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Portrait of Titus

Della Porta Giovanni Battista and workshop

(Porlezza c. 1542 - Rome 1597)

The bust, portraying Titus Flavius Caesar Vespasian, is part of a series of twelve modern imperial portraits that came into the Borghese collection with the acquisition of the collection of Giovanni Battista della Porta in 1609. Its stylistic proximity to other works - mainly portraits - produced by the Lombard sculptor and collector has led critics to attribute its execution to him, dating it to the last quarter of the 16th century.


The bust reproduces in its salient features - hair, wrinkles and expression - the emperors face as known to us from some ancient portraits and his coinage. The execution of this series had begun in the Renaissance to meet the requests of noble patrons who used to display images of illustrious men of the past in the salons of their residences, and was still widely in vogue at the end of the 18th century, when the current placement of the twelve busts in niches in the upper part of the walls of the entrance hall was devised.

Object details

last quarter of the 16th century
statuary and African marble
height 78 cm

Giovan Battista della Porta collection, purchased by Paolo V Borghese, 1609 (Archivio Segreto Vaticano, Archivio Borghese, 24, no. 37, pp. 13 ss. and 456). Inventario Fidecommissario Borghese, 1833, C, p. 43, no. 33. Purchased by the State, 1902

Conservation and Diagnostic
  • 1996 Sandra Anahi Varca
  • 1997 CBC Coop. a r.l.


The face of the emperor Titus Flavius Caesar Vespasian (79-81) is turned to the left, framed by hair that is combed forward on the temples and forehead, and enlivened by curls created with drill strokes. The forehead is furrowed with horizontal wrinkles and two small vertical folds above the nose indicating furrowed eyebrows, one of the consistent features of this emperors iconography. The well-defined eyes, with slightly drooping eyelids, have incised irises and pupils. Mouth, nose and chin are reproduced in a conventional manner, in a scheme where they are all the same width, an element found in other portraits in the series. A slight double chin and a massive neck complete the head, which is set on a bust with a paludamentum wrapped around the right shoulder, over which it is also turned, and fastened on the left with a circular fibula pointed in the centre. Underneath, the cuirass and tunic can be glimpsed.

Together with eleven other examples, the portrait is part of the series known as the Twelve Caesars, comprising the characters described by Suetonius and belonging to Giovan Battista della Portas collection of sculptures, which the artist bequeathed to his brothers Tommaso and Giovan Paolo. The latter, in October 1609, sold them - together with the entire collection - to Paul V, who purchased them on behalf of Giovanni Battista Borghese. The busts were first moved to the Palazzo Borghese (Archivio Segreto Vaticano, Archivio Borghese, 7923, f. 121v-122r, in Faldi 1954, p. 51, doc. II) and, from 1615, placed in the entrance hall of the Villa Pinciana on walnut stools carved by Giovanni Battista Soria (Archivio Segreto Vaticano, Archivio Borghese, 4173, 12 August 1615, Conto di lavori di legno fatti da G.B. Soria per la villa di Porta Pinciana, in Faldi 1954, p. 51, doc. III).

Faldi writes that two other busts were added, Scipio Africanus and Hannibal the Carthaginian, not included in the initial collection and dispersed after the reorganisation of the collection in the last quarter of the 18th century, when the 12 busts were moved to niches in the walls of the same entrance hall (1954, p. 50).

Confused by Baglione (The Lives, 1642, p. 74) with the series sold in 1562 by Tommaso della Porta il Vecchio to Cardinal Alessandro Farnese (conserved in the Galleria di Palazzo Farnese in Rome), they were considered by Faldi to be the work of Giovanni Battista. This was based not only on documentary evidence, but also by comparison with certain works by the artist, whose cold and archaeologising approach is applied here to a generic imitation of ancient models (Faldi 1954, p. 50).

Stylistic differences can be observed among the heads: for some of them, whose incised eyes have irises and pupils in the shape of an arch and the surface of the face well-polished and smooth, the autography appears consistent with the rest of Giovanni Battista Della Portas works. In another group, consisting of portraits with large eyes lacking irises and pupils and different hair styles, it is more likely that the Lombard sculptor reworked and adapted reused parts. The repetition of facial features and drapery in several busts in the series also suggests a serial production method in the Della Porta workshop.

Sonja Felici