Warriors and Builders


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Karl Koepping
German, 1848–1914 [after Titian]
Portrait of François I, 1881
Private collection


Titian’s 1538 canvas, after which this print was made, was conceived as a gift from the Italian writer and impresario Pietro Aretino as a means to gain François’s favor and to set himself up as the king’s agent for buying Italian art. Showing François turned in profile to the right, accentuating his famous long nose, this portrait was remarked upon at the time as best capturing the ebullient spirit of the French monarch. This lifelikeness is indeed a testament to Titian’s skill as a portraitist, because François never sat for this portrait.  Instead, Titian copied the likeness from a portrait medallion made by Benvenuto Cellini, an Italian goldsmith and sculptor at François’s court, in 1537. This explains the strict profile view, quite unusual at this time for a life-sized oil portrait. This etched copy of Titian’s portrait by skilled printmaker Karl Koepping in the French art journal l’Art, which included only genuine copperplate etchings to illustrate its articles.  The etching is also an echo of the French Romantic rebirth of interest in François I as a personality and a patron of the arts that began in the late 18th century (Angelica Kaufmann, Fr.-Guillaume Sauvageot); Titian’s portrait went on view at the Louvre in 1804, spawning myriad copies and history paintings about the life and exploits of this legendary king, in which he is invariably dressed exactly as in this portrait!