Sultan, ascended the Ottoman throne in 1520 and kept Western Europe and its leaders Charles V, Ferdinand I, Clement VII and Paul III in a state of constant apprehension. He was instrumental in turning Constantinople (now Istanbul) into a great intellectual centre (see E. Rossi, 'Solimano I', Enciclopedia Italiana, XXXII, 1936, p. 76).

Four Titian 'portraits' of Suleyman, are recorded in contemporary documents (see J.M. Rogers and R.M. Ward, Suleyman the Magnificent, exhib. cat. British Museum, London, 1998, p. 46 note 4 and H.E. Wethey, loc. cit.). The first was that executed for Federico Gonzaga, Duke of Mantua, in 1538. Its execution was delayed due to the lack of a prototype; an individual called Marcantonio Motta owned a picture of Suleyman in Venice, but refused to lend it, and the Duke had to wait until Titian found a medal or other likenesses, perhaps a European print, in order to work from. The present painting is believed to be this portrait.

The second portrait was mentioned in a letter dated 7 March 1569, from Bishop Ippolito Capiluti of Fano, in Venice to Cardinal Ercole Gonzaga, where he wrote that he was sending a small picture (quadretto), of a portrait of the Turk by Titian (Gualandi, 1856, III, p. 20-22). The third work was recored by Vasari. He reported having seen a portrait at the della Rovere Court in 1539 (Vasari (1568)- Milanese, VII, p. 444) and a century later Ridolfi listed the work amongst the portraits of famous men by Titian, but without mentioning the owner (Ridolfi (1648)- Hadeln, I, p. 192). The Urbino inventory of 1631 cites a portrait of Suleyman II. The fourth portrait could be that included by Titian in his Ecce Homo (Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna). Wethey writes (op. cit., p. 204, no.4) that there is mention in a letter dated 20 September 1578 written by Niccolo Barbarigo from Constantinople to the Signoria of Venice that he once saw in Titian's house a neglected portrait of Soliman on Horseback, this might describe the above mentioned painting in Vienna. The Sultan is included at the edge, on horseback, in profile, but also bearded. The present portrait, or, indeed, the above mentioned two other versions may have provided the model for the Ecce Homo.

Given such a diversity of prototypes it might be expected that European depictions of the Sultan would differ considerably, but the Suleyman portraits, variously attributed to Titian's workshop and followers, do in fact show a degree of uniformity, which does suggest that they were based upon the same single source. Titian's use of assistants is well documented, indeed for his Muhlberg protrait of Charles V he is known to have involved seven assistants. The existence of several versions of the same portrait of Suleyman certainly points to the possible involvement of other hands in their creation.

A profile of the portrait of Suleyman the Magnificent was mentioned by Benedetto Agnello in a letter of 23 August 1538 to Duke Federico Gonzaga (5th Marquis, 1st Duke) as having been executed from a medal, thus explaining the profile format (see Crowe and Cavalcaselle, loc. cit.; Braghirolli loc. cit. and Donati, loc. cit.). In addition, the inventory of the Mantuan collection of 1627 includes mention of 'un ritratto di Selim re dei Turchi nella loggietta verso el giardino del paviglione', most probably a reference to the present portrait. The Gonzaga link with Titian is one which is well documented. Titian is believed to have been introduced to Federico Gonzaga by Pietro Arentino (1492- 1556), as a result of which Titian painted the Duke's portrait in 1523 and was thereafter employed by the Duke on a regular basis from 1528. If the present painting was painted for Federico it must post-date 1528, which would be in keeping with other portraits of the period and their facial treatment such as that of the Duke with his dog in the Prado and also the portrait of a man in armour (possibly a Gonzaga) dated circa 1530 (private collection, illustrated in Splendours of the Gonzaga exhib. cat., D. Chambers and J. Martineau (eds.), Victoria and Albert Museum, London, 1981, p. 184, cat. no. 153). Aretino who was very pro-Turkish may possibly have procured a drawing of Suleyman, which he gave to Federico and from which Titian, in turn, could work. Alternatively there may have been a coin or medal which was a source of inspiration. Federico's interest in having portraits of prominent figures is not unusual, in the light of his series of paintings of Roman Emperors.

Durer drew a striking portrait of the head of the Sultan dated 1526 (Musee Bonnat, Bayonne; E.Panofsky, Albrecht Durer, Princeton, 1943, no. 1039). It shows Suleyman as a young man turbaned, clean-shaven but with a luxuriant moustache and remarkably long neck (see Bragadin in 1526, Marino Sanuto, Diarii, vol. XLI, 1894, p. 526). Durer's source for this image can only be guessed at and it may have been the painting formerly in the Kress foundation. Alternatively, the extant oil-paintings of Suleyman, such as that in Budapest (Magyar Nemzeti Museum, Historische Bildergalerie, no. 438), sometimes attributed to the circle of Titian and part of the Renaissance fashion for portraits of viri illustri, follow a similar type. Clearly a source of inspiration was also provided by earlier portraits of members of the Ottoman court, such as Gentile Bellini's Portrait of Mehmed II, 1480 (London National Gallery).

Medals would have been very portable sources of inspiration. One ascribed to the Ferrarese sculptor and medallist Alfonso Cittadella (Lombardi), shows the turbaned head of a young man and the cast inscription SOLYMAN IMP TVR is based on a similar prototype and is known in a number of examples with different inscriptions (L. Planiscig, Die Estensische Kunstsammlung. I. Skulpturen und Plastiken des Mittelalters und der Renaissance, Vienna, 1919, no. 385). More distant is an anonymous Italian medal, with a cast inscription showing a be-turbaned head in high relief with a tall bonnet (British Museum, Coins and Medals M. 2071). Although, clearly, Suleyman had no prejudice against portraiture as such, unlike Mehmed the Conqueror he never appears to have commissioned portraits from European artists and would have been far too grand to sit for the attendants of the ambassadors and other foreigners he received.

As noted in the catalogue for the exhibition, Suleyman the Magnificent, (J.M. Rogers and R.M. Ward, exhib. cat., British Museum, London, 1988, p. 46), the only surviving portrait of Suleyman done from life was by a talented sea captain Haydar Reis (Nigari) who evidently in the late 1550's portrayed the Sultan as an elderly man. However, at least one engraved portrait of him by Melchior Lorchs survives: a standing figure with the Suleymaniye mosque in the background (probably therefore executed in 1557, the date of its inauguration), executed either after Lorchs' own sketches or after Ottoman portraits of a similar type.

The present painting is believed to have come from the collection of Paolo Giovio (1483-1552). His museum of portraits of famous men, for which he built a villa near Como (1537-40; destroyed) included portraits of men of letters, dead and living; artists and wits; popes, kings, and generals; he composed written lives or eulogia to accompany the portraits. Giovio's Museum was part of the Renaissance cult of glory, and became the prototype for many later portrait collections of famous men.