Pieve di Cadore, Italy
Summary of Titian
Titian was one of the greatest Renaissance painters, combining High Renaissance and Mannerist ideas to develop a style which was well ahead of his time. He dominated Venetian art with a creativity that allowed the city to rival the previously acknowledged artistic centers of Florence and Rome and he painted some of the most important and eminent personalities of the time including Charles V, Holy Roman Emperor, Pope Paul III, Philip II of Spain, and Henry III of France. As well as portraiture, he also painted a range of religious and mythological subjects, sometimes on a vast scale. During a long and prolific career his work developed from traditional Renaissance imagery to increasingly energetic canvases which rejected balanced compositions and replaced them with asymmetry and dynamic subjects. Towards the end of his life, his work became darker and more impressionistic. He had a huge impact on his contemporaries and his canvases can be seen as forerunners of the emotional drama of Baroque art as well as influencing later innovators.
- Titian was most famous for his bold utilization of color, particularly in his earlier work, and he achieved this through seeking out rare pigments and using them in their richest and most saturated form, as well as by carefully balancing each color with those alongside it to create a harmonious overall impression. He also concentrated on the effect of light on color harnessing lighting effects, including chiaroscuro, to emphasize contrasting hues. Through this focus he created the distinction between Venetian and Florentine art, Renaissance artists in Florence and Rome believed that line was paramount, the Venetian Renaissance style was defined by color and led by Titian.
- The artist's later work is characterized by loose brush strokes and an expressive application of paint and it is likely that, at times, he used his fingers as well as brushes to apply and blend paint. In painting in this manner, Titian created a fluidity that lent a greater sense of movement and emotion to his work and was unique amongst his peers.
- Titian worked almost exclusively in oil, which was a new technique at the start of his career. The medium allowed him to build up a series of glazes to depict the appearance and texture of the human form with an accuracy, delicacy, and softness which was innovative. This realism was particularly relevant in his renderings of female nudes which were unusually sexually suggestive for the period and which seem to reflect Titian's own desires.
Biography of Titian
Tiziano Vecellio, known as Titian, was born in Pieve di Cadore, a small village in the Alps, the son of Gregorio Vecellio, a wealthy councillor and captain of the Venetian militia in the region. The exact date of his birth is uncertain, however, modern scholars usually set it between 1488 and 1490 on the basis of Ludovico Dolce's Dialogue of Painting, which states that, at the time of the lost frescoes at the Fondaco dei Tedeschi, Titian was not yet 20 years old. At around the age of ten, he moved to Venice with his elder brother Francesco to take an apprenticeship as a artist. He initially studied mosaic at Sebastiano Zuccato's workshop and was later apprenticed to Gentile Bellini. After Gentile's death, Titian went to work for his brother Giovanni Bellini, one of the most important painters in Venice at the time. Here he met Giorgione, a previous apprentice of Bellini's, who helped Titian develop his early style.
Important Art by Titian
Set in a bucolic landscape, two women, apparently drawn from the same model are posed by a water trough, while its water is stirred by a winged Eros (or possibly a putto). The painting is rich in symbolism and iconography although there is a lack of consensus amongst critics about its meaning and even the title of the painting may not be original as it was not recorded until 1693. The composition of the picture contains elements found in the work of Giorgione whose style had a significant influence on Titian at the beginning of his career.
The woman to the left is dressed in wedding attire and may represent carnal love and beauty. In contrast the nude is usually read as spiritual love, a symbol of simplicity and purity. The position of Eros, at the center of the two, therefore, may indicate the point of mediation between spiritual and carnal desires.
The coat of arms on the trough belongs to the family of Niccolò Aurelio, who later became Grand Chancellor of Venice. In May of 1514 he married Laura Bagarotto, daughter of the jurist Bertuccio Bagarotto who had been executed some months before the wedding on charges of betraying the Serenissima Republic. It is probable that the painting was commissioned to celebrate the marriage. It has been suggested that the relief design on the front of the trough symbolizes life and death, inviting the newly wed Laura, to overcome the sorrow for the loss of her father and flourish in marital love, both spiritual and physical. Alternative readings for this design include symbolism for the taming of passions or hidden literary references.
This painting depicts the ascension of the Virgin into heaven. Mary forms the focal point of the composition on a cloud surrounded by putti, where she looks upwards towards God at the top of the image. At the bottom, the apostles raise their arms towards Mary, watching in amazement as the miracle unfolds. The work is divided into three bands and these are physically connected by outstretched hands as well as through the repetition of looks and gestures. The Virgin and two of the apostles wear red robes and this creates a visual pyramid which draws the eye upwards. This structured use of color and composition (particularly the division into thirds) was a key element of many Renaissance paintings.
There is, however, a clear sense of movement and drama within the piece; Mary seems surprised and the apostles are shown in a very agitated state which was in contrast to their usual serene depiction. This is further enhanced by Titian's use of light and shadow to present the apostles as a mass of bodies rather than highlighting their individuality. This demonstrates Titian's awareness of developments in High Renaissance painting in Florence and Rome and his incorporation of these new ideas into his work. Titian also broke with tradition by omitting all details of the landscape in which the image is situated to focus on the events and emotions of the piece, although the sky above the apostles' heads suggests the setting is outside.
This was Titian's first major painting for a church in Venice and consequently his first piece to draw significant public attention. Painted as an altarpiece panel for the Frari church, Titian realized the commission on a large scale with the figures more than life size. The church had a considerable distance between the altar and congregation and the canvas' size and vibrant colors allowed those in the nave of the church to see the image. The painting was designed specifically for the space and the rounded top of the canvas echoes the shape of the choir screen through which most people would view it and the rich golds and yellows around God replicate the light pouring through the windows above the altar, linking the painting closely to it environment. It has been suggested that initial reactions to the work were mixed as viewers were unused to images painted in this more emotional and movement-based style.
This painting comes from a long tradition of representations of Venus and it appears to have been based on Giorgione's Sleeping Venus (1510), although Titian's interpretation of the goddess is much more erotic. This sensuality is heightened by the directness of the nude's gaze, her faint smile, and her awareness of the viewer, along with the depiction of her in an opulent domestic environment without the allegorical or mythological symbols traditionally associated with Venus. Whilst Giorgione's nude is idealized and demure, Titian's is realistic and tempting. The warm, light tones of her skin are in contrast to the darker, richer background and the play of light on her body and subtle use of chiaroscuro gives a sculptural quality to the nude. Her curves also contrast with the regularity of architectural elements including the tiled floor, classical column, and green hanging which bisects the scene, highlighting the fertile center of the figure.
There is a significant debate about the interpretation of the image with some arguing that it is a painting of courtesan Angela Zaffetta whilst others have suggested that it is a marriage portrait commissioned by Guidobaldo to celebrate his nuptials to the 10-year-old Giulia Varano in 1534. Evidence for this latter theory comes in the form of the symbolism of the sleeping dog (loyalty) and the two servants at the cassone, a trunk in which a trousseau of clothes given to the bride by her husband's family would be kept.
This image is considered one of the most famous and accomplished examples of the genre and over the centuries the canvas has inspired numerous other works which borrow from the image, utilizing the relaxed pose of the subject, the wider composition, and the suggestive representation of the nude. These include Valazquez's Rokeby Venus (1647-51), Goya's The Nude Maja (c.1797), and The Grande Odalisque (1814) by Ingres. One of the most prominent examples is Olympia by Édouard Manet (1863), a refined pre-Impressionist homage, which sparked a great deal of controversy when it was first displayed. Olympia is lying in the same position as Venus, with eyes that shamelessly meet those of the viewer, however, she is not a goddess, but a prostitute lying in the room in which she works. Manet's painting demonstrates the powerful influence of Titian's Venus in representing fleshy and sensual feminine beauty.
Influences and Connections
Useful Resources on Titian
- Titian: His LifeOur PickBy Sheila Hale
- TitianBy Peter Humfrey
- Titian: Prince of PaintersOur PickBy Susanna Biadene, Mary Yakush
- Titian: Catalogue of the National Gallery Exhibition 19 Feb-18 May 2003By Charles Hope
- Titian and His WorldBy Peter Humfrey
- Behind the maskBy Jonathan Jones / The Guardian / 4 January, 2003
- How to Paint Like TitianBy James Fenton / The New York Review of Books / February 26, 2009
- Titian's Charles V with a Dog: a sombre vision of might and reserveBy Skye Sherwin / The Guardian / February 9, 2018
- Titian painting fetches record $16.9 million at auctionBy Chris Michaud / Reuters / January 27, 2011
- National Gallery saves Titian painting for nationBy Robert Dex / The Independent / 1 March, 2012
- Titian: FleshOur PickFrom the Series: Matt's Old Masters - Presented by Matthew Collings
- Great Artists with Tim Marlow: Titian
- The Power of Art - TizianDocumentary by Didier Baussy, in English
- Titian: Painting the myth of Bacchus and AriadneNational Gallery Lecture by curator of 16th-century Italian Paintings, Matthias Wivel