"It is not bright colors but good drawing that makes figures beautiful."


Titian, Tiziano Vecellio (circa 1485-1576) was an Italian painter, the most important member of the 16th-century Venetian school. Recognized by his contemporaries as "The Sun Amidst Small Stars", Titian was one of the most versatile of Italian painters, equally adept with portraits, landscape backgrounds, and mythological and religious subjects. His painting methods, particularly in the application and use of color, would exercise a profound influence not only on painters of the Italian Renaissance, but on future generations. Although his mature works may not contain the vivid, luminous tints of his early pieces, their loose brushwork and subtlety of polychromatic modulations are without precedent in the history of Western art.

Titian was born in Pieve di Cadore, near Belluno (in Veneto), in the Republic of Venice. During his lifetime he was often called da Cadore, taken from the place of his birth. The evidence for his birth date is contradictory, but he was certainly very old when he died. He received the more important part of his training in the studio of Giovanni Bellini.

Titian's first great commission was for three frescos in Padua (Scuola del Santo, 1511), noble and dignified paintings suggesting an almost central Italian firmness and monumentality. When he returned to Venice, Giorgione having died and Sebastiano gone to Rome, the aged Bellini alone stood between him and supremacy, and that only until 1516 when Bellini died and Titian became official painter to the Republic. 

"Sacred and Profane Love" (Villa Borghese, Rome, c.1516) inaugurated a brilliant period in Titian's creative career during which he produced splendid religious, mythological, and portrait paintings, original in conception and vivid with color and movement. The strong, simple colors used, and the artist's evident pleasure in the silhouetting of dark forms against a light background, reappear throughout the work of this period.

About 1530, the year in which his wife died, a change in Titian's manner becomes apparent. The vivacity of former years give way to a more restrained and meditative art. He now began to use related rather than contrasting colors in juxtaposition, yellows and pale shades rather than the strong blues and reds which shouldered each other through his previous work. 

During the 1530s Titian's fame spread throughout Europe. In 1530 he first met the emperor Charles V and in 1533 he painted a famous portrait of him based on a portrait by the Austrian Seisenegger. Charles was so pleased with it that he appointed Titian court painter and elevated him to the rank of Count Palatine and Knight of the Golden Spur - an unprecedented honor for a painter.

Early in the 1540s Titian came under the influence of central and north Italian Mannerism, and in 1545-6 he made his first and only journey to Rome. There he was deeply impressed not only by modern works such as Michelangelo's "Last Judgement", but also by the remains of antiquity. His own paintings during this visit aroused much interest, his "DanaŽ" (Museo di Capodimonte, Naples) being praised for its handling and color and (according to Vasari) criticized for its inexact drawing by Michelangelo. The decade closed with further imperial commissions.

During the last twenty years of his life Titian's personal works, as opposed to those which busy assistants produced under his supervision and with his intervention, showed an increasing looseness in the handling and a sensitive merging of colors which makes them more and more immaterial. Autumnal tones reflected the artist's meditative spirit. About the same time his interest in new pictorial conceptions waned.

Titian's influence on later artists has been profound: he was supreme in every branch of painting and revolutionized the oil technique with his free and expressive brushwork. His greatness as an artist, it appears, was not matched by his character, for he was notoriously avaricious. In spite of his wealth and status, he claimed he was impoverished, and his exaggerations about his age (by which he hoped to pull at the heartstrings of patrons) are one of the sources of confusion about his birth date. Jacopo Bassano caricatured him as a moneylender in his "Purification of the Temple" (National Gallery, London). Titian, however, was lavish in his hospitality towards his friends, who included the poet Pietro Aretino and the sculptor and architect Jacopo Sansovino. These three were so close that they were known in Venice as the triumvirate, and they used their influence with their respective patrons to further each other's careers.


"Madonna with Saints and Members of the Pesaro Family" (1519-26) Oil on canvas, 478 x 266 cm - 188 1/8 x 104 3/4 in. Church of Sta Maria dei Frari, Venice, Italy.




"Penitent Mary Magdalene" (1560s) Oil on canvas, 118 x 97 cm - 46 1/2 x 38 in. Hermitage, St. Petersburg, Russia.




"Equestrian Portrait of Charles V" (1548) Oil on canvas, 332 ◊ 279 cm - 130.7 ◊ 109.8 in. Prado Museum, Madrid, Spain.




"Equestrian Portrait of Charles V (detail)" (1548) Oil on canvas, 332 ◊ 279 cm - 130.7 ◊ 109.8 in. Prado Museum, Madrid, Spain.




"Saint Mark Enthroned" (1510) Oil on canvas, 149 x 230 cm - 4' 10.66" x 7' 6.55". Church of Santa Maria della Salute, Venice, Italy.




"Portrait of Doge Andrea Gritti" (1544-45) Oil on canvas, 103 x 134 cm - 3' 4.55" x 4' 4.76". National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C., USA.




"Bacchus and Ariadne" (1522-23) Oil on canvas, 190 x 175 cm - 6' 2.8" x 5' 8.9". National Gallery, London, UK.




"The Gipsy Madonna" (1510-11) Oil on canvas. Public collection.




"Federico II, Gonzaga" (1525) Oil on canvas. Private collection.




"Suicide of Lucretia" (1515) Oil on canvas. Private collection.




"The Three Ages of Man" (1511-12) Oil on canvas. Private collection.




"St. John the Baptist" (circa 1542) Oil on canvas, 134 x 201 cm - 4' 4.76" x 6' 7.13". Gallerie dell'Accademia, Venice, Italy.

Text source: 'Webmuseum' (www.ibiblio.org/wm) and others.

Related Artists:

Related Terms: Renaissance, Mannerism, Fresco.


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