Titian, Horse and Rider Falling

Artist | Titian (1490–1576) 
TitleHorse and Rider Falling 
Date | ca. 1537 
Medium | Black chalk with charcoal and white bodycolour, squared in red on discoloured blue paper 
Dimensions | 220 x 230 mm 
Institution | Ashmolean Museum, Oxford 
Credit line | © Ashmolean Museum, University of Oxford 
Theme | Composing Space and Creating Action
Museum number | WA1895.6  

This drawing by Tiziano Vecellio (ca. 1485/90–1576), or Titian, is the study of a horse and his rider, who is about to kill an enemy in the background of the work. It is likely associated with the battle painting La Battaglia di Spoleto (completed in 1538), in the past often falsely interpreted as battle of Cadore, which was created by Titian for the Doge’s Palace in Venice and was destroyed during a devastating fire in 1577. Alternatively, the drawing could be associated with the Battaglia a Porta Sant’Angelo, which was designed by Titian’s son Orazio Vecellio (ca. 1528–1576) with some help from his experienced father between 1562 and 1564 and destroyed by the same fire.

Two more studies for the same work are known, a similar one in Munich (also included in the Venice in Blue exhibition), and a compositional study in the Louvre in Paris. Compared to the Munich drawing, this version produces a different effect. The horse is not in a triumphal position but is dramatically falling. Yet, like in the Munich version, the twisted position of the horse is very hard to draw and should thus possibly show Titian’s outstanding skill, and in particular his superiority over his rival Pordenone (1484–1539). Moreover, Titian tries to achieve a significant impact on the viewer through the chiaroscuro and the subtle graduation of blacks and greys. Due to its textured structure, blue paper indeed allows for a wide range of mid-tones by varying the amount of pressure applied by friable drawing implements like chalk and charcoal. In combination with Titian’s dynamic lines, this enhances the sense of movement and drama of the scene.