Titian:1477(?)-August 27, 1577...Italy
(In his 70's he said)
"I think I am beginning to learn something about
One of histories greatest painters of flesh was the 16th-century
Venetian painter, Tiziano Vecellio; widely known
as Titian. As is characteristic of Venetian artists, Titian excelled in his use of color and form through the
build up of layers in the paintings. Even the very best of them all, Michelangelo Buonarroti, admired his handling and use of color; although Michelangelo was not at all impressed with his drawing ability. Titian's
works were largely created on canvas with oil paints. He was one of the first artists to move from painting on wood to
canvas. The first step in paint was applying a dark red stain onto the canvas. Then a build up of monochrome under
painting and transparent color glazes are added. Then a series of thirty to forty finish coats are applied.
Titian began his career as the student of Sebastian
Zuccato, a mosaic artist, at the age of ten. He then went on, five years later to study under the brothers, Gentile
and Giovanni Bellini, who were locally known painters. This is where he began to develop his highly
personal painting style. This was depicted through his loose brushwork and subtle tones. He was always one that strived to
reach perfection in his paintings.
Titian had clients that ranged from churches and governments
to nobles and aristocrats. His reputation excelled him to become the court painter of the King of Spain and Holy Roman Emperor, Charles V. In fact, he was the only painter allowed to paint the Emperor.
Titian used a strong humanistic perspective in his work. People were greatly important to his art. While in Rome, Italy,
the famous Titian began creating a series of reclining nudes. One of the most notable was his Venus of Urbino. The concept was not original, as he was inspired to paint this based on the influence of Giorgione
Barbarelli da Castelfranco’s The Sleeping Venus. This distinguished himself as an amazing portrait painter. Throughout the work we see his mastery of texture: silk,
velvet, carved wood, marble, and flesh. This reclining nude is associated with the goddess Venus. Seeing the rose in her hand,
we know she is a Venus, as the rose is a symbol of the Venus and love. We may also note the dog in the painting. Dogs
are a strong Renaissance symbols of fidelity. Noting that the dog is asleep, does this mean that her faithfulness is also
at rest? That is a matter of debate, although I would say no, because the painting was commissioned for a man's wife-to-be.
Based on that fact, many things can then be assumed about the intentions of this sensually charged painting. Titian's work
has been critiqued by notable icons like Mark Twain and on Saturday Night Live. Noting the painting in A Tramp Abroad, Mark Twain noted the painting as “…the obscenest
picture the world possesses.” I think that the critique is a little harsh, but in 1880, I can see how some may
have seen the painting as less than decent. The painting would inspire many other works, including Édouard Manet famed Olympia. But in her defense, again in the words of Mark Twain, “…there
she has a right to lie, for she is a work of art, and art has its privileges.”
Venus of Urbino
1538. Oil on Canvas. 47¼ x 65 inches. Uffizi Gallery,
Creating portraits of nobles, kings and aristocrats was Titian's calling card. By becoming known in these high status circles,
he developed an international clientele. Titian had several patrons, but none more consistent or
more beneficial to his art than the Habsburg family, the family linked with the Spanish monarchy, who he had work for over
forty years. Over this time, he developed a system to create formal portraits where the sitter is depicted in life size and
framed by curtains or architectural elements that draw attention to the majestic and expressionless face or the sitter. Although
not as known as Rembrandt van Rijn or Diego Velásquez, his portraits stack up with the very best of all time. Most artists will resort to the occasional self portrait, even if
for no other reason than as an exercise in skill development or experimentation. My favorite Titian Self-Portrait was the one he created in 1566. With his powerful profile that pops
from the dark corners of his dimly lit studio. The work was later sold to Peter Paul Rubens and then bought for the Spanish Collection in the Prado, where I got to see the work in 2010.
1566. Oil on Canvas. 2 feet 10 inches X 1 foot 2 inches. Prado Museum, Madrid, Spain.
Another example of his paintings of the higher classes people is his Portrait of a Lady.
Portrait of a Lady
1555. Oil on Canvas. The National Gallery of Art, Washington DC, USA
As Titian got older and closer to the end of his life, he became more obsessed
with his work. He was so self critical that he managed to finish only a handful of works. Some were worked and reworked for
upwards of ten years. He would work several canvases at one time and meticulously critique each one before it was considered
finished. Due in part to his high standards, his art never diminished in quality and died a very respected and very wealthy
artist. Because of this very noble end, Titian took the artist's profession from being seen as a labor craft to a status of
a respected profession. He was very good at diplomacy.