Portrait of a Lady ('La Schiavona')

The painting, known by the 17th century as 'La Schiavona' (the Dalmatian woman), must date from 1510-12. The initials T.V. on the parapet probably stand for Tiziano Vecellio. The raised portion of the parapet is a revision, and drapery originally painted there now shows through it. The profile relief, inspired by those on antique cameos, seems to be of the same sitter.

Titian’s Early Portraits
short desc
Antonio Mazzotta
3 min 8 secs

Antonio Mazzotta: Titian depicted this striking portrait when he was about 20, and the young Titian was able to formulate a completely new idea of portraiture. The pose is not static, it’s highly dynamic, so the sitter is turning. As soon as you turn, your gaze is more immediate.

He wanted to give a sense that the eyes just cross yours, and that the position is going to change very soon. So it’s a moment in time, which gives a sense of immediacy and which is a technique still employed today by fashion photographers. It was really something so new and so revolutionary in this portrait. This particular pose, which is called ‘di spalla’ – looking over the shoulder – became a standard type of portrait for centuries.

We should think about Van Dyck’s portraits and remember that Van Dyck owned this portrait. We should also think about Rembrandt’s portraits, such as the National Gallery 'Self-Portrait', executed in 1640. To be represented without any doubt, without any fear, was probably what was liked about Titian’s portraits, as well as the sense of physical presence, of reality.

This portrait was probably executed in around 1511, when Titian was about 22 years old. What is really new about this portrait is that the parapet is starting to drop, so we see more of the figure. This was incredibly new. She’s really dominating. She’s this incredible iconic female figure that can be compared to the great mothers of the history of art, from Mesopotamia to the Roman matrons. Really, she’s an allegory of woman.

There are several elements that make this picture uniquely Titian, starting from how it is painted. The handling of paint, the rendering of transparencies – like this wonderful veil – and the setting of the light, is also so clever. The light is coming from the upper left and washes this very pale skin with reddish cheeks. Also, this gives a presence of a pulsating animal. In a way this is a final point of his youth, but also a starting point for his mature style.

Key facts

Artist dates
active about 1506; died 1576
Full title
Portrait of a Lady ('La Schiavona')
Date made
about 1510-12
Medium and support
Oil on canvas
119.4 x 96.5 cm
Inscription summary
Acquisition credit
Presented through the Art Fund by Sir Francis Cook, Bt., in memory of his father, Sir Herbert Cook, Bt., 1942
Inventory number
Location in Gallery