Artibus et Historiae no. 72 (XXXVI)

2015, ISSN 0391-9064

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BEVERLY LOUISE BROWN - Seeing Red: Was Titian Too Young to Know Better? (pp. 85-105)

The picture now in Antwerp depicting Jacopo Pesaro, the bishop of Paphos, and Pope Alexander VI before Saint Peter is sometimes referred to as Titian’s earliest painting. In writing about it Panofsky suggested ‘there is hardly any trace of blue: St. Peter is clad in a red mantle (Titian did not as yet know, or chose to disregard, the tradition according to which St. Peter should wear a yellow mantle over a blue coat)’. But did such an iconographic cannon of color exist during the Renaissance and if so, was Titian simply too young to know better when he put Peter in red? A quick look at other North Italian paintings by artists such as Mantegna, Girolamo Dai Libri and Giovanni Bellini suggests that Titian was probably well aware of a tradition of dressing Saint Peter in red and yellow. No doubt, he was also fully aware that certain colors were given moral meanings in emblem books and contemporary poetry. Red, for example, was a color of the liturgical calendar marking Christ’s Passion and the blood of the martyrs and was specifically associated with papal authority. Saint Peter, we might posit, is shown in pontifical red because he represents the divinely sanctioned authority of the Church. This authority is underscored by the red and gold papal banner being presented to him, by the pope and Jacopo Pesaro before the papal fleet sailed into battle against the Turks. From at least the eleventh century, popes had personally bestowed specially blessed banners on warriors leading military expeditions. It is hard simply to dismiss Titian’s choice of red in the Antwerp picture as a youthful misstep when one realizes that around 1526 he again used red and yellow for Peter’s garments in the San Nicolò della Lattuga altarpiece. Titian, it seems, was not too young to know that within different contexts, Saint Peter’s role and hence the color of his drapery might change.

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