Ranuccio Farnese was twelve years old when Titian painted his portrait. The boy had been sent to Venice by his grandfather, Pope Paul III, to become prior of an important property belonging to the Knights of Malta. As a member of the powerful and aristocratic Farnese family, Ranuccio went on to an illustrious ecclesiastical career. He was made Archbishop of Naples at the age of fourteen, and he later served as Bishop of Bologna, Archbishop of Milan and Ravenna, and Cardinal Sant'Angelo, dying when he was only thirty–five years old.

Adult responsibility came to Ranuccio when still a child, as Titian so brilliantly conveyed through the cloak of office, too large and heavy, sliding off the youth's small shoulders. The boy in the role of the man is what gives this characterization such poignancy.

Portraits by Titian were in great demand, distinguished as they were for their remarkable insight into character and their brilliant technique. Nowhere is the painter's genius more in evidence than in this image. Limiting his palette to black, white, and rose, Titian enlivened the surface with light: the dull gleam rippling over the sleeves of the velvet cloak; the fitful pattern flickering across the slashed doublet; and the changing reflections on the satin Maltese Cross.


  • Title: Ranuccio Farnese
  • Date Created: 1542
  • Physical Dimensions: w736 x h897 cm (overall)
  • Type: Painting
  • Rights: Samuel H. Kress Collection
  • External Link: National Gallery of Art, Washington, DC
  • Medium: oil on canvas
  • Theme: portrait, male, boy
  • School: Venetian
  • Provenance: Farnese family, Parma, by 1620;[1] brought from Naples to London by Sir George Donaldson [1845 1925], London; sold May 1880 to Sir John Charles Robinson [1824 1913], London; sold to Sir Francis Cook, 1st Bt. [1817 1901], Doughty House, Richmond, Surrey, by 1885;[2] by inheritance to his son, Sir Frederick Lucas Cook, 2nd Bt. [1844 1920], Doughty House; by inheritance to his son, Sir Herbert Frederick Cook, 3rd Bt. [1868 1939], Doughty House; by inheritance to his son, Sir Francis Ferdinand Maurice Cook, 4th Bt. [1907 1978], Doughty House, and Cothay Manor, Somerset; sold June or July 1947 to (Gualtiero Volterra, London) for (Count Alessandro Contini Bonacossi, Florence);[3] sold July 1948 to the Samuel H. Kress Foundation, New York;[4] gift 1952 to NGA. [1] Recorded in Parma in 1620 and 1680; probably moved to Naples in 1734, where it presumably remained until shortly before 1880. [2] According to Robinson's account book (Ashmolean Museum, Oxford; copy of relevant page in NGA curatorial files). The painting is included in an article by Robinson on the Cook collection that appeared in the May 1885 Art Journal, pp. 133 137. [3] See copy of correspondence in NGA curatorial files, from the Cook Collection Archive in care of John Somerville, England. Volterra was Contini Bonacossi's agent in London. [4] The Kress Foundation made an offer to Contini Bonacossi on 7 June 1948 for a group of twenty eight paintings, including Titian's "Portrait of a Boy;" the offer was accepted on 11 July 1948 (see copies of correspondence in NGA curatorial files).
  • Artist: Titian

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