An art history blog post from Famous Paintings Reviewed.
Demand for Titian paintings soared after Titian (ca. 1488-1576) revealed his masterful Assumption of the Virgin in 1518 (below right).
Designed for the basilica of Venice's Santa Maria Gloriosa dei Frari, its rich hues and monumental scale -- a colossal 22' 8" tall -- had rarely been see in Italian painting.
But it's not merely the scale that was ground-breaking: these Titian figures are charged with life and drama, creating what many consider the most renowned Assumption in art history.
Titian. Assumption of the Virgin, ca. 1516-1518. Oil on panel, 22' 8" by 11" 10". Basilica di Santa Maria Gloriosa dei Frari, Venice.
Titian divided this massive panel into three sections:
1. the earthly at the bottom;
2. the heavenly at the top with God hovering over all; and
3. the middle in which the Virgin looks upward.
Look how the two red-robed apostles at the bottom form the base of a triangle pointing toward the Virgin, drawing the viewer's eye toward the focal point, the Virgin Mary.
None less than the renowned sculptor Antonio Canova claimed that Assumption of the Virgin was the most beautiful painting in the world.
After Assumption was revealed in 1518, demand for Titian portraits and paintings became unsatiable.
Among the most famous of these Titian paintings is of Isabella d'Este (1474-1539), one of the most influential Renaissance art patrons.
Titian. Isabella d'Este, 1534-36. Oil on canvas, 3' 4 1/8" by 2' 1 3/16". Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna.
After her marriage to Francesco Gonzaga, marquis of Mantua, Isabella began collecting ceramics, paintings, cameos, glassware, classical texts, musical instruments and manuscripts, and sculpture.
Perhaps aware of her pending legacy as a Renaissance art patron, Isabella d'Este commissioned portraits from prominent Renaissance painters including Leonardo da Vinci, Andrea Mantegna, and Titian.
Although Isabella d'Este was 60 years old when she commissioned her portrait, she insisted that Titian portray her in her 20s.
Titian complied, emphasizing her face and hands by the intricacy of her dress' sleeves and the unseen light on the left. Her dress melts into the background and, as the patron demanded, she is captured as a young (and highly confident) young woman.
Titian likely wished this d'Este portrait was the last in which he was to reverse the aging process... but it wasn't.
After his coronation as Holy Roman Emperor, Charles V (1500-1588) appointed Titian the Court Painter and Count Palatine and Knight of the Golden Spur, unheard of honors for a painter.
Charles V was an avid Catholic devoted to maintaining the status and prominence of the Catholic Church. He asked Titian for a portrait of the defeated Protestant League at the Battle of Muhlberg in 1547 (a victory which ultimately failed to arrest Protestant influence).
Around his neck, Charles wears the Order of the Golden Fleece, an order of 24 knights who pledged to join Charles in preserving Catholicism. He is shown wearing the actual armor and
Titian. Emperor Charles V at Muhlberg, 1548. Oil on canvas, 131" by 110". Prado, Madrid.
riding the same horse he employed in the battle. Portraying Charles seated on a horse was novel, but the portrait is of a fictious Charles V.
At the time of Titian's painting, Charles, at age 57, had abdicated and was residing on his Spanish estate. He was riddled with gout, a result of poor habits like drinking ice-cold beer before breakfast, and, according to contemporaries, and of his inordinate fondness for eel pie, olives, spicy Spanish sausages and oysters.
Once again, Titian practiced portraiture based more on idealism than realism. But his greater genius, in my mind, was in capturing psychological states, grandly exemplified in his Pope Paul III and his Grandsons.
Pope Paul III, who confronted challenges to the Church's dominance through the Reformation, was dedicated to
Titian. Pope Paul III and his Grandsons, 1546. Oil on canvas, 6'10" by 5'8". Museo e Gallerie Nazionale di Capodimonte, Naples.
maintaining the Church's authority for himself, his family, and his nephews (called grandsons). Here, Titian captures the withered Pope's enduring authority and desire to promote his grandsons' careers while concurrently leaving no doubt about the grandsons' obsequious devotion to him.
Some critics complained that the sketchy brushwork indicates Titian didn't finish this portrait, but I'd disagree - denser brushstrokes would be redundant in this psychological portrait.
Do you agree that Titian shows these psychological states so palpably? And can any Catholics shed light on using "nephew" and "grandson" interchangeably? Let us know!
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An art history blog post from Famous Paintings Reviewed.
One of Titian's most famous paintings, Bacchus and Ariadne, is one of five commissioned by Alfonso d'Este (1486-1534) for his palace in Ferrara, Italy. Like many Italian Renaissance princes, he had a private art gallery, known as a camerino or studiolo. His was a camerino d'alabastro, or small alabaster room, with white marble-veneered walls to showcase his collection of Renaissance artwork.
Giovanni Bellini and Titian, Feast of the Gods. Oil on canvas, 5' 7" x 6' 2". National Gallery of Art, Washington, DC.
The bacchanal paintings commissioned for the Alabaster Room are all based loosely on Roman rites and rituals described by the poet Ovid (43 B.C. - A.D. 1).
The centerpiece of the Alabaster Room was Feast of the Gods (left) by Giovanni Bellini (1430/1435 - 1516), the greatest Venetian painter of the 15th century.
Like Feast, the other four commissions treated the theme of love. These works are:
Dosso Dossi's Aeneas in the Elysian Fields;
Worship of Venus by Titian;
The Bacchanal of the Andrians by Titian; and
Bacchus and Ariadne, the most renowned of these four Titian paintings.
Titian, The Worship of Venus. Oil on canvas, 1516 - 1518. 5'8" x 5'8". Museo del Prado, Madrid.
In The Worship of Venus (left), Ariadne, daughter of King Minos of Crete, aided Theseus in his escape from the Minotaur's labyrinth, subsequently falling in love with the Athenian hero.
Ungrateful for her assistance, he callously abandoned her on the Greek island of Naxos, where she wandered in mourning. In Bacchus and Ariadne, she hopelessly extends her hand toward Theseus' dimly visible ship. At that moment, her life is miraculously transformed by the scene Titian memorializes in this landmark painting - love at first sight from, and toward, Bacchus, the god of wine.
Bacchus is immediately recognizable both by the laurel and grape leaves adorning his hair, and by his company of satyrs and maenads (Bacchus groupies); one of these crashs cymbals while in a pose mirroring Ariadne's. He bounds from his chariot, pulled her
Titian, Bacchus and Ariadne. Oil on canvas, c. 1522-23. 5' 9" x 6' 3". National Gallery, London
by cheetahs rather than leopards. This deviation from tradition is Titian's nod to Bacchus' conquest of India. On the far right, the strongman Laocoon would have been immediately identifiable to the Italian Renaissance audience: an antique statue of this Trojan priest was unearthed in 1505, inspiring cross-references from many Renaissance painters and artists. The fat, elder man seemingly asleep on a donkey is Silenus, the head of the satyrs and foster-father to Bacchus.
In the middle foreground is a baby satyr who alone directly engages the viewer. He dons a garland and drags a calf head; its dismemberment - and drinking of its blood by the revelers - is a gruesome part of Bacchus' ritual. In the lower left, Titian's name is inscribed in Latin on the urn, and translates as "Titian made this picture". He was one of the first Renaissance painters to sign his artwork, and was an early proponent of improving the lowly social status of painters.
Curiously, this didn't include maintaining the integrity of paintings completed by others. Feast, completed in 1514, was altered by Ferrara's court painter, Dosso Dossi, who reportedly altered the painting to coordinate with other decorations in the Alabaster Room. Additional (and well-documented) alterations were made in 1529 by Bellini's student, Titian, who completely repainted the background. It is not known if this alteration was also made to complement other 'decorations' in the Alabaster Room! When the Este family lost control on Ferrara in 1598, these famous paintings and sculptures were dispersed.
Note: If anyone knows when it became unacceptable to re-paint another artist's completed work, I'd appreciation learning -- it is so remote from today's standards!
An art history blog post from Famous Paintings Reviewed.
The famous Renaissance paintings in Titian, Tintoretto and Veronese - Rivals in Renaissance Venice have produced much fanfare at the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston and beyond. With Newsweek proclaiming it as "one of the most breathtaking old-master exhibitions you'll ever see", the meeting of these three Renaissance painters is a timely occasion to discuss one of the best Titian paintings (as well as one of the most famous Renaissance paintings), Titian's Rape of Europa.
But first a bit about Titian (officially Tiziano Vecellio). He was born around 1488 into a family of modest means living in the mountains north of Venice, and studied in the workshop of Giovanni Bellini, Venice's most prominent artist in the 15th century. Titian's genius (and lasting legacy) came
Titian. Self Portrait, c. 1560. Oil on canvas, 86 cm by 65 cm. Prado, Madrid.
from integrating three influences:
Indeed, Titian and Giorgione shared workspace from approximately 1500-1510, so that their similarity of style in Titian's early career is hardly shocking. It has led to confusion about the attribution of several Renaissance paintings, most significantly The Concert Champetre, or Pastoral Concert. Nearly five centuries of art history later, it was only recently attributed to Titian rather than to Giorgione!
After Giorgione died from plague in 1510, Titian became the most famous painter of the 16th century Italian Renaissance. None other than Velazquez opined on the reputation of Titian:
To tell the truth, I do not like Raphael at all. It is in Venice that the finest things are to be found... It is Titian who carries the day".
Titian's stature in art history remains unshakeable for two general reasons:
Titian mastered two types of Renaissance paintings most popular with 16th century rulers: portraiture, in which Titian brilliantly melded realism with idealism, and mythological paintings such as Rape of Europa.
Titian (Tiziano Vecellio). Europe, 1560-62. Oil on canvas, 178 x 205 cm. Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum, Boston, Massachusetts.
Painted for Phillip II, King of Spain, this mythological painting portrays the abduction of Europa by Jupiter, who dupes Europa with his disguise as a bull. Rape of Europa is a study of contrasts: Europa is a reclining nude both submissive and resistant, both abandoned with desire and frightened, beneath a sky of opposites, both calm blue sky and with threatening storms.
The putti, or Cupids, in the sky and atop the dolphin are mesmerized watching the tension between the lovers; the nymphs, vague on the distant shore, watch and wave helplessly. Europa's generous, billowing flesh and Jupiter's tail seem to quiver with excitement at the pending sexual act.
This famous artwork lives at the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum, where I've had the pleasure of its frequent company. With each visit, I'm reminded that the bull's eye - which Titian painted as inescapably leering, impossible to avoid - is the most intensely painted eye in Western art, human or animal.
It's riveting, dares you not to stare back, and is not to be missed.
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