Titian’s 1548 painting, The Emperor Charles V on Horseback in Muehlberg, marks an important point in the evolution of the grand equestrian portrait as a genre. As depicted in the painting, Charles is equipped in the manner of light cavalry with a half pike and wheel-lock pistol while surrounded by figures from both Old and New Testaments depicting him and his family praying. This theme of power, faith and devotion to both earthly power as well as divine authority is an essential part of Titian’s work throughout his career.
This religious sentiment is seen in his later masterpiece, Rape of Europa (1559–62). Charle’s abdication of worldly power—this time depicted by Europa being swept away on the bull—summarises Titian’s stance towards rulership. The representational inevitability placed upon rulers by their status is seamlessly integrated into this painting making it one of his greatest works.
The Emperor Charles V on Horseback in Mühlberg was a monumental achievement that changed the course of art history. Not only did this create an entirely new genre, but it also shed light on themes that most artists would shy away from such as faith and power that are explored further in Rape of Europa. Every artist should take inspiration from Titian alike and explore how to use art to express different ideas about religion, politics and humanity.