Colnaghi Foundation Journal 04 - Page 85

In memory of Georgiana Wise
‘ faccia bella, dolce et delicata tanto quanto la saprete fare’:
Titian’s paintings of the Salvator Mundi and
Temptation of Christ and their patrons
On 3 August 1535 Federico Gonzaga wrote, rather
laboriously, to Titian requesting a Christ, a version of
one that he had already received:
Some time ago you gave me an image of a Christ
which delighted me, whence I have come to wish
to have another similar one; but I ask you to
agree to make it with that care and diligence you
customarily employ in those things from which
you desire to gain honour, and in those that you
knew would please me and in others that I wanted;
for [I wish] this figure to be no less beautiful and
good than the other one, so that it can be hailed
among the most excellent works of Titian. I
would also desire you to make time to execute it so
that I may have it by the day of the Madonna of
September (i.e., 8 September) at all costs.1
From Federico’s covering letter of the same day to
Benedetto Agnello, his representative in Venice, we
learn that he had sent Titian a drawing of the Christ
that he wanted – which establishes that it was to be
varied in some respects from the earlier one – and that
he planned to present this second painting to Charles V:
Fig. 1 / Titian, Christ as
Salvator Mundi, ca. 1535?,
oil on wood, 75 x 57 cm,
UK, Private Collection.
We are writing the attached [letter] to Titian in
order to obtain from his hand a [figure of] Christ
of the type of which we are sending him the
drawing. We wish you to press him to execute it
with that excellence of which we know him to be
capable and which he displayed in a similar figure
that he gave me on another occasion; and that
you employ every effort so that we may have it by
the Madonna of September, because we wish to
take it with us when we go to [meet] his Majesty.2
Federico’s emphasis on quality, both to Titian and to
Agnello, is noteworthy: perhaps he suspected – although
did not make explicit – that Titian might be tempted to
have a repeat painted by a member of his studio.
Titian’s Christ should have been consigned to a boat in
early September – so he had fulfilled Federico’s wishes
and completed it in about three weeks – but on the
seventh of that month Agnello informed Gian Giacomo
Calandra, Federico’s secretary, that, for unexplained
reasons, the boat had sailed without notice, so there
would be a delay and additional cost in transporting
the painting to Mantua.3 It probably did arrive in
time for the Duke to present it to Charles V, for in the
event their meeting was postponed.4 But whether he
did so is unknown, for there seems to be no record of
a Christ by Titian in the emperor’s inventories, nor is
either of Federico’s paintings of Christ traceable in the
Gonzaga archives. The matter is not referred to again
in correspondence between Titian and Federico, and
the duke’s ensuing letters are concerned with a portrait
of, not a Christ for, Charles V.
We have no direct information about the
representation of Christ in Federico’s two paintings
but among various possibilities two seem likely. One
is that they were variants of the profile bust of Christ
that Titian had painted for Federico’s brother-in-law,
Francesco Maria della Rovere, Duke of Urbino, now
in the Galleria Palatina of the Palazzo Pitti (fig. 2). 5


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