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Work Battle of Spoleto

Department of Prints and Drawings: 16th century

Bataille de Spolète

RMN-Grand Palais - Photo S. Maréchalle

Prints and Drawings
16th century

Mancini Federica

The drawing is a preparatory study for a monumental work, commissioned by the Venetian Council of Ten in 1513, which was finished after costly delays in 1538. Titian's painting was intended to complete an unfinished project by Perugino to replace Guariento's medieval fresco of the Coronation of the Virgin in the Great Council Chamber of the Doge's palace. Titian's and Guariento's works were both destroyed, however, in the great fire at the palace in 1577.

The sack of Spoleto

The picture's frenzied line strikes the viewer even before its dramatic subject. A soldier, seen from behind, commands a battery of smoking cannon, beyond which an array of foreshortened horses occupies the right side of the sheet. One is ridden by a man with a naked torso; astride another, seen in profile, is a cavalryman wearing a plumed helmet. In the center of the scene, the arch of the bridge provides an optical hiatus amid the general melée. The chaos resumes in the left half of the picture: a few figures stand out from the struggling mass of heads, horses, and lances, indicated with great economy of line. The figures climbing towards the city, in the background, are more lightly sketched. In the upper right, the swirling mass of humanity gives way to the forces of nature: the tension of the battle is accentuated by an imposing crag and the presence of sinister storm clouds. A flag in the upper left corner indicates the direction to be followed by the imperial troops, while twin columns of smoke evoke the sack of the city of Spoleto, destroyed in 1155 by the army of the Holy Roman Emperor Frederick Barbarossa, in response to a declaration of support for the city from his enemy, Pope Alexander III.

An epic in the making

Drawn with great vibrancy and immediacy, the sheet represents an intermediate stage in the elaboration of Titian's final composition, rather than a straightforward preparatory study. The picture was squared up, not for transfer to another support, but in order to focus in more detail on specific areas. Titian accentuates the contrasting tones of light and shade; his style evolved during work on the picture (1513-38), as some of his earlier ideas came to seem outmoded. Giulio Romano's work (admired by Titian during his stay in Mantua) remained an enduring influence, however. In addition to drawings by Romano, Titian would have seen in Mantua the ceiling of the Sala di Troia in the Gonzaga palace, executed by Giulio's pupils in 1538.

Behind the scenes

Sometimes known as the Battle of Cadore, due to its depiction of the landscape around Titian's native city, the painting of the Battle of Spoleto is all the more significant in light of its extraordinarily long gestation. Events affecting its progress included the long wait for a license to begin work, following the death of Giovanni Bellini in 1516, and the painting of the Assumption altarpiece for the Venetian church of Santa Maria dei Frari. Upon finishing the latter, Titian labored tirelessly on the monumental canvas to satisfy the Council of Ten, who demanded a refund due to its late delivery. The so-called telero ("grand picture") achieved instant renown upon its completion. However, the Council of Ten awarded the commission for the adjacent decorations to Pordenone, anxious to stress their displeasure at the delays incurred by Titian. Pordenone died before he could begin the work.


Bacou Roseline, Dessins du Louvre, école italienne, Paris, Flammarion, 1968, n 46.
Chiari Moretto Wiel Maria Agnese, in Tiziano, Corpus dei disegni autografi, Milan, Berenice, 1989, pp. 90-91, n 24.
Guida d'Italia del Touring Club Italiano, Umbria, Milan, 1978, p. 317.
Rearick William R., in Le Siècle de Titien, l'âge d'or de la peinture à Venise, cat. exp. Paris, Galeries nationales du Grand Palais, 1993, pp. 574-575, n 225.
Rearick William R., Il disegno veneziano del Cinquecento, Milan, Electa, 2001, pp. 96-98.
Scrase David, in The Genius of Venice, 1500-1600, cat. exp. Londres, Royal Academy of Arts, 1983, pp. 292-293, n D72.

Technical description

  • Tiziano VECELLIO, known as TITIAN (Pieve di Cadore, circa 1490-Venice, 1576)

    Battle of Spoleto

    Circa 1538

    Peter Paul Rubens collection (?); Monseigneur A. Triest collection; Pierre Crozat collection; collection of Charles-Paul Jean-Baptiste de Bourgevin Vialart de Saint-Morys; confiscated as the property of emigrés, 1793; returned to the Museum, 1796-97

  • Charcoal and black chalk, brown wash with white highlights; squared in black chalk; blue paper

    H. 38.2 cm: W. 44.4 cm

  • Collection Pierre Paul Rubens ( ?) ; collection Monseigneur A. Triest ; collection Pierre Crozat ; collection Saint-Morys ; saisie des biens des Émigrés en 1793, remise au Muséum en 1796-1797

    INV 21788

  • Prints and Drawings

    Due to their fragility, works on paper are not on permanent display in the museum.

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