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Titian, An Allegory of Prudence

Key facts
Full title An Allegory of Prudence
Artist Titian
Artist dates active about 1506; died 1576
Date made about 1550
Medium and support Oil on canvas
Dimensions 75.5 × 68.4 cm
Acquisition credit Presented by Betty and David Koetser, 1966
Inventory number NG6376
Location Not on display
Collection Main Collection
Previous owners
An Allegory of Prudence

Three male heads at different stages of life are paired with the heads of three animals: a wolf, a lion and a dog. The Latin inscription divided to correspond to the three heads translates as: ‘Learning from Yesterday, Today acts prudently lest by his action he spoil Tomorrow.’ The meaning and purpose of this painting has been the subject of much debate.

The painting may be an allegory of Prudence. However, the composition was extensively revised during painting. The animal heads were added at a late stage and are fairly summarily executed. The execution of the heads, similarly, is of varied finish and quality, with the central one being the most subtle and vibrant.

Some observers have seen the intervention of a studio assistant, especially in the head at the right and the animals. Such variety of finish is not unusual for Titian himself, however, and it is hard to imagine why he would have called upon assistants for such an unusual and comparatively simple composition.

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