The Milanese Filippo Archinto was a remarkable politician and cleric active in the mid-sixteenth century, supporting Saint Ignatius Loyola and attending the Council of Trent. He was painted by Titian when in Venice as papal nuncio between1553 and 1556. Archinto was confirmed as Archbishop of Milan but local intrigue worthy of the stage kept him from his chair and he died in exile in neighboring Bergamo. Titian’s sober yet painterly portrait of Archinto shows him at the height of his power in the mid-1550s. A related version in the Philadelphia Museum of Art depicts the cleric covered with a white veil, an unusual addition that may refer to the trials of his later life. For more on Archinto and the two versions of his portrait see metmuseum.org/collections.
The prominent Milanese prelate Filippo Archinto was sent to Venice as papal nuncio by Pope Julius III (ruled 1550–55) in 1553, living there until 1556, during which time Titian almost certainly painted this impressive three-quarter-length portrait, which remained with the sitter’s family in Milan until 1863. Shown seated and turning at an angle towards the viewer, a pose favored by Titian in those years, Archinto is dressed in rich ecclesiastical clothing and wears jeweled rings on both hands, a commanding presence at the height of his authority. He had begun his career with a doctorate in law from the University of Padua, and early on worked as a diplomat for his native city. He came into contact with Pope Paul III (r. 1534–49) in 1535 and the pope made him both Governor of Rome and Bishop of Borgo San Sepolcro. Archinto became a deeply committed ecclesiastic, taking part in the Council of Trent (1546–58) and supporting the work of Ignatius Loyola and the Jesuits.
It was during his years in Venice that Archinto made a false step, which set off a ballooning crisis in his career and life. Having improperly bestowed a benefice, he was removed as nuncio by the following pope, Paul IV (r. 1555–59) and was essentially in disgrace. He continued to be active in the Veneto anyway, prosecuting heretics, and, much to the amazement of the clerical world, in late 1556 was nominated archbishop of Milan, where he had the support of the local population but numerous obstacles were raised to thwart his elevation. Despite receiving the official "Pallium" of office (a woolen stole granted by the pope), and despite the pope’s threat of interdiction if Archinto were not to be admitted to his diocese, the presumptive archbishop was ordered to leave Milan and died in the spring of 1558 in exile in Bergamo (for further details see Betts 1967 and Bayer 2005).
These complex biographical details are important to the understanding of the portrait because a second version, also historically part of the family’s collection (now Philadelphia Museum of Art; see Bayer 2005, fig. 10), repeats the composition but with a transparent veil painted to cover the right half of the canvas, thus partially obscuring Archinto’s face and body. This unusual (if not unique) addition has been interpreted in several ways, but as Betts first explored in detail, probably reflects not only the tragic outcome of the political maneuvering against Archinto, but may also make reference to a passage in Saint Paul’s Second Epistle to the Corinthians, in which the apostle, distrusted by the community, is determined to preach the truth to them: "And even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled only to those who are perishing. In their case the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel . . ." (4:3–4).
There has been considerable discussion about the order in which the two versions were painted and of their relative quality (for which see Zeri and Gardner 1973). At the sale of the Archinto paintings in Milan in 1863, the two portraits were presented in separate lots, with that now in Philadelphia given to Titian while the Metropolitan’s painting was attributed to Leandro Bassano (who did not begin painting until the 1570s). Some later critics have continued to assert that the Metropolitan’s painting was painted after Titian’s death. It is, however, much more likely that the Philadelphia version was painted second, as it reflects circumstances from the very end of Archinto’s life (and might even have been requested posthumously in order to recall them), while Titian would have had the opportunity to encounter the prelate in Venice some years earlier and before his crisis. The picture was cleaned in 1979–80, and it is now clear that the quality of the Metropolitan’s version is superior to the Philadelphia version. The brilliantly sketchy treatment of the white gown, the textures of the sitter’s mozzetta, or cape, and the subtle modeling of the head and hands no less than the numerous changes to the composition—most visibly where the hem of the mozzetta and the white sleeve of the right arm were altered—convincingly assert its primacy. These qualities can be likened to Titian’s important Venetian altarpiece Saint John the Almsgiver (San Giovanni Elemosinario), now usually dated to about 1550. This is in contrast to the less refined appearance, and somewhat rougher technique of the veiled version, which is compelling mostly for the painting of the transparent veil itself. The means by which Titian’s studio could have created a second version remains a matter of speculation (see the comments for MMA 36.29), but it is known that he kept ricordi for such purposes. Bernard Berenson (1913), who knew both paintings well—having recommended one to Benjamin Altman in New York and the other to John Johnson in Philadelphia—believed that both were by Titian but remarked that Archinto seemed a "vigorous middle-aged man" in the former but elderly and overwhelmed by troubles in the latter.
Archinto family, Milan; conte Giuseppe Archinto, Milan (until d. 1861; his estate sale, Hôtel des commissaires-priseurs, Paris, May 18, 1863, no. 4, as by Leandro Bassano); private collection, Italy (until 1913); [Italico Brass, Venice, 1913; sold to Duveen]; [Duveen, New York, 1913; sold for $275,000 to Altman]; Benjamin Altman, New York (until d. 1913)
New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "Venetian Paintings in the Metropolitan Museum," May 1–September 2, 1974, no catalogue.
Bernard Berenson. Catalogue of a Collection of Paintings and some Art Objects. Vol. 1, Italian Paintings. Philadelphia, 1913, pp. 127–28, under no. 204.
Bernard Berenson. Letter to Louis Duveen. March 4, 1913, attributes it to Titian and dates it 1555, two or three years before the version now in the Philadelphia Museum of Art.
Bernard Berenson. Letter to Messrs. Duveen. March 17, 1913, dates it about 1554–55.
François Monod. "La galerie Altman au Metropolitan Museum de New-York (1er article)." Gazette des beaux-arts, 5th ser., 8 (September–October 1923), p. 191, attributes it to Titian and dates it either 1543, at the time of Titian's portrait of Pope Paul III, or 1545–46, during Titian's time in Rome; calls the Philadelphia picture a later replica, probably also by Titian.
Oskar Fischel. Tizian: Des Meisters Gemälde. Stuttgart, [1929?], p. 319, ill. p. 184, attributes it to Titian and dates it about 1554.
Bernhard Berenson. Italian Pictures of the Renaissance. Oxford, 1932, p. 573, dates it 1554–56.
Wilhelm Suida. Tizian. Zürich, 1933, pp. 107, 169, pl. CCVIb.
Bernhard Berenson. Pitture italiane del rinascimento. Milan, 1936, p. 493.
Jan Zarnowski. "L'atelier de Titien: Girolamo di Tiziano." Dawna Sztuka 1 (1938), p. 129, attributes it to Girolamo di Tiziano and calls the Philadelphia picture a weak replica.
Harry B. Wehle. The Metropolitan Museum of Art: A Catalogue of Italian, Spanish, and Byzantine Paintings. New York, 1940, pp. 193–94, ill.
Duveen Pictures in Public Collections of America. New York, 1941, unpaginated, ill., attributes it to Titian and dates it about 1554–56.
Rodolfo Pallucchini. Tiziano: Lezioni tenute alla Facoltà di Lettere dell'Università di Bologna durante l'Anno 1953–54. Bologna, [1953–54], vol. 2, pp. 62–63, judging from a photograph, suggests that it was begun by Titian himself but completed by his workshop; notes that it repeats the composition of Titian's portrait of Ludovico Beccadelli (Uffizi, Florence).
Bernard Berenson. Italian Pictures of the Renaissance: Venetian School. London, 1957, vol. 1, p. 189.
Francesco Valcanover. Tutta la pittura di Tiziano. Milan, 1960, vol. 2, p. 71, pl. 174 [English ed., "All the Paintings of Titian," New York, 1960, vol. 4, p. 92, pl. 174], as Attributed to Titian.
Ruth Wedgwood Kennedy. "Apelles redivivus." Essays in Memory of Karl Lehmann. Ed. Lucy Freeman Sandler. New York, 1964, p. 168 n. 64, suggests that the Philadelphia painting "may originally have served as a cover for" the MMA picture.
Barbara Sweeny. John G. Johnson Collection: Catalogue of Italian Paintings. Philadelphia, 1966, p. 76, under no. 204.
Richard J. Betts. "Titian's Portrait of Filippo Archinto in the Johnson Collection." Art Bulletin 49 (March 1967), pp. 59–61 n. 27, fig. 2, attributes the Philadelphia painting to Titian and calls this work a copy after it, possibly a workshop product or possibly by Leandro Bassano (1557–1622).
Francesco Valcanover inL'opera completa di Tiziano. repr., 1978. Milan, 1969, p. 126, no. 392, ill., attributes it to Titian's workshop and dates it "1554–56?".
Rodolfo Pallucchini. Tiziano. Florence, 1969, vol. 1, pp. 137, 302–3; vol. 2, pl. 398, as by Titian and workshop (Orazio Vecellio); dates it about 1554–56.
Harold E. Wethey. The Paintings of Titian. Vol. 2, The Portraits. London, 1971, p. 75, under no. 4, pl. 163, calls it a variant of the Philadelphia painting, either by Titian's workshop or a later copy by Leandro Bassano.
Burton B. Fredericksen and Federico Zeri. Census of Pre-Nineteenth-Century Italian Paintings in North American Public Collections. Cambridge, Mass., 1972, pp. 202, 510, 606.
Federico Zeri with the assistance of Elizabeth E. Gardner. Italian Paintings: A Catalogue of the Collection of The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Venetian School. New York, 1973, pp. 75–76, pl. 91, attribute it to Titian with some workshop assistance; call the Philadelphia painting probably a copy after it.
Edward Fowles. Memories of Duveen Brothers. London, 1976, p. 76.
Fritz Heinemann Università degli Studi di Venezia. "La bottega di Tiziano." Tiziano e Venezia. Vicenza, 1980, p. 438, states that Titian painted the face and Cesare Vecellio painted the rest of the work, after a sketch by Titian.
Angelica Dülberg. Privatporträts: Geschichte und Ikonologie einer Gattung im 15. und 16. Jahrhundert. Berlin, 1990, p. 296, no. 337, fig. 636.
Maria Agnese Chiari Moretto Wiel in Filippo Pedrocco. Titian. New York, 2001, p. 245, under no. 203, refers to it as "the second version, of inferior quality".
David Alan Brown in Sybille Ebert-Schifferer. Deceptions and Illusions: Five Centuries of Trompe l'Oeil Painting. Exh. cat., National Gallery of Art. Washington, 2002, p. 124, under no. 7, ill. (color).
Meryle Secrest. Duveen: A Life in Art. New York, 2004, p. 493, dates it about 1554–56; incorrectly states that the MMA now attributes it to the workshop of Titian or Leandro Bassano.
Andrea Bayer. "North of the Apennines: Sixteenth-Century Italian Painting in Venice and the Veneto." Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin 63 (Summer 2005), pp. 11–12, fig. 9 (color), believes that Titian painted the MMA portrait several years before the Philadelphia version, and that he may have had studio assistance with the latter.
Andrea Bayer. "Collecting North Italian Paintings at The Metropolitan Museum of Art." A Market for Merchant Princes: Collecting Italian Renaissance Paintings in America. Ed. Inge Reist. University Park, Pa., 2015, pp. 91–92, 124 n. 23.
A late-sixteenth-century Venetian frame with elaborately carved fretwork, applied in sections.