The Sun amongst the Stars…

Final line of Paradiso, Dante

Tizaian Vecellio 1473/1490-1576

On February 1, 2009, an argument about Titian’s age at death arose between British Prime Minister Gordon Brown and Opposition Leader David Cameron at the Prime Minister’s Questions, where Cameron sought to ridicule Brown’s general factual accuracy.  This debate split over Titian’s entry on Wikipedia, when an editor from the Conservative Party altered Titian’s dates to substantiate Cameron’s claim and then directed the BBC to the article for them to use as verification.  Cameron later apologized and said the staff member had been disciplined.  The precise date of Titian’s birth is uncertain

“This is the first financial crisis of the global age, and there is no clear map that has been set out from past experience to deal with it. I’m reminded of the story of Titian, the great painter who reached the age of 90, finished the last of his nearly 100 brilliant paintings, and said at the end of it, “I’m finally beginning to learn how to paint”, and that is where we are.”

Titian.  The name is instantly recognizable as a giant of 16th century painting.  Monumental canvases featuring images of heroic narrative from the classics of literature and religious symbolism.  Born in Pieve di Cadore a small village in the Dolomite range of the Alps near Bellun, he left for Venice at 12 where Titian worked with the mosaicist Sebastiano Zuccato, then studied with Giovanni Bellini.  Collaborating with Giorgione (Giorgio Barbarella 1477-1510) he developed a lyrical style during his early period and assisted in executing the external fresco decoration of the Fondaco dei Tedeschi on the Grand Canal in Venice.  Upon Giorgione’s death from the plague, Titian completed several of the artist’s works-in-progress.

Pala di St. Giobbe, Giovanni Bellini

Pala di St. Giobbe, Giovanni Bellini

St. Mark Enthroned with Saints-1510

Titan’s career escalated rapidly after he received a commission in 1511 to execute three frescoes for the Scuola del Santo in Padua.  By 1513 he had begun painting a Battle for the Chamber of the Grand Council (Maggior Consiglio) in the Doge’s Palace in Venice.  Upon the death of Giovanni Bellini, 1516, Titian became the official painter to the Republic of Serenissime.

Assumption of the Virgin 1518

Titian produced several great altar-pieces including Assumption of the Virgin. (left)  With this painting his command of movement and space increased, and his rich color gained in harmony and refinement.  During the years of his second period (1510-1530) he became the acknowledged leader of the Venetian painters.  Michelangelo and Raphael were the same artistic leaders of Florence and Rome, respectively. The greatest patrons of art in Europe sought his pictures.

Francis I and Suleiman

Francis I and Suleiman 1530

Philip II - 1550

Philip II – 1550

Patrons included Francis I of France, Phillip II of Spain, the Holy Roman Emperor Charles V , Pope Paul III and the greatest Italian noblemen.  The Emperor appointed Titian court painter and gave him the rank of Count of Palatine and Knight of the Golden Spur. For these patrons Titian continued to paint portraits, but his most acclaimed work of this period were three paintings for Alfonso d’Este in Ferrara, The Rape of Europa, the Worshipping of Venus, and the Bacchanal of the Andrianes.

Emperor Charles V - 1548

Emperor Charles V – 1548

Pope Paul III

Pope Paul III 1543

Bacchaus and Andriane - Titian

Bacchaus and Andriane – 1520

Worship of Venus - 1519

Worship of Venus – 1519

Rape of Europa

Rape of Europa

1530-1550 was Titian’s maturity period with the execution of a series of reclining Venuses, the likeness of several princes, or Doges, cardinals, monks, artists and writers.  In 1543 he travelled to Rome escorted by the Duke Guidobaldo, received by Cardinal Bembo and Pope Paul III as an established painter with his own style and reputation, the creator of acknowledged masterpieces. Vasari was appointed his cicerone and Titian stayed eight months, made a Roman citizen and visited Michelangelo at his lodgings.  Though he does not seem  directly influenced by all he saw in Rome, a change overcomes his work between 1540 and 1550 ascribed to a widening of his artistic horizon and a consciousness of what others were doing, both around him and abroad.

In the last 25 years of his life, Titian became an insatiable perfectionist, keeping some pictures in his studio for years.  Never wearying of returning to them and retouching the detail, constantly adding new expressions, subtle, refined and concise.  He also finished off copies of his early works by pupils, giving rise to many problems with attribution and priority among early versions of his paintings.   His Venetian contemporaries, Tintoretto and Paolo Veronese, become serious competitors, but Titian remained active until his death in Venice, August 27, 1576.  He was the only victim of the Venice plague given a church burial, interred at Santa Maria Gloriosa dei Frari.  His last work was ‘Pieta’ created for his own tomb and completed after his death by Palma il Giovane.

Pieta - 1576

Pieta – 1576

Lost Titian

Lost Titian

Salome with head of John the Baptist - 1570

Salome with head of John the Baptist – 1570

Titian continues to prove a powerful draw even 500 years after his death.  Christie’s auction house recently made news with a lost masterpiece that sold in 1993 for 8,000 pounds.  Questions as to the authenticity of the piece were brought forth as the reason, but a similar painting of  ‘Salome with the head of John the Baptist’ sold at Sotheby’s with an estimate of 4-6 million pounds.

Venus with mirror -

Venus with Mirror – 1555


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  1. shelli clark


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