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Titian’s ‘Pesaro Madonna’

I’ve always been incredibly fond of this painting, having viewed it often within pages of coffee books and catalogues. In person it was even more lovely than I imagined. The colours more vibrant, the figures more personal, the putti and baby JC more adorable. 

The painting was completed and in place in 1526. According to David Rosand, the two most striking elements of the composition are the asymmetrical placement of the Madge and baby, and the enormous columns plonked right behind them. These were not supposed to be part of the original composition, and it remains unclear as to whether Titian himself eventually included them or whether someone else added them later. You can still faintly  see what would have been part of the barrel vault ceiling instead of the two columns, between the wings of the putti. (Apparently anyway, and in person. I couldn’t see a thing). 

The Holy Fam quite prominently does break away from the tradition of its oft-centralised position. We need only to consider of some of the best known examples of the genre produced in the preceding decades, such as Bellini’s San Zaccaria Altarpiece orGiorgione’s Castelfranco Madonna. It was during this period that depictions of the Madonna and Child enthroned were being altered elsewhere in Italy. I’m thinking most about the transfer of the Holy group from that of a throne onto heavenly clouds, a practice that can be seen best in some of the works of Fra Bartolomeo and Raphael. 

Before reading about the painting, I compiled a list of questions I wanted answered. Here they are. Hopefully with the correct info:

Why is it called the Pesaro Madonna?

It’s location in the Frari is in the altar of the Immaculate Conception which had been conceded to Jacopo Pesaro and his family, a powerful Venetian noble family, on 3 January 1518 to until the end of time. Mr. Pesaro was also granted permission to erect a funerary monument next to it. He is the chap on the left of the painting, wearing a dark cape, with some glitzy gloves. 

Who are the peeps across him?

His bros; Francis, Antonio, Fatino, and Giovanni. The one in the groovy red robes is Francesco, I think because he was knighted.  

What is the coat of arms on the flag?

It’s the Pesaro and Borgia coat of arms. The painting was partly intended to glorify Jac as a victor in the Battle of Saint Maura of 1503, in which he had been appointed head of the papal fleet by Borgia pope, Alexander VI. The laurel on the flag represents victory, and as far as I can tell, the standard-bearer has no meaning or purpose other than the obvious.  

Why is there a Turkish person in it?

He represents the defeated Turk being led before the ‘supreme Christian leaders’, those being the Virgin and Christ, St. Peter, and St. Francis (and possibly St. Anthony?)

Why is the kid looking at us? 

That is Leonardo Pesaro who is Jacopo’s nephew, and the son of Antonio. No idea why he’s looking at us. (A website said that it was to establish a connection with the viewer, and being a funerary monument, with life).  

Post Script

Although the St. Francis is in his usual St. Francissy pose, he does remind me a lot of Barocci’s St. Francis Receiving the Stigmata, now in the Palazzo Ducale in Urbino. I’ve not seen the pic in person, but I’ve seen Barocci’s print after the painting, and repos, obvi, both which are lovely. 


A Western Art History blog by someone who sometimes gets paid  to read and write about Western Art History. Mostly Old Masters. Mostly Italian. Hopefully accurate.

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