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Titian (1477/87-1576)

( Originally Published 1955 )



One of the great painters of the Venetian Renaissance and its most complete embodiment. His long, prolific and successful career covers a development from the High Renaissance, through Mannerism, to the Baroque for which his art was a major source. A magnificent painter, just as painter, with a magical sense of color, he has had a more consistent influence upon subsequent painting than any other single artist. He was born in Pieve di Cadore, came early to Venice, and is said to have studied with Sebastiano Zucatti and, along with Giorgione,. under Giovanni Bellini. His first recorded activity was the decoration of the Fondaco de' Tedeschi (1507-08, now destroyed) with Giorgione. He was also active in Padua (151011), executing frescoes in the Scuola del Carmine and the Scuola del Santo with Campagnola. His first style (before c.1513) is dominated by Bellini and especially the romantic lyricism of Giorgione, and is characterized by a youthful vigor, realism and freedom, and a striving for beauty in material things. To this early period belong the problematic Giorgionesque paintings: the Concert (Pitti), sometimes ascribed to Girgione or both; and the Fete Champetre (Louvre), attributed to Giorgione or Sebastiano del Piombo. The famous Sacred and Profane Love (Borghese, Rome), whose dating is difficult, is completely Giorgionesque in its poetic beauty and mood. Other works of this period are the St. Peter with Jacopo Pesaro (c.1505-10), once dated 1503; and the St. Mark Enthroned (1510, Sta. Maria della Salute, Venice) which exhibits a new dependence upon the Florentine High Renaissance.

During his second period (c.1513-30), after the death of Bellini in 1516, Titian was the city's official painter with a sinecure, but worked also for Alfonso d'Este in Ferrara and Federigo II Gonzaga in Mantua. His style shows in a more pronounced way his interest in High Renaissance monumentality, a growing sense of the dramatic and grand, and a turn to rich and simple color. After about 1520 the influence of Giorgione fades. The first of the great altars of this period is the Assumption of the Virgin (1516-18, Venice Academy), followed by the Pesaro Madonna (1519-26, St. Maria dei Frari), the Resurrection Altar (1522, SS. Nazarro e Celso), all of which show the influence of Michelangelo and Giulio Romano, but with an added Venetian sense of color and proto-Baroque movement. During the third period (1530-45) he was intimate with Aretino and Sansovino, and worked for the courts of Urbino, Mantua, and after 1532 for Charles V. His style became calmer and more restrained, more painterly and broader in execution, and developed toward unifying grey harmonies in color. The outstanding altarpiece of this period is the majestic Presentation of the Virgin (1534-38, Venice Academy). To the same period belong the many decorations of Venetian confraternities; mythological nudes such as the Venus -of Urbino (1538, Uffizi) ; some of his greatest portraits: La Bella (1536, Pitti), the Young Englishman or Ippolito Riminaldi (1540-45, Pitti), and Paul III and his Nephews (c.1545, Naples).

The next period of his activity (1545-60) was one of universal fame. He traveled a great deal-Rome (1545-46), whete he lived at the Vatican and met Michelangelo and the humanist Cardinal Bembo; Augsburg (1548-49), at the invitation of Charles V; and Ferrara and Mantua (1550). His style became more powerful than ever, deeply emotional, yet executed with great breath and ease, of paramount importance for the Baroque. During this time he painted with material opulence many variations of reclining nudes and mythological subjects, and executed religious and classical themes for the Pope, Emperor, and Philip II of Spain. Among the religious masterpieces of the period are the Holy Trinity (1554, Prado) and the Entombment (1559, Prado) ; and hi; portraits include Philip II (Prado), his daughter Lavinia (Berlin), and a Self-Portrait (Berlin). His great old-age style recaptures an earlier lyricism, but now expressed entirely in terms of color applied broadly and in broken strokes, a style which has had so profound an effect on subsequent painting. He painted slowly and intermittently, and with the help of many students and assistants. The authenticity of many of his paintings was then and is now questioned, and it is difficult to know whether some are sketches or intended as finished pictures. The great Crowning with Thorns (1570, Munich) and the magnificent Pieta (1573-?6, Venice Academy), perhaps his last painting, finished by Palma Giovane, are the outstanding works of the period. In these last years he worked a great deal for Philip II, executing many religious paintings: the Last Supper, the Crucifixion, and St. Jerome (all in the Escorial), and the Adoration of the Magi and the Agony in the Garden (both in the Prado). His gallery of portraits is capped by the late Self-Portrait (1565, Prado).



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