Figure 1 - Anthonis Mor, Fernando Alvarez de Toledo

Figure 1 – Anthonis Mor, Fernando Alvarez de Toledo

Augsburg, May 12, 1551. As Bartolomeo Concini (1507-1578) left the Imperial residence heading back to the residence of the Florentine ambassador Bernardo de’ Medici (?-1552), whom he was serving as secretary, he probably felt both relieved and frustrated. On the one hand, his meeting with Fernando de Toledo (1508-1582), 3rd duke of Alba (here as portrayed by Anthonis Mor in 1549 – Fig. 1) and mayordomo mayor to Emperor Charles V, had gone very well. Finally things were going the way his master Duke Cosimo I de’ Medici (r. 1537-1574) wished to, as His Caesarean Majesty had decided to deprive the young Signore of Piombino Iacopo V Appiani (1539-1585) of his small but strategic fief on the Tuscan coast. On the other hand, what the emperor intended to do with Piombino was far from clear: was he going to keep the fief for himself, or was he going to invest his loyal servant Cosimo I with it? Concini had been unable to press the issue further, as Don Fernando was at that moment busy sitting for Titian. Therefore, in order not to become importunate the Florentine secretary had to take his leave.

Et perché il Duca era ingombrato nel farsi ritrarre da Titiano, il Concino assicuratosi che la risolutione era stata solamente di spogliarne il Signore, rimanendo qualche speranza all’Eccellenza Vostra nel resto, prese licentia, et mi rese conto del tutto. (1)

Now, while Titian’s presence in Fernando de Toledo’s quarters has no relevance whatsoever for my ongoing research on the relations between Florence and the Empire, it can nevertheless help to shed some light on the history of Vecellio’s artistic production.

Figure 2 - The Duke of Alba in Armor

Figure 2 – The Duke of Alba in Armor

The traditional scholarship included in the production of Titian two portraits of Fernando Alvarez de Toledo: the Duke of Alba in Armour (Fig. 2) and the Duke of Alba in Black (Fig. 3) – believed to have survived only in copies attributed to the hand of Rubens. Modern scholarship, however, tends to relegate these two portraits of the ‘iron duke’ (both part of the collection of the dukes of Alba in the Palacio de Liria) to the list of works whose connection to Titian – and thus to

Figure 3 - The Duke of Alba in Black

Figure 3 – The Duke of Alba in Black

Rubens – is considered doubtful. Both the style of the composition and the age of the sitter seem to indicate that the Duke of Alba in Armour is not a copy of the portrait made by Titian in 1549 (2), but rather of a work made either by Antonis Mor or Willem Key at a much later date. The situation is reversed for the Duke of Alba in Black: both the style of the composition and the age of the sitter are compatible with either of Titian’s stays in Augsburg (1548; 1550-51). Yet, up to now there is (was?) no convincing documentary nor pictorial evidence that Titian had ever executed a second portrait of the duke (3).

Whether the hand that painted the Duke of Alba in Black in the Palacio de Liria was Rubens’, or if the prototype was by Titian, it is not for me to say. All I can say is that in the course of his second and final stay in Augsburg in 1550-51 messer Tiziano was indeed working on a portrait of the duke – unfortunately for Concini, fortunately for us.


(1) ASF, Mediceo del Principato 4308, Bernardo de’ Medici to Cosimo I de’ Medici, Augsburg, 13 May 1551, NNF
(2) Harold. E. Wethey, The Paintings of Titian, vol. II (Phaidon 1971), pp. 151, 190; Pietro Aretino, Lettere, vol. V (Salerno Editrice 2001), pp. 161-3
(3) Wethey, p. 151.