This is another instalment about my "emperors" project. One of the stars of the book are, I think, going to be the 11 emperor portraits (Julius Caesar to Titus) that Titian did for Federico II Gonzaga at Mantua in the late 1530s; they were all together in a room in the Ducal Palace, whose overall design scheme, and other paintings, including emblematic scenes from the life of each of the emperors, was in the hands of Giulio Romano.
There are all kinds of puzzles about these, including why there were only 11 out of a collection that you would expect to be 12 (the twelfth, Domitian, ws added later, probably in an adjoining room). The idea that Titian just couldn't make the full twelve fit has always seemed very unlikely to me.
The puzzles are, of course, intensified, by the fact that Titian's portraits do not survive. They were acquired by Charles I and brought to England (along with some of the Giulio Romano paintings), and then -- after Charles's execution -- they were sold off to Spain where they were destroyed in a fire at the Royal Alcazar in 1734. So we have to rely on copies of them, notably a series of prints made by Aegidius Sadeler some time around 1600: these comprised Titian's 11, the additional Domitian, as well as 12 empresses (mostly wives, but one mother) to match.
But what is also interesting to me is that each one of these comes with a set of verses in (rather hard, at least for me) Latin -- which in a way represent an almost contemporary reaction to these images. Very few art historians seem to have been much concerned with these: they either refer simply to "verses in Latin" or, at most, include a Latin text without translation or commentary. In fact, the verses are decidedly weird and not in general very admirative of the emperors concerned.
The Julius Caesar, for example, starts out by referring to the bad omen in the way he wore his toga: omine discincti metuendus Caesar amictus (lit. Caesar, to be feared because of the omen of his ungirt cloak). And it goes on to talk about his dream of sleeping with his mother, ending (after a nod to his restoration of order) with the claim that he was "joined to the city in unspeakable ways" (iunctus et infandis cui fuit ille modis). The print is above (and sorry that the final couple of letters on the right hand side have got lost.)
How typical, I wonder, is this rather negative view of Titian's subjects? And how unflattering were his painting? Were they simply rather positive attempts to put the Gonzaga family into the "glorious" traditions of Roman imperial power?