3: Triple portraits in Italian art

Triple portraits, depicting the same subject from three different angles, were produced within the Renaissace debate about the relative merits of painting and sculpture, the so-called Paragone. Leonardo da Vinci’s Studies of the Head of a man from Three Points of View and Lorenzo Lotto’s Triple Portrait of a Jeweler defend painting over sculpture, demostrating that painting too could offer different viewpoints.

Lotto’s painting, which during the 17th century was held in Charles I’s collection, inspired significant works, such as Anthony Van Dyck’s Charles I in three positions and Philippe de Champaigne’s Triple portrait of Cardinal de Richelieu. Both works were sent to Rome to be used as models by Gian Lorenzo Bernini, who was commissioned to create the bust of Charles I (1635-36, probably destroyed in the Palace of Whitehall fire of 1698) and then that of Cardinal Richelieu (1640-41).

Triple portraits could also allude to the three ages of man, as in Titian’s Triple Portrait Mask, or An Allegory of Prudence, in which the artist, the gray-bearded figure on the left wearing a rose-colored cap, represents old age, his son Orazio, at the center of the painting, represents maturity, and Marco Vecellio, Titian’s cousin and heir on the right, stands for youth. The triple-headed beast – wolf, lion and dog – is a symbol of prudence.

The number 3 now holds a special meaning for the Italian Art Society, about to celebrate its thirtieth anniversary. In light of this, IAS is asking members to consider donations in permutations of 3 and/or 30. Whether that means a donation of $3 or $300, be certain that any donation goes far in supporting IAS’s mission, programs, fellowships, charitable activities, and publications.

In addition, it is a great time to join or renew your IAS membership (all current memberships expire on 31 December of this year). Please encourage non-members (colleagues, friends, aficionados) working on or appreciative of Italian art, architecture, and visual culture across all media, periods, and career paths to join the IAS.

Further reading: I. Lavin, Visible Spirit. The art of Gianlorenzo Bernini, London 2009.

Leonardo da Vinci, Studies of the Head of a Man (Cesare Borgia?) from Three Points of View, c. 1502, sanguine on yellowed white paper, Turin, Royal Library.

Lorenzo Lotto, Triple Portrait of a Jeweler, c. 1530, oil on canvas, Vienna, Kunsthistorisches Museum.

Anthony Van Dyck, Charles I in Three Positions, 1635, oil on canvas, Windsor, Royal Collection.

Philippe de Champaigne, Triple portrait of Cardinal de Richelieu, c. 1640, oil on canvas, London, National Gallery.

Gianlorenzo Bernini, Bust of Cardinal Richelieu, 1640-41, marble, Paris, Musée du Louvre.

Titian, Triple Portrait Mask, or An Allegory of Prudence, 1550–1565, oil on canvas, London, National Gallery.

Posted by Martina Bollini

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