Portrait of John Frederick I, Elector of Saxony

Portrait of John Frederick I, Elector of Saxony (German: Kurfürst Johann Friedrich von Sachsen) is an oil painting by the Venetian painter Titian, made in late 1550 or early 1551. The painting is in the collection of the Kunsthistorisches Museum in Vienna.

John Frederick, Elector of Saxony
Johann Friedrich 1548.jpg
Yearc. 1550–1551
MediumOil on canvas
Dimensions103.5 cm × 83 cm (40.7 in × 33 in)
LocationKunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna


During his two stays at Augsburg, Titian painted all the monarchs, electors and other royalty there at the time, but many of these portraits are now lost. There remain, however, the Portrait of Charles V in Munich, and the famous Equestrian Portrait in Madrid. The centre of interest, however, was the Elector John Frederick of Saxony, then a prisoner. Titian's activity at the court of Charles V was confined not to a single visit but to two, broken by a return to Venice. He was summoned again to Augsburg to paint the heir, Philip II, and a letter dated 11 November 1550 describes his second reception by the Emperor. It was to this second stay, probably, that we owe the portrait of the captive Elector of Saxony, which is now preserved at Vienna.[1] He was painted by Titian at least twice; once with a scar on his face in armour, the second time (the subject of this article) in a black robe edged with sable, sitting in an armchair.[2]


According to Georg Gronau, this portrait "shows Titian’s handiwork everywhere", in spite of serious damage.[3] He comments on the subject,

Faithfully as John Frederick’s really neither attractive nor striking features are depicted, there is in this portrait a nobility of conception which makes us recognise the Prince in this man who has been so often portrayed for us by his Court painter, Lucas Cranach, as a good homely burgher. The forcible head on a short neck and the fat, but, as Titian has painted them, well-shaped hands, dominate the picture; his unwieldy shape is indeed not quite hidden by the simple costume, but it does not press on our attention. We can recognise in the eyes gazing out so calmly and in the firmly-closed mouth the steadfast character of the man, who held fast obstinately to what he considered right, and for years endured imprisonment for his religious convictions.[4]

According to Charles Ricketts, all photographs of the Portrait of the Elector are unsatisfactory.[5] He comments on the painting technique,

[T]hough exceedingly summary in painting, and designed as if Titian had in mind the quaint 'cut-out' northern portraits to which the Elector was accustomed, it is, nevertheless—notably in the rendering of the head——a remarkably fine and direct piece of painting. Sharp, shapely touches of pigment accent the eyes and nostrils, the colouring being light in pitch. In the delicate grain of the pigment we recognise the qualities characteristic of Titian, yet the conception of the work is singularly northern, and in the loose phraseology with which one is obliged to express unfamiliar impressions, the portrait of the Elector makes one think involuntarily of Lucidel.[5]


Done in Augsburg in 1548 or 1550. A picture of this Prince, together with another in full armour, is described in the collection of Queen Mary in 1558. Philip IV of Spain presented the Marquis de Leganes with it. At Vienna it is first mentioned in the seventeenth century.[6]



  1. ^ Ricketts 1910, pp. 117–118.
  2. ^ Gronau 1904, pp. 148, 151.
  3. ^ Gronau 1904, p. 151.
  4. ^ Gronau 1904, pp. 151–152.
  5. ^ a b Ricketts 1910, p. 119.
  6. ^ Gronau 1904, p. 277.



  •   This article incorporates text from this source, which is in the public domain: Gronau, Georg (1904). Titian. London: Duckworth and Co; New York: Charles Scribner's Sons. pp. 148–152, 277.
  •   This article incorporates text from this source, which is in the public domain: Ricketts, Charles (1910). Titian. London: Methuen & Co. Ltd. pp. 117–119, plate cxi.