Lot 18
  • 18

Tiziano Vecellio, called Titian

1,000,000 - 1,500,000 GBP
bidding is closed


  • Tiziano Vecellio, called Titian
  • Portrait of a Venetian Admiral, possibly Francesco Duodo
  • oil on canvas


Probably Prince Trivulzio, Milan;

Bonomi collection (inv. no. 106), Milan, until 1933;

Thence by descent in Monte Carlo until sold to a collector in the 1960s;

Thence by descent to his son, by whom sold, London, Sotheby's, 3 July 1997, lot 63, for £1,100,000, where acquired by French and Company, New York;

By whom sold, New York, Sotheby's, 29 January 2009, lot 56, for $1,500,000, where acquired by the present owner.


New York, Salander O'Reilly Galleries, Rembrandt and the Venetian Influence, 3 October – 18 November 2000, no. 6.


O. Fischel, Tizian, Stuttgart 1904, pp. 225 and 262 (as a late lost painting by Titian, copied by Van Dyck in his sketch book and recorded in an old anonymous Venetian chalk drawing);

W. Suida, Tizian, 1933, pp. 83, 166 and 187, reproduced plate CLXXb;

G. Adriani, Anton van Dyck: Italienisches Skizzenbuch, 1940, p. 28, under no. 107;

R. Fisher, Titian's Assistants During the Later Years, Harvard Ph.D. 1958, London and New York 1977, pp. 103–4, reproduced fig. 93 (as possibly by Palma Giovane, though knowing the painting only from Suida's published photograph);

F. Ilchman, in Rembrandt and the Venetian Influence, New York, Salander O'Reilly Gallery, 3 October – 18 November 2000, pp. 22–27, and p. 70, cat. no. 6, reproduced in colour.


The following condition report is provided by Sarah Walden who is an external specialist and not an employee of Sotheby's: Tiziano Vecellio. Portrait of a Venetian Admiral, possibly Francesco Duodo. This painting has a recent lining and stretcher. It has also recently been cleaned and restored. The head is strong and imposing, especially the powerful expression in the eyes, which are finely intact. Other details such as the mouth and the ear are also quite well preserved, while the darks of the surrounding beard have tended to become thin through wear, uncovering occasional minor highlights. Elsewhere the vigorous brushwork of the armour, with its lion's head, is also well intact. The build up of Venetian glazes in the drapery, and in the luminous shadows of the background, has been more vulnerable to wear from restoration over the recent century. There are also some scattered small knocks or losses, visible under ultra violet light, which have been carefully retouched. These have been almost always in the background: with several above the head, another succession of small patches of retouching down the right side in the background with others similarly spaced out in the drapery on the right. There are fewer on the left, where the darker background is also rather better preserved, with various retouchings along the base edge, and more rarely along the other edges. There is one small old three cornered tear on the forehead of the figure, with another tiny three cornered tear in the sleeve on the left and a few minor retouchings in the beard. The delicacy of great Venetian paintings can undoubtedly be understood, as well as their power, in this impressive portrait. His report was not done under laboratory conditions.
"This lot is offered for sale subject to Sotheby's Conditions of Business, which are available on request and printed in Sotheby's sale catalogues. The independent reports contained in this document are provided for prospective bidders' information only and without warranty by Sotheby's or the Seller."

Catalogue Note

Late portraits by Titian are very rare. Stylistically this painting of a high-ranking Venetian commander corresponds to works executed during Titian’s final decade. The first modern scholar to identify this portrait as such was Suida (see Literature); thereafter the painting was largely ignored in the literature due to its inaccessibility. This portrait can be traced back to the 1620s when Van Dyck recorded it in his Italian sketchbook (fig. 1). He inscribed it with an attribution to Titian, the Italian master whom he most admired.

There are in fact two early records of this major late portrait by Titian: one a late sixteenth-century drawing in black and white chalk on blue paper that copies the painting (fig. 2);1 and the other, mentioned above, Van Dyck’s lively pen, ink and wash drawing executed on folio 107 verso of his Italian sketchbook, formerly at Chatsworth and is now at the British Museum, London.2 The former, also in the British Museum, was attributed to Palma il Giovane in the past, and although this attribution is no longer upheld, nevertheless the style of the drawing indicates a Venetian origin.3 This has implications for the painting’s provenance because it suggests that the painting was still in Venice towards the end of the sixteenth century.

Van Dyck’s drawing also offers some clues about the painting’s later whereabouts. He compiled his sketchbook during his years in Italy (1621–27) and it has been understood as a record of the works he saw on his journey. Furthermore the sketchbook has been used to trace the provenance of the pictures he copied there. However David Jaffé has pointed out the difficulties in dating drawings solely on internal evidence and cautioned against relying too heavily on the sketchbook as an indicator of provenance.4 Van Dyck’s sketchbook served primarily as a working guide with groupings devoted to certain topics and not as a travel journal illustrated sequentially. It has been suggested that the drawing after the present painting probably dates from 1623 since it is known that after his Venetian sojourn (August to November 1622) Van Dyck visited Florence in 1623 and in the same year travelled to Rome, until October or November, whereupon he proceeded to Genoa.5 On the same page as his drawing of this portrait, is his copy after Raphael’s Portrait of Leo X and his Nephews, a work that was in Florence by 1589; and on the facing page there is his drawing after Titian’s famous Portrait of Ranuccio Farnese, which remained in the Farnese collection in Rome until an unknown date (it was still there in 1644 but recorded in Parma by 1680). It is possible therefore that by the early 1620s the Portrait of an admiral was housed in a collection accessible to Van Dyck in either Florence or Rome. The painting’s subsequent provenance is not yet known. It is later recorded in the Bonomi collection, Milan. According to family tradition it came to them from the collection of one of the city’s most prominent noble families, the Trivulzio.  

In 2000 Frederick Ilchman proposed a new identification for the sitter: Francesco Duodo (1518–1592), a high-ranking Venetian military commander, who was a key figure at the Battle of Lepanto and a prominent official in later sixteenth-century Venice.6 Ilchman based his identification on a portrait by a follower of Tintoretto in the Museo Storico Navale, Venice, which bears the Duodo coat-of-arms and the initials ‘F.D.’.7 There is also a marble bust of Duodo by Alessandro Vittoria at the Ca’ d’Oro, Venice.8 Prior to this the sitter bore a more generic identification as ‘a Venetian Admiral’. Tietze and Tietze-Conrat had suggested the name of Sebastiano Venier, as did Fischel before them,9 but other portraits of Venier by Tintoretto show facial features strikingly different from those of the sitter represented here.10

The X-radiograph reveals a number of significant pentimenti that are characteristic of Titian’s working methods (fig. 3). They show him making alterations to the composition directly onto the canvas with characteristically deft strokes. The most obvious change is to the head, which has been moved to the right; the hand too has been altered; and adjustments to the outline of the sitter’s left shoulder are also evident.

Following the painting’s recent restoration at the instigation of the present owner, Prof. Paul Joannides saw it again and found it much improved and entirely autograph.11 Prof. Peter Humfrey agrees with this view.12 Recent inspection at first-hand has confirmed Prof. Joannides’ opinion that the work is very late, with beautiful passages, such as the crimson cloak executed in vigorous sweeps of paint and the lively brushwork deployed to structure the sculptural lion-head on the armour’s shoulder-piece. In the lower areas of the painting, principally below the waist towards the centre, Joannides finds less finished areas: thus the hand that holds the baton of command is rendered succinctly with few strokes and the hilt of the sword is hardly more than adumbrated. This lack of uniformity adds to the portrait's immediacy and vitality. Given the scarcity of portraits by the aged Titian, the closest comparisons are to be found in other genres. In Joannides' opinion, the Tarquin and Lucretia at the Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge, sent to Philip II in 1571, shows analogous techniques, brought to a higher level of finish, while the Vienna version of the same subject, which is obviously incomplete, presents still closer analogies to the present work. We are grateful to Prof. Joannides and to Prof. Humfrey for their opinions.

1. T,12.63; 291x 237 mm.

2. 1957, 1214.207; folio 107v.; 199 x 156 mm.

3. H. Tietze and E. Tietze-Conrat, The Drawings of the Venetian Painters in the 15th and 16th Centuries, New York 1944, 1970 (ed.), no. 898, p. 207.

4. D. Jaffé, ‘New thoughts on Van Dyck’s Italian sketchbook’, The Burlington Magazine, CXLIII, October 2001, pp. 614–24. We are grateful to Paul Joannides for drawing our attention to this article. 

5. For the chronology see C. Brown, Van Dyck Drawings, London 1991, p. 13.

6. Ilchman 2000, pp. 22–27.

7. Inv. no. 952; 107.5 x 86 cm. Detail reproduced in Ilchman 2000, p. 25, fig. 18.

8. T. Martin, Alessandro Vittoria and the Portrait Bust in Renaissance Venice, Oxford 1998, reproduced plate 101.

9. See Tietze and Tietze-Conrat 1944; also Fischel 1904, p. 225, where Van Dyck’s drawn copy of Titan’s portrait, which he thought lost, is reproduced with a tentative identification as Sebastiano Venier.

10. Compare, for instance, the portraits in P. Rossi, Jacopo Tintoretto: I Ritratti, Milan 1994, pp. 142–45, cat. nos 32 and 33.

11. Written communication, 20 September 2017.

12. Written communication, 3 October 2017.