Compared with the overall development of Upper Italian painting, Titian’s short Mannerist phase was weaker in its expressiveness, and in early art criticism it received a cool reception, unjustly so from the viewpoint of today. This Ecce Homo, created for the Flemish merchant Giovanni d’Anna, is Titian’s major work of the period. For a long time it was seen primarily as a legendary compendium of contemporary prominent figures:it was thought that Pilate had the features of Pietro Aretino; the magnificently dressed older man in the right foreground was the Venetian doge in office at the time, Pietro Lando; the Ottoman knight behind him was Sultan Süleyman II; and farther to the right is his military opponent, Alfonso d’Avalos (Venice had defeated the Turks at Tunis in 1535). The young woman dressed in white was thought to be Titian’s daughter. In contrast to the art of the southern Netherlands, this scene in which the crowd demands that Christ be put to death (Luke 23:13–25; John 19:13–16) was rarely depicted in Italian painting. The Flemish origin of the client probably explains the unusual choice of subject. Titian’s brilliant stage management focuses all attention on the figure of Christ, even though it has been strikingly placed at the edge of the painting. A young man in complete dismay in the left foreground sets the compositional mood. The soldier seen from the rear leads the viewer’s gaze up the steps to the protagonist. The double-eagle of the Holy Roman Empire on his shield and the signature on the parchment to the right of it with the addition “eques ces[aris]” are a gesture of homage to the imperial court, of which Titian had become the official painter in 1533. Pilate’s indecisive posture points to his ambiguous historical role; his head is turned towards the rude crowd, pressing forward and again directing the viewer’s gaze towards Christ. The soldier clad in dark-redvelvet at the centre of the painting has a transitional function, dosing off the dramatic scene to his left and leading towards the group of curious spectators onhis right.
© Cäcilia Bischoff, Masterpieces of the Picture Gallery. A Brief Guide to the Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna 2010