Titian and Jacopo Pesaro
Jacopo had done it: in 1502, he had recaptured the island of Santa Maura from the Turks, thereby earning his place in heaven. That’s the story Titian tells in this painting. Pesaro, a bishop and the commander of the papal fleet, kneels before St Peter following his victory. Pope Alexander VI stands behind him, blessing the hero. There are two coats of arms on Pesaro’s flag: his own and that of the pontiff. The latter commends Pesaro to St Peter for his victory. The keys to heaven glimmer at the Apostle’s feet, within the admiral’s reach. The helmet on the floor and the ships in the background refer to the recent battle.
Victory through love of God
The relief on the edge of St Peter’s dais shows Cupid firing his arrow of divine love at the woman on the right. This is Minerva, a symbol here of victory, peace and virtue. Cupid’s back is turned to the men with grapes and to the pair of lovers, who symbolize earthly and physical love. In other words, Pesaro owes his victory to his love of God.
Triumph for Pesaro
Pesaro was the bishop of Paphos, now Cyprus, and commander of the papal fleet. He had his military triumph at Santa Maura immortalized in this work. The composition of the canvas was designed by Giovanni Bellini, the most important artist in Venice at the time. Titian was responsible for its further execution. Noteworthy features include the typically Venetian colours and the brilliant technique. This is a very early Titian, yet it remains typical of the style and working method of the emerging genius.
Eternal fame for Pesaro thanks to Titian
Despite its religious overtones, this work was not intended for a church. It is a votive painting – a commemoration of the naval victory and a token of thanks for the patronage of Pope Alexander VI. At the same time, Pesaro was keen to immortalize himself. Did it put him in mind of an altarpiece too? In 1519, he certainly commissioned Titian to paint one for him. Jacopo Pesaro, Bishop of Paphos, being Presented by Pope Alexander VI to Saint Peter may be viewed, therefore, as a trial run for that later work.
Titian: Venetian painter in Antwerp
Titian was one of the great masters of the Italian Renaissance. He had an immense influence on his contemporaries, but also on later Flemish artists such as Rubens and van Dyck. Titian was so popular in the 16th century that his work spread all over Europe. His secular paintings – sublime portraits for the most part – were especially popular with the nobility and the haute-bourgeoisie. His early religious works made him a true celebrity. The KMSKA therefore boasts a genuine masterpiece in this painting. What’s more, it is the only Titian in Belgium.