Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Titian ( history of art )

The most famous of all Venetian painters, Titian ( 1485 - 1576 ) was born in Cadore, in the southhern Alps, and was rumoured to be ninentynine when he died of the plague. During his long life he rose to a fame which nearly matched that of Michelangelo. His early biographers tell us with awe that even the great Emperor Charles V had done him honour by picking up a bruch he had dropped. We may not find this very remarkable, but if we consider the strict rules of the court of those times, we realize that the greater embodiment of wordly power was believed to have humbled himshelf symbolically before the majesty of genius. Seen in this light, the little anecdote, whether true or not, represented to later age a triumph for art.

self portrait

All the more so Titian was neither such a universal scholar as Leonardo, nor such an outstanding personality as Michelangelo, nor such a versatile and attractive man as Raphael. He was principally a painter, but a painter whose handling of paint equalled Michelangelo's mastery of draughtsmanship. This supreme skill enabled him to disregard all the time honoured rules of composition, and to rely on colour to restore the unity which he apparently broke up.

Madonna with saints
and members of the Pesaro family
1519 - 1526

The unexpected composition only serves to make it gay and lively without upsetting the harmony of it all. The main reason is the way in which Titian contrived to let light, air and colours unify the scene.

They must have expected, at first, to find such a picture lopsided and unbalanced. Actually is the opposite. The idea of making a mere flag counterbalance the figure of the Holy Virgin would probably have shocked an earlier generation, but this flag, in it's rich warm colours, is such a stupendous piece of painting that the venture was a complete success.

Detail of figure

We need but to look at  Madonna with saints to realize the effect which his art must have had on contemporaries. It was almost unheard of to move the Holy Virgin out of the centre of the picture, and to place the two administering saints , St Francis who is recognizable by the stigmata ( the wounds of the Cross ), and St Peter, who has deposited the key ( emblem of his dignity ) on the steps of the Virgin's throne, not symmetrically on each side, but as active participants of a scene. In this altar painting, Titian had to revive the tradition of donors' portrait, but did it in an entirely novel way.
The picture was intended as a token of thanksgiving for a victory over the Turks by the Venetial nobleman Jacopo Pesaro, and Titian portrayed him kneeling before the Virgin while an armoured standard bearer, drags a Turkish prisoner behind him. St Peter and the Virgin look down on him benignly while St Francis, on the other side, draws the attention of the Christ Child to the other members of the Pesaro family, who are kneeling in the corner of the picture. The whole scene seems to take place in an open courtyard, with two giant columns which rise into the clouds where two little angels are playfully engaged in raising the Cross.

Man whith blue sleeve

Titian's greatest fame with his contemporaries rested on portraits. Clearly Titian knew and admired Raphael's portrait of Leo Pope X with his cardinals painted some tewnty eight yeras earlier, but he must also have aimed at surpassing it in lively characterization.

The young Englishman

We need only look at a head like the one called " The Young Englishman ", to understand this fascination. Compared with earlier portriats it all looks so simple and effortless. There is nothing of the minute modelling of Leonardo's " Mona Lisa " in it, and yet this unknown young man seems as mysteriously alive as she does. He seems to gaze at us with such an intense and soulful look that it is almost impossible to believe that these dreamy eyes are only a bit of coloured earth spread on a rough piece of canvas.

Assumption of the Virgin
1516 - 1518

This altarpiece is divided into three registers. The lowest tier is the earthly realm, where the Apostles stand and gesture as the Virgin is lifted. The middle tier is occuried by the Virgin, borne heaven ward on a swath of clouds propelled by an angelic host. The uppermost register is the heavenly realm in which God the Father waits in a golden light to receive Mary. The whole composition moves with intersecting arcs and triangles, and in that sense is an heir to Raphael's Sistine Madonna.

Venus of Urbino

In a wealthy interior setting, Titian has laid out a provocative female nude. The warmth of her flesh contrasts with the white of the bedcovers and the dark curtain behind her. Her hair luxuriously spread over her shoulder, she confronts the viewer with a frank gaze. Titian takes obvious delight in the painterly depiction of the different textures of nude flesh, crumbled linen, and marble floor.

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