Artibus et Historiae no. 81 (XLI)2020, ISSN 0391-9064
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BEVERLY LOUISE BROWN - Sculpted in My Heart: Titian and the Secrets of La Schiavona (pp. 115–136)
Who is La Schiavona and why did Titian paint her? These questions have been asked repeatedly since 1640 when the painting was first recorded in the collection of Conte Alessandro Martinengo Colleone of Brescia, who had apparently obtained it on the black market. She has often been identified as Caterina Cornaro, although this is highly unlikely. Equally perplexing is the simulated marble profile portrait on the parapet, which is generally explained as Titian’s response to the paragone debate. By proving that he can imitate both life and sculpture, Titian asserts the primacy of painting. However, his reason for including the relief may have been slightly different. Pietro Bembo penned two sonnets on a portrait by Giovanni Bellini in which he describes the portrait as ‘the face of the one that, with even greater care, I have sculpted in my heart’. This, of course, is a Petrarchan trope as even Vasari realized when he compared the two great poets and the portraits of their beloved. Images on parapets frequently provided a visual testament to the invisible – the inner dimensions of a sitter’s soul, which could not be easily illustrated. Is the relief in La Schiavona a visual manifestation of what was sculpted in the poet’s heart? By including it, Titian was able to assert that painting not only trumped both ancient and modern sculpture but poetry as well. In La Schiavona Titan threw down the gauntlet to poets and painters alike, showing that he could do the impossible – the impossible that Bembo’s poem itself had asked of him.