Cornelis Cort after Titian, 'Glory', Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, Detail.


Identity and Representation: Women and Men in Early Modern Portraiture

  • Begins: Tuesday 23 October 2018
    Until: Tuesday 20 November 2018
  • Brockway Room, Conway Hall, 25 Red Lion Square, London WC1R 4RL
  • Lecturer: Dr Carlo Corsato

Portraits represented the most lucrative market for early modern artists. From the fifteenth  century onwards, growing personal wealth and the increasing expansion of European commerce multiplied the number of people with the means and the interest in commissioning images that could represent the identity and legacy of the ruling classes. Wars, religious division, and famines may have set back the prosperity and undermined the peace of the old continent; yet culture flourished and the arts were required to picture (literally and metaphorically) new ideas and values, as well as the emerging role of the artist as an active part of society. The course explores the historical context and the artistic development of early modern portraiture, and addresses issues, such as art patronage and material culture, philosophy and literature, politics and religion. Case studies include works by the greatest artists of the period, including Leonardo, Raphael, Dürer, Holbein, Titian, Rubens, Van Dyck, and Velázquez.

  1. Extraordinary Women: The Social Role of Beauty  Wives and mothers, intellectuals and muses, women played a crucial role in shaping early modern society and its values. Artists, such as Leonardo, Pontormo, Moroni, and Veronese portrayed the different roles of women and celebrated their beauty as a driving force for peace and prosperity.
  2. Man’s World: Images of Ambition, Vocation, and Duty  Whether they were bankers, condottieri, clerics, or literati, early modern men commissioned portraits from the greatest artists of the day (e.g. Raphael, Parmigianino, Titian, Veronese, Van Dyck): they attested to the aspirations and personality of the sitters, as well as preserving the memory of their identity and achievements for the future.
  3. Faces of Power: Self-fashioning and State Portraits  The greatest masters, such as Bellini, Raphael, Holbein, Titian, Bronzino and Clouet, owed much of their fame and fortune to the privilege of portraying some of most powerful rulers of the day. They set new standards for the representation of power and were able to embody the official identity of a nation in the public persona of the head of state.
  4. Apelles Redivivus: Royalty and Majesty at Habsburg and Stuart Courts   Apelles, the greatest painter of ancient Greece, was widely renowned for his services to Alexander the Great and both the artist and the king were regarded as the highest union of art and regal virtues. Habsburg and Stuart kings revived the comparison and shaped a new image of royalty: Titian, Rubens, Van Dyck, and Velázquez were promoted to the role of the new Apelles of Europe.
  5. Crypto Portraits: Artists, their Self, and their Patrons  Early modern artists were emancipated from the mere role of craftsmen and promoted themselves as playing an active part in the formation and evolution of society. Botticelli, Dürer, Licinio, Titian, Carracci, Rubens and Caravaggio portrayed artists in their new role as family men, pious devotees, and intellectuals capable of redefining art patronage in modern terms.


Dr Carlo Corsato is an Educator at the National Gallery, London and teaches at Morley College, London. He was Visiting Lecturer at the University of Buckingham and Visiting Scholar at St John College, Cambridge. Carlo is a specialist in early-modern European art and architecture, with an expertise in Venetian painting. Among his publications are Lives of Titian and Lives of Tintoretto (Pallas Athene/Getty Publications, 2019).

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