Portrait of a Man Holding a Book

about 1540
Titian (Tiziano Vecellio) (Italian (Venetian), about 1488–1576)


97.8 x 77.2 cm (38 1/2 x 30 3/8 in.)

Accession Number


Medium or Technique

Oil on canvas

On View

William I. Koch Gallery (Gallery 250)





Titian was one of the first painters to use canvas as a support for nearly all of his portraits. He exploited the texture of the fabric as well as the three-dimensional properties of oil paint to create broken strokes and bold touches. In this portrait, Titian’s red-haired sitter is unidentified, but his book and sword proclaim his learning and noble status. He wears an ostentatious costume with prominent slashes, decorative aglets, and cuffs and collar dotted with pearls. Unlike Titian, he probably wasn’t Venetian—Venetian men of this period preferred solid colored robes.


Lower left: Ticianus


Until 1650, possibly the Oneto family, Genoa [see note 1]; 1650, possibly brought by Don Giovan Stefano Oneto and Don Agostino Oneto from Genoa to Palermo, Sicily; by descent within the Oneto family to Don Giuseppe Oneto e Lanza (d. 1852), Duke of Sperlinga, Palermo and Naples; 1864, sold by the heirs of Oneto e Lanza to the Count of Francavilla, Palermo; by descent to his son, Luigi Maria Majorca Mortillaro, Count of Francavilla, Palermo, who owned it until at least 1901 [see note 1]. Thos. Agnew and Sons, Ltd., London [see note 2]. Trotti et Companie, Paris [see note 3]. By 1907, purchased in Paris by Cottier and Company, New York [see note 4]; April 29, 1907, sold by Cottier to Frederick Bayley Pratt (b. 1865 - d. 1945), Brooklyn; April 3, 1943, sold by Pratt to Knoedler and Co., New York (stock no. A2555) and Pinakos, Inc., New York; 1943, sold by Knoedler and Pinakos to the MFA for $70,000. (Accession Date: April 8, 1943)

[1] The provenance given here (to 1901) is taken from Luigi Maria Majorca Mortillaro, "Ritratto di Giovan Paolo Baglione, Signore di Perugia, dipinto da Tiziano esistente in Palermo nella Galleria Francavilla" (Palermo: Alberto Reber, 1901), written when the painting was in the author's possession.

[2] According to a letter from Charles R. Herschel, Knoedler, to W. G. Constable, MFA (April 13, 1943, in MFA curatorial file), "Agnew bought the picture in Palermo from the Count of Francovilla" [sic]. Agnew stockbooks (Getty Research Institute, Records of Thos. Agnew and Sons Ltd., 1852-1938, Microfiche no. 32) record a "Portrait of a Man" by Titian, stock no. 2214, that was sold by dealer Arthur Sulley to Agnew on May 6, 1907, and sold by Agnew to the Paris dealer Alexandre Imbert on July 22, 1907. These transactions postdate the documented acquisition of the painting by Frederick Bayley Pratt, making it difficult to identify with the MFA painting.

[3] According to Harold E. Wethey, "The Paintings of Titian," vol. 2, "The Portraits" (London: Phaidon, 1971), p. 106, cat. no. 47.

[4] John C. Van Dyke confirmed in letters to James Inglis of Cottier (April 25, 1907) and Frederick Pratt (April 27, 1907) that he saw the painting in Paris with Mr. Inglis, and that his admiration for it may have influenced Mr. Inglis's buying it for Cottier and Co. Whether it was purchased at Trotti is not known.

Credit Line

Charles Potter Kling Fund