Seated in a three-quarter pose turning to his left, Pope Paul III directly engages the viewer with his intense gaze. His brilliant red habit elegantly falls from his shoulders. Although of venerable age, the Pope exudes power and self-assured confidence underscored by his stern visage. The dark background of the painting accentuates Paul III’s psychological presence.
This is the first portrait painted by Titian for Paul III, and marks the beginning of the relationship between the artist and the Farnese family. Paul III invited Titian to Bologna in 1543, where he was engaged with Holy Roman Emperor Charles V. It is likely that Titian executed the Pope’s portrait at that time, whereafter it was met with enormous success.