Self-portrait of Menendez is historically accurate

Historic City News readers attending this evening’s 5:00 p.m. meeting of the St. Augustine City Commission were entertained by a special presentation of a historically accurate portrait of Don Pedro Menendez de Aviles; painted and presented by his alter ego, Chris Light.

This is an explanation for the differences between this painting of Pedro Menendez de Aviles by Chad Light (2011) and the engraving of Pedro Menendez de Aviles by Francisco de Paula Marti (1791).

Francisco de Paula Marti made his engraving from first hand observation of the Titian Portrait of Don Pedro Menendez de Aviles. That engraving is the only known copy to have been made before Titian’s painting of the Adelantado was destroyed in a fire at the Escorial, Spain.

The Reddish hair and grey eyes in this portrait of the Adelantado of Florida reflect the contemporary descriptions of Don Pedro Menendez de-Aviles as outlined by Dr. Eugene Lyon.

In addition, the likeness is derived from an engraving of the Adelantado printed in Armada Espanola by Cesareo Fernandez Duro. This likeness is preferred by Dr. Lyon as he stated in his lecture; Pedro Menendez: His Enterprise of Florida, dated February 7, 1991; St Augustine Foundation.

Francisco de Paula Marti consistently demonstrated his preference to exaggerate features in his engravings of paintings. The Duro engraving is more reflective of Titian’s style of portrait painting.

The sword:
The sword in this painting is the sword of Pedro Menendez that is exhibited in the Montalban Naval Museum in Madrid Spain. Two copies of the sword are exhibited in St. Augustine, Florida.

One is in the Castillo de San Marcos curated by the National Park Service.

The other is displayed in City Hall.

Both swords were presented as gifts from civil and military dignitaries from Spain. There is now a third on loan from the City of Aviles Spain to the Mission Nombre de Dios Museum. All are identical.

The sword that is depicted in the Francisco de Paula Marti engraving is a Tazio Cup Hilt Rapier not invented in Spain until 1621, 54 years after Titian painted the portrait of Pedro Menendez de Aviles for King Phillip II.

The Spanish Cup hilt Rapier was in use worldwide by the time Francisco de Paula Marti made the engraving. One can only speculate as to the reason Francisco de Paula Marti made the change in swords, but the change was made.

Light has attempted, with this painting, to make the correction with the most obvious choice — a sword that is known to have belonged to Pedro Menendez de Aviles.

The Baton of Command:
During the era when Tiziano Vecellio, better known as Titian, painted the portrait of Don Pedro Menendez de Aviles the baton of command was the length of the span between a man’s shoulder and his thumb.

In 1791 when Francisco de Paula Marti made his engraving of the Titian portrait the baton of command carried by Spanish field Marshalls was reduced to 12″ to 13″.

For this reason, Light has painted the baton of command to reflect the era when Titian painted the portrait.

The helmet in the Francisco de Paula Marti engraving suggests that it was drawn from imagination rather than observation. The scale and mechanism of the helmet are nonfunctional. This strongly indicates that the helmet was changed for some unknown reason.

If there were a helmet in the Titian painting, it would have been of a functional and not an imaginary design.

For this reason, Light painted a Burgonet helmet; a design often seen in Titian’s portraits of Spanish nobility from the same period.

Had Titian’s portrait of Don Pedro Menendez de Aviles survived, it would be priceless.

Unfortunately, it did not, and Light has done his best to imagine how it really looked.

Photo credits: © 2011 Historic City News staff photographer

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