Friday, April 08, 2005

great portraits #2

Titian - A Man with a Quilted Sleeve, 1512

Titian's 'Portrait of a Man with a Quilted Sleeve', may, like the Van Eyck below, be a self-portrait. Both these paintings hang in the National Gallery, London. The sitter, whether or not it is the artist himself, certainly doesn't lack confidence, and is clearly a bit of a dandy. It's the blue quilted sleeve, not the face, which is the real focus of the painting - playing a similar role to Van Eyck's red turban - and it's almost as if Titian is thrusting the expensive fabric in our face, saying 'feel the quality of this'. It's so beautifully painted you feel you could reach out and touch it. A female friend once told me that she found the man's gaze 'disturbing'. The expression on the face is quite challenging, but, to me, the slightly raised eyebrow adds a redeeming note of humour. Perhaps Titian is gently poking fun at the sitter, or else he's having a sly dig at us for being too easily impressed by outward shows of worth. Or both.