This ambitious portrait of Guidobaldo II delle Rovere is one of a small handful of full-lengths by Titian, who, more than any other artist, redefined the status of portraiture in the 16th century and influenced that of subsequent centuries. The painting presents a key patron of Titian; and is a picture of immense historical significance, and of distinguished provenance.
Guidobaldo II della Rovere, Duke of Urbino (1514-1574), was the son and successor of Francesco Maria I, greatnephew of the founder of the family, Francesco della Rovere, Pope Sixtus IV (1414-1484) and son of Giovanni della Rovere, who married Giovanna da Montefeltro. Francesco Maria I and his wife Eleonora Gonzaga were committed patrons of Titian, who painted portraits of them in circa 1535 (Florence, Uffizi) and ordered further works from him, including La Bella (Florence, Palazzo Pitti). In 1538, the year of his father’s death, Guidobaldo commissioned a canvas that marked a key stage of Titian’s evolution as a painter, the Venus of Urbino (Florence, Uffizi). He subsequently obtained a number of important portraits by the artist, including those of his wife, Giulia Varano, heiress of the duchy of Camerino (Florence, Palazzo Pitti), the copy of Raphael’s portrait of Pope Julius II (Florence, Palazzo Pitti) and a posthumous portrait of Pope Sixtus IV (Florence, Uffizi); as well as religious pictures, of which the last was the Madonna della Misericordia of 1573 (Florence, Palazzo Pitti).
The della Rovere were forced to surrender Camerino by the acquisitive Pope Paul III Farnese, in 1542: after the death of Giulia Varano, without male issue, in 1547, Guidobaldo had little option but to ally with the Farnese. He married the pope’s granddaughter, Vittoria, and their son, Francesco Maria II, was born in 1549. In commissioning this portrait, the duke was following the example of his celebrated greatgrandfather, Federico II di Montefeltro, 1st Duke of Urbino, who was portrayed by Pedro Berruguete (Urbino, Palazzo Ducale), with his infant son and eventual successor, Guidobaldo, who bequeathed his dukedom to his nephew, Francesco Maria I in 1504. Guidobaldo must also have known that, as a drawing in the Uffizi establishes (fig. 1), Titian’s portrait of his father was intended as a wholelength, but then reduced to match the portrait of his mother Eleonora Gonzaga. Moreover, he must also have been aware of Titian’s work for the Farnese, notably the celebrated portrait of 1546 of Pope Paul III with his grandsons, and Guidobaldo’s future brothers-in-law, Cardinal Alessandro Farnese and Ottavio, to whom he and his first wife had been forced to surrender Camerino in 1542 (Naples, Museo di Capodimonte).
Titian’s portrait celebrates both the survival of an heir to the dukedom of Urbino, Francesco Maria II (1549-1631), himself to be a notable patron of the arts, and Guidobaldo’s appointment in January 1553 as Prefect of the Holy Roman Church in the City of Rome: the letters ‘S R E / S U R F’ signify Sanctae Romanae Ecclesiae Signifer Urbis Romae Praefectus, as Wethey correctly recognised. This inscription makes it clear that the picture must be that recorded in the correspondence of the duke for 1552, and implies that the picture was still unfinished in 1553 (it should, however, be borne in mind that the year then began in March rather than January). It was clearly Titian’s second portrait of the duke, as one is referred to in a letter of March 1545 from the artist’s close friend, Pietro Aretino.
This portrait is one of only a handful of whole-lengths by Titian. Venetian convention discouraged statements of the kind and, with the possible exception of the portrait in the Uffizi (Wethey, op. cit., no. 52), wrongly identified as of Diego Hurtado de Mendoza, all the artist’s whole-lengths are of sitters of elevated rank: the three portraits of the Emperor Charles V (Madrid, Prado; and Munich, Alte Pinakothek); that of his son, King Philip II of Spain (fig. 2; Madrid, Prado), of which there are two partly autograph variants (Naples, Museo di Capodimonte; and Florence, Palazzo Pitti); the portrait of Giovanni Francesco Acquaviva d’Aragona, exiled Duke of Atri (Kassel, Staatliche Kunstsammlung); that of Cardinal Cristoforo Madruzzo, who exercised secular power as Bishop of Trent (Sao Paolo, Museu de Arte de São Paulo); The Allocution of Alfonso d’Avalos, Marchese del Vasto (Madrid, Prado); The Vendramin Family in Adoration of a Relic of the True Cross (London, National Gallery), a statement of religious devotion as much as a strict portrait group; the Farnese group (referred to above); and the present picture, which is the only work of the kind not held by a public institution.
Most of the Titians painted for the della Rovere family would pass by inheritance to the Medici and are thus now in Florence. This portrait passed through Guidobaldo’s sister, Elisabetta, wife of Alberico I Cybo Malaspina, sovereign Marchese of Massa and Carrara, lineal representative of Giovanni Battista Cibo who in 1484 had succeeded Sixtus IV as Pope Innocent VIII. The portrait was thus presumably transferred to the family palace at Massa. It may well have been sold by their descendants when the marquisate was added to the principality of Lucca, after the French occupation: in 1815 it was incorporated in the duchy of Modena.
The Venetian Abate Luigi Celotti was a key figure in the sale of pictures and other works of art sold as a result of the French Invasion of Italy and an exceptional collector in his own right, owning the most extensive private collection of pre-Renaissance pictures in Italy. While he was particularly active in the Veneto - and owned a bookshop in Venice itself - he had links throughout Italy. He obtained cuttings from many of the choir books of the Sistine Chapel, and held a sale of these at Christie’s on 26 May 1825. Venetian painting was, however, a particular interest and he acted as intermediary in the sale of celebrated works by Carpaccio, Veronese and others.
Anatole Demidoff (Anatoly Demidov), Prince of San Donato (fig. 3) inherited in 1828 on the death of his father, Count Nikolay Demidoff, much of the huge family fortune built up in the iron and munitions industries. His father had commenced work on the Villa San Donato near Florence, but he greatly enlarged the project for this, and filled the house with a prodigious assemblage of works of art of every kind. In 1840, Demidoff married Princess Mathilde Bonaparte, later celebrated as a patron of writers in France, who herself owned a number of exceptional pictures including Pontormo’s Halberdier (Malibu, J.P. Getty Museum), but they separated in 1846. Demidoff’s tastes were omnivorous, ranging from the decorative arts to pictures of every kind. He was a notable buyer of works by contemporary French painters, including Delaroche and Scheffer, and a yet more discriminating collector of Old Masters. In 1837, the year that he acquired this portrait by Titian, he secured many of the greatest prizes from the collection of Dutch pictures formed by the duc de Berry and sold for his widow. He acquired key works by Ribera, and was a pioneer in his appreciation of Crivelli: the Demidoff polyptych in the National Gallery, London, was assembled for him. The greater part of his collection was dispersed in a series of major sales in Paris in 1870.
Hugh Grosvenor, 3rd Marquess of Westminster (fig. 4), who succeeded his father in 1869, inherited one of the greatest of British private collections: his great-grandfather, the 1st Earl Grosvenor bought a large number of pictures through an agent in Italy in the late 1750s, and his grandfather the 1st Marquess transformed the collection with the en bloc purchase in 1805 of the Agar-Ellis collection with its celebrated Claudes. The 2nd Marquess was also a collector, securing an outstanding masterpiece, van der Weyden’s Braque triptych in 1845 among other works. That he left his acquisitions to his widow, from whom they would pass to their eighth daughter, Lady Theodora Guest, may well partly explain his son’s purchase of the Titian. A Liberal, whose fortune from London property was matched by the scale upon which his seat - Eaton Hall in Cheshire (fig. 5) - was transformed for him by Alfred Waterhouse between 1870 and 1883, the Marquess, who was elevated as 1st Duke of Westminster in 1874, took a close interest in national museums and was largely responsible for ensuring that these were open on Sundays.