The Typical Portrait of a Venetian Woman
Titian indeed revolutionized female portraiture. When one compares his portraits to portraits by other contemporary artists, such as Lorenzo Lotto and Sebastiano del Piombo, it is evident that Titian manages to capture the essence of his sitter, rather than just an image.
Lorenzo Lotto’s Portrait of a Woman Inspired by Lucretia from 1530-1532 is an example of a typical female portrait from this period. The figure is dressed in an elegant green and orange gown. Her head is covered by a turban-like headdress and her elaborate pearl and rope necklace is falling off. The figure holds a drawing of Lucretia in her left hand and gestures to it with her right. Her gaze is turned towards the viewer and her head is cocked to the left, as if motioning to the drawing.
When this work is compared to Titian’s portrait of Isabella d’Este, it is plain to see that Titian’s work is unprecedented. Although Lotto’s woman looks out towards the viewer, her gaze is blank. Unlike the Isabella, the figure here forms no connection with the viewer. In addition, there are no individual characteristics that distinguish this woman from any other. She is just a generic female, possibly a compilation of characteristics from various women that the artist found pleasing. Her elaborate costume identifies her as a member of the aristocratic class, but there is nothing personal about the portrait. Even the drawing of Lucretia says nothing about the sitter’s personality. It is an allusion to the virtue and chastity that were expected of every noblewoman. This is strengthened by the Latin inscription on the table. In contrast, Isabella d’Este’s portrait not only shows off her power and wealth, but also her personal strength and character. Titian painted Isabella in such a way that she seems powerful and intimidating, and yet, the viewer immediately forms a strong connection with her through her gaze. His portrait reflects Isabella’s strong and intimidating personality, while Lotto’s woman is a generic reflection of her time, rather than a specific woman with an individual personality.
 “After Lucretia’s example let no violated woman live”- Livy’s History
Another interesting comparison can be made with the Portrait of Giulia Gonzaga from 1532 which has been attributed to Sebastiano del Piombo. In this work, the figure is seen standing, dressed in an exquisite gown of black brocade with an over robe of damask and fur. Her head is covered by a brown veil, and around her waist is a girdle of pearls, gold and fur. On her left is a table on which rests an open book as well as two closed ones. Like the Eleonora Gonzaga and the Isabella d’Este, Giulia Gonzaga looks toward the viewer, but once again, there is a disconnect between the viewer and the figure. Giulia’s gaze is blank and conveys no personality or personal characteristics. There is no acknowledgement of the viewer.
Similarily to the Eleonora Gonzaga, the background in the Giulia Gonzaga is a domestic interior, but unlike Titian’s work, del Piombo creates an atmosphere that is extremely formal. The figure’s standing pose, combined with the formality of her dress and the lack of connection between the sitter and the viewer come together to create a portrait that is purely representational. The purpose of the portrait is solely to depict the prestige, wealth and social position of Giulia Gonzaga and her husband, Vespasiano Colonna.
The immediacy that Titian creates through Eleonora’s relaxed pose and assured stance is lacking in the work by del Piombo. Titian portrays Eleonora as not only a wealthy and powerful lady, but also as a smart and capable woman who is in complete control of her household. This strongly contrasts with the impression that Sebastiano del Piombo creates, wherein Giulia Gonzaga is simply a reflection of her wealth and social position.