After Titian

Media - 1986.6.78 - SAAM-1986.6.78_1 - 9508
Copied Ben Shahn, After Titian, 1959, tempera on fiberboard, 53 1230 12 in. (136.077.5 cm.), Smithsonian American Art Museum, Gift of the Sara Roby Foundation, 1986.6.78

Artwork Details

After Titian
53 1230 12 in. (136.077.5 cm.)
Credit Line
Gift of the Sara Roby Foundation
Mediums Description
tempera on fiberboard
  • Fantasy — animal
  • Figure — fragment — hand
Object Number

Artwork Description

Ben Shahn is best known as a social realist who came to prominence during the early 1930s. Following World War II, his work became more introspective, reflecting his belief that, “If we are to have values, a spiritual life, a culture, these things must find their imagery…through the arts.” After Titian is based on Allegory of Prudence by the Venetian Renaissance artist. In both works, three male heads represent youth maturity, and old age. Titian elaborated his meaning through inscriptions that identify past, present, and future. Shahn was more personal; the pair of folded hands and the suggestion of one body unite the faces within a single figure.

Modern American Realism: The Sara Roby Foundation Collection, 2014
Luce Center Label

This painting was inspired by Allegory of Prudence by the Venetian artist Titian (about 1485-1576). The male heads represent the three stages of life: youth, maturity, and old age, and the three-headed beast of wolf, lion, and dog symbolizes prudence. The figures in Titian’s painting appear to show the artist as a bearded elder, his son as a dark-haired middle-aged man, and his cousin and heir as a proud youth. Shahn was in his sixties when he created this image, and he may have thought of himself as the old figure looking to the left, reflecting on the different periods of his own life. The middle-aged face looking out at the viewer perhaps represents a moment in his past when he was mature enough to know about the ways of the world, but still young enough to show optimism for the opportunities ahead.

Luce Object Quote

“Personal style, be it that of Michelangelo, or that of Tintoretto, or of Titian or of Giotto has always been that personal rapport which has developed between an artist and his medium.” Shahn, The Biography of a Painting, 1966