This is a copy of Titian’s large canvas known as ‘La Gloria’ (The Glory) or The Trinity. Titian’s painting was commissioned by Emperor Charles V of Spain in 1551, and is now in the Prado, Madrid.
The Emperor and Empress with their son Prince Philip and his sisters kneel in their burial shrouds before God the Father and Christ for the Last Judgement. The dove of the Holy Ghost appears in the heavens in a blaze of light.
The large biblical figures in the foreground include the Prophet Ezekiel on an eagle, Moses with the tablets of the Law, Noah holding up the ark and King David clutching his harp. John the Baptist stands behind the Virgin Mary in her cloak of ultramarine blue. The Imperial family are accompanied by an escort of angels and other mortals including Adam and Eve, and the elderly Titian himself.
This is a copy of Titian’s large composition known as ‘La Gloria’ (The Glory) but referred to by Titian himself as The Trinity. He developed it for a painting commissioned by the Emperor Charles V when the artist was in Augsburg (in Germany) in 1551. Delivered in 1554, Charles took it with him to his retirement residence at Yuste in Extremadura. After his death, it was brought to the monastery of the Escorial along with the Emperor’s remains. It has been in the Prado, Madrid, since 1837.
The Emperor and Empress with their son Prince Philip (the future King Philip II of Spain) and his sisters kneel wearing only shrouds before God the Father and Christ. The dove of the Holy Ghost appears in the heavens between them in a blaze of light. The Virgin Mary glides up through the clouds wrapped in a cloak of ultramarine like the robes of God and Christ enthroned above. The blue of their robes matches that of the open sky in the centre of the painting and the white shrouds of the Imperial family echo the clouds. The large figures in the foreground include Noah holding up the ark, Moses with the tablets of the Law, the Prophet Ezekiel with an eagle and King David clutching his harp. Behind the Virgin Mary is John the Baptist, and the Imperial family are accompanied by an escort of angels and a crowd of other mortals including Adam and Eve and the bearded, elderly Titian himself, centrally placed near the right edge.
The painting was made as an epitaph, a kind of picture or relief sculpture common in Germany, in which the patron and his family appear at prayer before the Trinity or another image central to the Christian faith. It functioned like the visual equivalent of a tombstone in memory of a person who has died. The Imperial family, already wearing their burial shrouds, appeal to God and Christ for the Salvation of their souls. When the painting was acquired by the National Gallery in 1926 it was believed to be an original oil sketch by Titian for ‘La Gloria’. The evident changes to the surface were cited as evidence that Titian had tried out and perfected the composition for ‘La Gloria’ in this sketch before painting the full-sized canvas for Charles V. It is evident from closer examination, however, that it is a later copy, made not after the painting in Spain but the somewhat different engraving of the subject by Cornelis Cort, which Titian produced in 1565. X-ray images reveal the composition of the engraving under the surface changes, which were surely made by another artist with reference to the painting. This artist also corrected the painting for colour, bringing it in line with the painting in places where the first copyist, working from the black-and-white print, had applied colours different to those on Titian’s canvas. The copy may have been made intentionally to be sold as a Titian oil sketch and its provenance invented to gain a sale.
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