One of the master painters of Venice, who, thanks to his technique was able to give life to masterpieces that featured pure colours and idealised beauty.
Unlike Michelangelo, perfectionist of the drawing behind the paintings, Tiziano Vecellio (Titian) based his painting style on the use of colour which he learnt from Giorgione (another master Venetian painter of that era) although, in the case of Titian, we can't really speak about learning - he displayed from a very young age his talent – but mostly about a mutual exchange of creativity. Thanks to the "pittura tonale", in fact, an artistic technique typical of the Veneto area in the 16th Century, he made colour the protagonist of his painting, the element that determined the volumes and the space of his works.
While still a child of 10 years-of-age, Titian left his birthplace to go to Venice, the centre of seafaring commerce and opulence but also of cultural life. He worked in Gentile Bellini's workshop, official painter of the Serenissima Repubblica di Venezia.
Tiziano fled Venice because of the plague and went to Padova, where in 1511, he received his first important commission, the three frescos for the Scuola del Santo representing Sant'Antonio's Miracles. At only 20 years old he painted Il Miracolo del Neonato (the Miracle of the Speaking Babe), Il Miracolo del Piede Risanato (The Miracle of the re-attached foot), and Il Miracolo del marito geloso (the Miracle of the Jealous Husband).
The Miracle of the Jealous Husband
From then on, Titian was recognised as one of the best, if not the best, painters in Venice. He painted many portraits, like the Ritratto d'Uomo (Portrait of a Young Man), violent, but also mythological subjects, like the Nascita di Adone (The Birth of Adonis) and Orfeo e Euridice (Orpheus and Eurydice) or religious ones, like Noli Me tangere. He liked allegories, too: one the most successful paintings of Titian is Le Tre Età dell'uomo (The Three Ages of Man).
Portrait of a Young Man
The Birth of Adonis
Orpheus and Eurydice
The Three Ages of Man
Noli Me Tangere
It's around this time that Titian started to detach himself from Giorgione's style. The predominance of the colour stayed, but he chose classical, more monumental representations where the chiaroscuro is keenly balanced with bright colours that starts to acquire strength: one of the paintings that more represents this new turn is Amor Sacro e Amor Profano (Sacred and Profane Love).
Sacred and Profane Love
In 1518 Titian painted Assunta (Assumption of Mary) for the Basilica of Santa Maria dei Frari in Venice. Here, too, Titian demonstrated his modern outlook on painting and combined religion, art and politics on the canvas. Although so modern that at first it was very much criticised, it's thanks to this work that Titan became recognised internationally.
Assumption of Mary
It's between 1531 and 1548 that Titian became a "superstar", so much so that he was asked to interpret the image of the Emperor of the Holy Roman Empire, Charles V, in an official portrait that succeeded in representing his power and his strength, Ritratto di Carlo V a cavallo (Emperor Charles V on horseback), but his close relationship with Charles V allowed him to portray him also within familiar settings.
Emperor Charles V on horseback
Titian, already renowned in the world of politics, was also sent to Urbino to meet the new Dynasty of Urbino, the Della Rovere (who followed the Dynasty of Montefeltro). It’s here that he painted one of his most famous paintings, the Venere di Urbino (Venus of Urbino).
Venus of Urbino
In 1545 Titian travelled to Rome as a guest of Pope Paolo III Farnese: here he was working at the Danaë painting (Danaë) when he met Michelangelo (who had just completed the Last Judgment in Sistine Chapel), who loved this work and affirmed how different Titian’s style was from Michelangelo's when he was young. In this period Titian started to literally mould the colour on canvas with his hands, just like clay (and maybe that’s why Michelangelo, the master of sculpture, loved it so much: despite what Michelangelo thought, the artistic outlook of the two was not so different).
In 1548 Titian went back to Venice, where the Danaë painting was incredibly successful, getting several different commissions for the same subject. During this more mature stage of his career, Titian went back to a more discrete use of colour, giving his works a more melancholic look.
The Pietà, painted in 1576, has been described as his last painting, imagined for his tomb in Venice, in the Frari Chapel. The structure is the classical triangular one, with dark colours and a deathly atmosphere. Plague killed Titian on August 27th 1576.
It is not by chance that we didn't note his birth date: but Titian himself didn't know it. There are many different studies that have tried to find it - it was very important to be able to date his production - and what it is sure is that he died in really old age, even by contemporary standards, and he was probably born between 1480 and 1485: this because no works have been found by Titian from before 1506.
Until May 20th it is possible to admire some of Titian's works in Milan, at Palazzo Reale (Piazza Duomo 12, tel. 0039 02 88465236). The exhibition, "Titian and the Modern Landscape", pays tribute to nature and gathers 50 works by the artists who best represented the modern landscape during the XVI Century, like Bellini, Giorgione, Veronese, Tintoretto and Lotto. Titian was one of the first artists to propose a new vision of the natural environment that led to the modern definition of "paesaggio" (landscape) that in his paintings became one of the main protagonists.
Written by: Elisa della Barba