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After Tiziano Vecellio, called Titian, first half of the 18th century, A rare set of 24 portraits of Roman emperors and their consorts, in classical poses, dressed in armour and draped clothing, together with the personification of Rome. Estimate 80,000 — 120,000 GBP. Photo Sotheby’s.

all polychrome paint and gold on grey marble; each approx.: 41.5 by 32.5 cm .; 16 3/8  by 12 3/4  in.

PROVENANCE: In collection of the family of the present owner, a count, for several generations.

NOTES: This series of panels is directly derived from a set of 24 prints by Aegidius Sadeler II, of which the 12 portraits of the emperors are engravings after Titian.

The pairs of emperors with their wives are named as follows: C. Julius Caesar with Calpurnia Julii Caesar; D. Oct. Augustus with Livia Drusilia D. Oct. Augustiux; Dr. Claudius Caesar with Agrippina Claudii Uxor; Nero Claudius Caesar with Statilia Messalina  Claudii Neron Ux; Tiberius Caesar with Julia Tiberii Uxor; C. Caesar Caligula with Caesonia Caesar Caligulae Uxor; D. Titus Vespasianus with Martia Fulvia Titi Vespasian Uxor; Flavius Domitianus with Domitia Longina Domitiani Uxor; Aullus Vitellius IX with Petronia Vitellii Prima Uxor IX: D. Vespasianus Augustus with Flavia Domicilla Vespasiani Uxor; and Sergius Balba with Lepida Sergii Galbae Uxor. One pair shows emperor Marcus Silvius Otho with his mother Alba Terentia Othonis Mater.

Titian’s original series was painted around 1537-38 for Duke Federigo Gonzaga of Mantua. In 1627-28 the set was sold by the Mantuan government to Charles I of England. They then entered a collection in Spain, were destroyed there in a fire in 1734, and are now known only from Aegidius and Marcus Sadeler’s etchings. The Sadelers were a family of Flemish engravers, publishers and print sellers who were active throughout Europe for three generations. They played a dominant role in European graphic art, producing a wide range of high quality work. Although the sources for Sadeler’s portraits of the empresses are lost, it has been proposed that he based them on works by Hans von Aachen (1552-1615) or Bartholomeus Spranger (1546-1611), who like Sadeler, were court artists to Emperor Rudolf II in Prague.

Portrait series showing Roman emperors and empresses were in high demand from the late 17th century onwards, mainly due to the increasing popularity of the ‘Grand Tour’. Of note in this set is the use of marble as a support, which is unusual and seems to have been intended to emphasize the ‘all antico’ effect of the classical models. The style of these portraits with their opulent use of decorative details and gilding is comparable to the work of the Italian painter and engraver Angelo Guiducci (active in Rome and Austria, 1743 -1779).

Sotheby’s. . Of Royal and Noble Descent, London, 24 Feb 2015, 10:30 AM