The painting portrays old Paul III, Pope of the Church of Rome from 1534 to 1549, remembered in history mostly for having summoned the Council of Trent and for being the main creator of the Counter-Reformation, the action implemented by the Catholic Church in religious, political, artistic and cultural fields in response to Martin Luther’s Protestant Reformation.
Paul III, before known as Alessandro Farnese, commissioned the work from Titian when they were both staying in Bologna and he was very satisfied with the image made by the Venetian artist. In fact, the portrait is very similar to the pontiff’s effigies and it was characterized by extreme realism. The rendering of details, such as the purple cape in soft velvet or the decoration of the pontiff’s chair, is very realistic, as well as the representation of the facial features and the body of the old pope. His hands, although large and bony, have a strong and firm grip despite his old age and they are softened with the precious ring on his right hand, while his short hair contrasts with the long white beard which is thick and well-maintained. The pope’s face looks gaunt with slightly red cheeks and it seems to contrast with the importance of his role and his institutional figure, even if the lively and intelligent expression with his dark, intense eyes reveal all his power and great abilities.
Titian spreads the warm colors with light brush strokes, while the light enhances the red tones of the cape and the precious belt that stands out on the pope’s white robe, highlighting the realistic rendering of the figure, which emerges powerfully from a dark background creating light in his own shape. The effect creates almost a spiritual light, which seems to arise from the pope himself.
When Titian stayed in Rome, around the years between 1543 and 1546, he painted two other portraits of the pope: the one with the camauro, a velvet and ermine cap worn by popes, which is perhaps a copy of the portrait in question painted for the pope’s nephew, cardinal Santa Fiora, and the Portrait of Paul III with His Two Nephews, Alessandro and Ottaviano Farnese, both preserved in the museum of Capodimonte.
The painting in question was part of the Farnese collection, as well as the other two paintings. It was first moved to Parma in the second half of the 17th century, and then the portrait became part of the Bourbon art collection through Elisabetta Farnese, the last descendant of the Farnese family and mother of Charles of Bourbon, king of Naples and Sicily, who moved to the royal palace of Capodimonte this and other works from his mother’s collection in 1734. It has remained in Naples ever since.
There are copies of the work preserved in the Palatine Gallery of Palazzo Pitti in Florence and in the Spingold collection in New York, while the portrait recently discovered in a private collection in Dorchester, England is considered an original replica of the Neapolitan painting.
Titian was born in Pieve di Cadore, Veneto, in 1488 or 1490.
He studied in Gentile Bellini’s workshop and then with his brother Giovanni Bellini, who influenced his artistic style significantly.
He was also inspired by the works of Giorgione, Albrecht Dürer, also known for engravings, Raphael and Michelangelo, whose works he studied profoundly. In this period he painted The Concert (Palatina Gallery, Florence), Christ Carrying the Cross (Scuola di San Rocco, Venice) and in 1508-1509 the frescoes of the Fondaco dei Tedeschi, where also Giorgione was working at the time. Titian showed the typical features of his juvenile phase with monumental setting of the space and characters with sweeping gestures, illuminated by bright colors.
Between 1516 and 1518 he worked for the famous Assunta for the church of Santa Maria dei Frari and the Pesaro altarpiece and in 1520 the altarpiece of Averoldi (Brescia, Church of SS. Nazaro e Celso).
These and other commissions for private clients were often full of symbols and complex meanings, often for moral choices of human nature, such as Three Ages of Man (1512-1513, Edinburgh, National Gallery of Scotland) Sacred and Profane Love (1514-1515, Rome, Galleria Borghese) which guaranteed Titian a great success.
He became very popular in Italian and European courts, which ordered many works from him. Alfonso d’Este commissioned him the mythological canvases with The Worship of Venus (1518-1519, Prado), Bacchus and Ariadne (1522-1523, National Gallery of London) and The Andri (1523-1524, Prado). Guidobaldo della Rovere commissioned him the Venus of Urbino and Charles V and Isabella d’Este various portraits (1536, Kunsthistorisches Museum of Vienna).
Between 1545 and 1546 he stayed in Rome and began a new phase of painting, influenced by the central Italian Mannerism, with strong contrasts of light and shadow, more plastic and dynamic shapes, darker tones, as seen in the portrait of Paul III and his nephews (1546, Museo di Capodimonte of Naples) the Crowning with Thorns (1542-1544, Louvre) and Danae (Museo di Capodimonte of Naples).
Between 1540 and 1550 he went to Augusta and became closer to Carlo V and his son Philip II, sovereigns of Spain. He made a portrait of Charles V On Horseback, The Glory, The Deposition and St.Margaret, all in the Museo del Prado in Madrid. For Philip II he painted mythological subjects with the stories of Diana.
Titian’s later works are characterized by his philosophical thoughts about man and his destiny, which is reflected in his dense paintings. He used thick layers of colors that he sometimes added on canvas with his hands, like in The Crowning with Thorns (Alte Pinakothek of Munich) and The Punishment of Marsyas (Kromeriz Castle) both made in 1570.
In his last years he also painted Pietà for his own tomb, but the work remained unfinished (Galleria dell’Accademia, Venice).
Titian died in Venice in 1576.
The collection of Capodimonte has the origins in the refined and elegant collection of the Farnese family. The first assemblage was formed in 1534 thanks to the initiative of Alessandro Farnese (1520-1589) and Pope Paul III, both interested in ancient objects (conserved today in the Museo Archeologico Nazionale of Naples) and the most important artists of the period.
In 1734 Charles III of Spain took the throne and inherited mother Elisabetta Farnese’s collection which was moved from Rome to Parma during the 18th century. In this occasion he felt the need to find a suitable location for the collection.
The construction of the Capodimonte building on the hill started in 1738 and it was used both as a residence and as a gallery. The place was first only visited by famous persons, such as Johann Winckelmann, Antonio Canova and Marquis de Sade.
The museum was inaugurated in 1957, thanks to the insistence of Ferdinando Bologna Raffaello Causa, opening to the public extensive collection of 2900 paintings, 150 sculptures, 17700 objects of decorative art, 26000 drawings, extended over 12000 square meters and divided into 114 rooms.
During the 18th century, the collection was enriched with the works commissioned by the sovereigns of the Bourbon family, but the lootings by French troops in 1799 marked the beginning of decline as its function as a museum.
In the 19th century the building was mostly used as a residence. French general Joachim Murat lived in the building with his wife and they brought new furnishing and interior decorations to Capodimonte.
Only after the arrival of the Savoys and thanks to Annibale Sacco, the new era of the museum started: the art objects which were spread in various residences of the Bourbon family were collected and moved to Capodimonte and there was a new attention to contemporary figurative production of art.
For this reason, there are two main groups in the collection. The Farnese collection includes the portraits of Cardinal Alessandro Farnese, Giorgio Vasari and Andrea del Sarto by Raphael, portrait of Bernardo de’ Rossi by Lorenzo Lotto, portraits of Paul III and Paul III with his Grandsons Alessandro and Ottavio Farnese and Danae by Titian, Portrait of Antea by Parmigianino and the cartoons by Michelangelo and Leonardo Da Vinci and pictorial cycles of Carracci, donated in 1600 by Fulvio Orsini. The second collection includes the historical pieces of Neapolitan art from circa 1200 to 1700. Among them are the works by Simone Martini and Colantonio’s St. Jerome, an example of the lively and rich Aragon period, and the works of foreign influence such as Pinturicchio’s Assumption of the Virgin. The 17th century was considered as the golden era of Neapolitan art, influenced by the works of Caravaggio and his followers. From this era there are Caravaggio’s Flagellation from 1606-1607, Ribera’s Drunken Silenus, Artemisia Gentileschi’s Judith and Holofernes, Guido Reni’s Atalanta and Hippomenes and Mattia Preti’s St. Sebastian.
The current layout of the museum is a result of the series of restorations in the 1980s’ and 1990s’ which determined the division of the collection onto three floors. The ground floor includes the educational rooms, the mezzanine floor holds the department of drawings and prints, the Farnese collection, the Borgia collection and the royal apartment are in the first floor and finally on the second floor the Neapolitan gallery, the D’Avalos collection, the 19th century gallery and the photographic gallery.