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Venice 2014

Isabella d'Este- A Force Not to be Reckoned With

Portrait of Isabella d'Este

Portrait of Isabella d'Este

Titian (Tiziano Vecellio), 1534-1536,

Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna,

oil on canvas, 102x64 cm

Titian’s most powerful female portrait from the 1530s and 1540s is his depiction of Isabella d’Este from 1534-1536. Isabella was considered to be one of the most educated and cultivated women in her time.[8] This work is based on a portrait by Francesco Francia that depicts Isabella the way she looked at the time of her marriage in 1490.

The identification of the figure as Isabella is confirmed by an engraving done after Rubens’s copy of the portrait which is inscribed with both Isabella and Titian’s names in Latin.[9] Isabella is shown in a ¾ pose, looking out towards the viewer. Her sumptuous dress, which includes elaborate knotwork on the sleeves, and her elaborate headpiece stress the importance of her position in society. They also serve to identify her since they are trends and symbols that were associated with Isabella during her life.[10] The dark, almost claustrophobic background draws the viewer’s eyes directly to the figure’s pale face. The sharp, piercing eyes and stern expression create an image of an intimidating and formidable woman who is capable of running her principality. In fact, Isabella successfully acted as regent of Mantua twice during her lifetime- once in 1509 when her husband was held captive in Venice and later, from the time of her husband’s death in 1519 until her son came of age.

This portrait reflects Isabella d’Este’s power and prestige, as well as her political capability. At the time of the commission, Isabella had already served as regent of Mantua and proved to the world that she was as politically able as any man. The dark background forces the viewer to focus on the figure, rather than on the surroundings. Her sumptuous and elegant costume highlights her wealth and social position, while her sharp gaze and intimidating countenance remind viewers that this is no ordinary aristocratic lady, but a woman who has and is capable of running a principality and being a driving force of Renaissance culture. It is obvious that the impression Titian was trying to give was not of Isabella as she looked in her youth, but rather a reflection of who and what this young girl was going to become.



[8] Filippo Pedrocco. Titian. trans. Corrado Federici  (New York: Rizzoli International Publications, Inc., 2001), 162

[9] “Isabella Estensis Francisci Gonzaga uxor, e Titiani prototypo P.P. Rubens excudit”: Filippo Pedrocco. Titian. trans. Corrado Federici  (New York: Rizzoli International Publications, Inc., 2001), 162

[10] Filippo Pedrocco. Titian. trans. Corrado Federici  (New York: Rizzoli International Publications, Inc., 2001), 162

Isabella d'Este- A Force Not to be Reckoned With