The canvas is one of the many versions of Titian’s famous Self-Portrait, which Giorgio Vasari saw in the artist’s studio in 1566. The work in the Borghese Collection differs from the original, however, as it focuses exclusively on the face of the elderly painter, depicted here without the chain with the Golden Spur that Titian received in 1533 from Emperor Charles V as a token of gratitude.
19th-century gilded polyptych, 37 x 99 x 5.4 cm
Rome, Borghese Collection, 1693 (Inv. 1693, room IV, no. 182; Della Pergola 1964); Inv. 1700, room IV, no. 13; Inventario Fidecommissario 1833, p. 20; purchased by Italian state, 1902.
Documented as forming part of the Borghese Collection from 1693, from the start this portrait has been associated with Titian, with some sources claiming it as an authentic work by the master (Inv. 1700) and others as a product of his workshop (Inventario Fidecommissario 1833; Piancastelli 1891; Venturi 1893).
The first scholar to rightly claim that it is a copy was Ernst Z. Platner (1842); in 1955 Paola della Pergola expressed agreement: while the former critic identified its prototype in the Self-Portrait in the Uffizi (Inv. 1890, 1801; Platner 1842), the latter noted several similarities with a version in the Ambrosian Art Gallery and with the figure of the Double Portrait at Windsor Castle (della Pergola 1955). She further claimed that the last-named work served as the model for the engraving for Carlo Ridolfi’s Meraviglie dell’arte.
The version held by the Galleria Borghese was in all likelihood executed in the 17th century. It seems that it is rather a copy of the Self-Portrait held at the Gemäldegalerie in Berlin (inv. no. 2370): dating to roughly 1560, this painting shows the master wearing the sleeveless tunic and gold chain that were given to him by Emperor Charles V in 1533. It is probable that in this work Titian wished to convey his own image in the style of famous models, such as Raphael’s Portrait of Tommaso Inghirami, with the subject’s head slightly raised and his gaze moving away from the observer. In all likelihood, this is the self-portrait that Vasari saw in Venice in 1566, although he spoke of a completed work. The painting was given by Titian’s son Pomponio Vecellio to Cristoforo Barbarigo; the replica was most likely made at some point in the 17th century while the original was in the latter’s possession. Subsequently, it entered into the collection of Leopoldo Cicognara and then that of Edward Solly, finally reaching Germany.
The work in the Borghese Collection does away with the detail of the gold chain and focuses exclusively on the face of the elderly painter, in a way similar to yet another portrait, also held at the Uffizi (Storeroom inv. 1890 no. 1807; see Puppi 2007). This last-named version was purchased in 1677 by Francesco Schilders, an agent of Cosimo III; it is often confused with the above-mentioned Self-Portrait in the Uffizi (inv. 1890 no. 1801), which according to some critics (Puppi 2007) corresponds to the ‘live portrait of the famous Titian’ bequeathed by the master to his relative Vecello Vecellio, who in turn gave it to his son Tiziano, called l’Oratore (1538-1612).