When considering the painting of the Renaissance, it is accepted that it was an era of new perspectives and new visions. Admittedly, painters opened up new horizons for their work. Ecclesiastical and quite simplistic images made way for sophisticated Renaissance imagery. Painters tried new forms and means of expressing their ideas. This was a time of constant change. For instance, within fifty years, the way of portraying women changed considerably.
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Thus, Antonio del Pollaiuolo’s “Portrait of a Young Woman,” which was completed in 1475, differs greatly from the portrait by another significant painter Titian, “Portrait of Eleonora Gonzaga della Rovere” completed in 1536-37. Pollaiuolo’s young woman is depicted as a typical representative of her class, whereas Titian’s duchess is depicted as a personality. Both pictures are coded, but the way of presenting a woman and the major focuses are totally different in the two paintings. To understand the nature of these differences, it is necessary to get a closer look at both paintings.
Admittedly, Antonio del Pollaiuolo is one of the most significant painters of the fifteenth century who greatly influenced many painters of the epoch. He was not only a painter, but he was also a goldsmith (Rubin 62). It is important to note that his contemporaries appreciated his art and regarded him as “the chief master” (170). One of the reasons for such appreciation was Pollaiuollo’s technique and perfect style, which followed the major trends which ruled at that time.
For instance, in the fourteen century and at the beginning of the fifteenth century, “the profile form of a portrait head, largely inspired by antique coins,” was widespread (Le Goff n.p.). According to Seeff et al.
The convention of profile portraiture allowed nubile young women to be displayed for viewing without requiring them to meet the viewer “eye to eye,” thereby avoiding the transgression of visual intimacy thought essential to the maintenance of female public honor. (258)
It goes without saying that female honor was considered to be of primary importance, especially in portraits. It is also important to note that such profile portraits did not reveal personality, instead, the major focus was on social status and certain feminine values promulgated in contemporary society (King 123).
In the fifteenth century, women were largely characterized “by their costume: the cut, the cloth, the color of their garments,” which were to “display and distinguish their station and their status” (Rubin 108). Therefore, Pollaiuolo paid more attention to details like garment and jewelry, which were of major concern for potential viewers of the painting. Rubin drew an interesting parallel between the presentation of women in portraits and choosing a wife (108). In both cases, appearance (costume to a great extent) is in focus. It was believed that the way a young woman dressed characterized her virtues and status.
Admittedly, Pollaiuolo depicted his Young Woman to follow this tradition, which was still strong in 1475. As far as the artist’s technique is concerned, it is necessary to point out his precision. The media is tempera on wood. Pollaiuolo used lapis-lazuli blue color as a background which stressed the artist’s precision. It is necessary to point out that the young woman depicted cannot be regarded as a woman of classical beauty, but Pollaiuolo distracts viewers’ attention from this fact by emphasizing what is really important for viewers. The woman’s facial features do not draw as much attention as her exquisite velvet dress with gorgeous brocade, her jewelry, and fashionable haircut. In fact, this portrait can be regarded as a perfect advertisement “on the marriage market” (Rubin 108).
Pollaiuolo is not concerned with revealing the exact facial features of the woman. He does not reveal her personality, as well. He follows the accepted trend and reveals static figure of a woman who should be judged (and is actually judged) by her costume. It goes without saying that no other objects are depicted in order not to distract viewers’ attention from the woman’s status. Pollaiuolo does not embed hidden symbols (except codes of the garment of the woman). The picture perfectly serves its major aim to reveal the woman’s social status.
However, at the end of the fifteenth century and especially in the beginning of the sixteenth century such profile portraits were regarded as old fashioned since they “did not suit the growing Renaissance concern for individualism” (Le Goff). Titian who was working at that period shared the same meaning. He created portraits where he revealed personality of a person depicted. He also embedded many symbols into his portraits as well as into other pictures.
One of his renowned works, “Portrait of Eleonora Gonzaga della Rovere”, can be regarded as a great example of his Renaissance approach to portrait painting. First, it is necessary to note that Eleonora Gonzaga della Rovere, the Duchess of Urbino, and her husband were patrons of Titians (Freedman and Aretino 87). Admittedly, the artist was acquainted with the duchess and new her quite well. He knew the major traits of her character and could reveal them on his painting.
Notably, the portrait reveals the duchess’s personality. The duchess is depicted sitting at a window. Titian “faithfully rendered” his patroness “as she looked in her mid-forties, her oval face bearing the traces of her faded beauty” (Freedman and Aretino 87). The artists paid much attention to revealing the duchess’s facial features. Of course, this painting is not as formal and static as profile portrait of Pollaiuolo.
Nevertheless, it is necessary to point out that the duchess is motionless. According to Goffen.
Ladies stand or sit calmly with arms close to the body and legs together; there should be no flailing limbs, no energetic movement, no aggressive gestures. These are postures appropriate only for a man… (n.p.)
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Goffen adds that contemporaries of the duchess “would describe her comportment and constrained movements as graceful (leggiadra)” and “leggiadria” is defined as a “natural law of womanly comportment” (n.p.).
Interestingly, Titians depicts the duchess’s costume in detail as well. Her splendid garment and jewelry are rendered perfectly. Nevertheless, the costume does not distract attention from the duchess and her individualism. The costume rather emphasizes the major traits of her character and her “spiritual virtues: decency, chastity, gentleness, modesty, honor, and prudence” (Freedman and Aretino 87).
Thus, Titian pays much attention to the duchess’s personal characteristics: her appearance, her character, her costume, and even her posture. All these details create the image of a noble and wise woman who is characterized by all the necessary virtues of a woman living in the fifteenth century.
Apart from Titian’s precision to details it is important to point out the characteristic feature of his portraits, symbolism. This symbolism is manifested in many details. For instance, even the colors are very informative. Aretino who described Titians work claimed that “the harmony of colors, which Titian’s brush has spread, renders visible from without the concord which, Eleonora, the handmaids of the noble spirit govern” (qtd. in Freedman and Aretino 88). Thus, black and green colors prevail in the portrait. Notably, black was a heraldic color of the duchess and, apart from this black symbolized “prudence and seriousness”, whereas green was a symbol of “hope and serene joy” (Freedman and Aretino 88).
Apart from specific use of color Titian embed other symbols. For example, there is a clock on the table beside the duchess. The clock was traditionally a symbol of “memento mori” and was associated with temporality, but also with wisdom (Freedman and Aretino 88). Titians also depicts little spaniel of the duchess. The appearance of the dog is symbolic as well. It is associated with loyalty.
Therefore, it is possible to note that the portrait of the duchess is not only mere rendering of the woman’s traits, but a philosophical representation of her virtues. Admittedly, Titian is recognized for his philosophic approach since “even his earlier paintings leave us in no doubt that he had a powerful and well-stored mind; and in his last pictures he becomes a profound philosopher” (Clark 84).
It goes without saying that Titians’ portrait differs greatly from that of Pollaiuolo. It renders not only the object, but reveals individualism of the woman, it is highly symbolic. However, it is impossible to state that Titians created a more sophisticated work of art. The two portraits are artworks which perfectly serve their aim. The major aim of Pollaiuolo was to reveal an image of a woman of certain status, who shares the major values of her contemporaries. The viewers were not interested in some traits of character, it was to see the costume of a girl which was the best manifestation of her character.
Titians, in his turn, was to render his object’s personality rather than simply depict some details of her garment. Titian’s portrait addresses the necessity to reveal the duchess’s virtues and her individuality. Titian’s symbolism is very helpful for this aim since numerous details reveal various facets of her personality. More so, rendering the entire figure was not regarded as a sign of indecency or the lack of virtue. Titian could also depict some more details in the background (details like the clock or the dog). These details also revealed some features of the duchess’s character.
It is necessary to add that the two artist’s visions were shaped by the conventions and traditions which ruled in the contemporary societies. Admittedly, when working on a portrait, the artist addresses, in the first place, the client’s desires and longings. When painting a portrait of a respectable woman the artists could not insult their objects but some bold artistic vision.
For instance, Pollaiuolo could not depict his Young Woman in other way, since only profile portraits were regarded as decent at that time. He should not distract the viewer’s attention from the costume of the woman, so no symbols could be depicted in the painting. The only codes available for Pollaiuolo were the details of the woman’s dress (which she chose herself).
It is important to note that despite the fact that Titians lived in society which was concerned with individualism, he could not render the duchess in motion, but was to reveal an image of a static though compelling woman. Admittedly, Titians had more artistic freedom and could use numerous symbols to enhance his idea, though the idea was not to go beyond the accepted conventions of the contemporary society.
Therefore, it is possible to claim that the two paintings address different aims and are shaped by the peculiarities of the epoch when they were created. Moreover, the significance of both paintings cannot be underestimated. The two pictures should be regarded as examples of major trends in art and society of the two quite different epochs.
Pollaiuolo is a representative of the fifteenth century Renaissance. At that time painters were free from conventions when depicting mythical images, but followed strict rules when painting portraits of respectable women. Titian who lived in the sixteenth century was more concerned with rendering individualism, just like any other artist.
In conclusion, it is necessary to state that the two portraits of two great artists of Renaissance are different. These differences are manifested in the way of rendering women and the way to make certain stresses. Thus, Pollaiuolo is more concerned with rendering social status of the woman, whereas Titian focuses on the woman’s individuality.
These differences are mainly due to the changes which were taking place in the society. The shift from some general form (manifested in costume) to content (features of character) which took place in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries shaped the visual art to great extent. Therefore, nowadays people have an opportunity to trace the slightest changes in human society viewing paintings of such prominent artists as Pollaiuolo and Titian.
Clark, Kenneth. “The Artist Grows Old.” Daedalus 135.1 (2006): 77-90. MIT Press Journals Web.
Freedman, Luba and Pietro Aretino. Titian’s Portraits Through Aretino’s Lens. University Park, PA: Penn State Press, 1995.
Goffen, Rona. “Lotto’s Lucretia.” Renaissance Quarterly 52.3 (1999): 742-81. The Free Library. Web.
King, Margaret L. The Renaissance in Europe. London: Laurence King Publishing, 2003.
Le Goff, Raichel. The Emergence of the Venetian Portrait. Raichel: Lecturer in Art History&International Art History Daily News with Raichel Le Goff. Web.
Rubin, Patricia Lee. Images and Identity in Fifteenth-Century Florence. New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 2007.
Seeff, Adele F., Joan Hartman, University of Maryland, College Park. Center for Renaissance and Baroque Studies. Structures and Subjectivities: Attending to Early Modern Women. Newark, DE: University of Delaware Press, 2007.