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Important Art by Titian
Set in a bucolic landscape, two women, apparently drawn from the same model are posed by a water trough, while its water is stirred by a winged Eros (or possibly a putto). The painting is rich in symbolism and iconography although there is a lack of consensus amongst critics about its meaning and even the title of the painting may not be original as it was not recorded until 1693. The composition of the picture contains elements found in the work of Giorgione whose style had a significant influence on Titian at the beginning of his career.
The woman to the left is dressed in wedding attire and may represent carnal love and beauty. In contrast the nude is usually read as spiritual love, a symbol of simplicity and purity. The position of Eros, at the center of the two, therefore, may indicate the point of mediation between spiritual and carnal desires.
The coat of arms on the trough belongs to the family of Niccolò Aurelio, who later became Grand Chancellor of Venice. In May of 1514 he married Laura Bagarotto, daughter of the jurist Bertuccio Bagarotto who had been executed some months before the wedding on charges of betraying the Serenissima Republic. It is probable that the painting was commissioned to celebrate the marriage. It has been suggested that the relief design on the front of the trough symbolizes life and death, inviting the newly wed Laura, to overcome the sorrow for the loss of her father and flourish in marital love, both spiritual and physical. Alternative readings for this design include symbolism for the taming of passions or hidden literary references.
This painting depicts the ascension of the Virgin into heaven. Mary forms the focal point of the composition on a cloud surrounded by putti, where she looks upwards towards God at the top of the image. At the bottom, the apostles raise their arms towards Mary, watching in amazement as the miracle unfolds. The work is divided into three bands and these are physically connected by outstretched hands as well as through the repetition of looks and gestures. The Virgin and two of the apostles wear red robes and this creates a visual pyramid which draws the eye upwards. This structured use of color and composition (particularly the division into thirds) was a key element of many Renaissance paintings.
There is, however, a clear sense of movement and drama within the piece; Mary seems surprised and the apostles are shown in a very agitated state which was in contrast to their usual serene depiction. This is further enhanced by Titian's use of light and shadow to present the apostles as a mass of bodies rather than highlighting their individuality. This demonstrates Titian's awareness of developments in High Renaissance painting in Florence and Rome and his incorporation of these new ideas into his work. Titian also broke with tradition by omitting all details of the landscape in which the image is situated to focus on the events and emotions of the piece, although the sky above the apostles' heads suggests the setting is outside.
This was Titian's first major painting for a church in Venice and consequently his first piece to draw significant public attention. Painted as an altarpiece panel for the Frari church, Titian realized the commission on a large scale with the figures more than life size. The church had a considerable distance between the altar and congregation and the canvas' size and vibrant colors allowed those in the nave of the church to see the image. The painting was designed specifically for the space and the rounded top of the canvas echoes the shape of the choir screen through which most people would view it and the rich golds and yellows around God replicate the light pouring through the windows above the altar, linking the painting closely to it environment. It has been suggested that initial reactions to the work were mixed as viewers were unused to images painted in this more emotional and movement-based style.
This painting comes from a long tradition of representations of Venus and it appears to have been based on Giorgione's Sleeping Venus (1510), although Titian's interpretation of the goddess is much more erotic. This sensuality is heightened by the directness of the nude's gaze, her faint smile, and her awareness of the viewer, along with the depiction of her in an opulent domestic environment without the allegorical or mythological symbols traditionally associated with Venus. Whilst Giorgione's nude is idealized and demure, Titian's is realistic and tempting. The warm, light tones of her skin are in contrast to the darker, richer background and the play of light on her body and subtle use of chiaroscuro gives a sculptural quality to the nude. Her curves also contrast with the regularity of architectural elements including the tiled floor, classical column, and green hanging which bisects the scene, highlighting the fertile center of the figure.
There is a significant debate about the interpretation of the image with some arguing that it is a painting of courtesan Angela Zaffetta whilst others have suggested that it is a marriage portrait commissioned by Guidobaldo to celebrate his nuptials to the 10-year-old Giulia Varano in 1534. Evidence for this latter theory comes in the form of the symbolism of the sleeping dog (loyalty) and the two servants at the cassone, a trunk in which a trousseau of clothes given to the bride by her husband's family would be kept.
This image is considered one of the most famous and accomplished examples of the genre and over the centuries the canvas has inspired numerous other works which borrow from the image, utilizing the relaxed pose of the subject, the wider composition, and the suggestive representation of the nude. These include Valazquez's Rokeby Venus (1647-51), Goya's The Nude Maja (c.1797), and The Grande Odalisque (1814) by Ingres. One of the most prominent examples is Olympia by Édouard Manet (1863), a refined pre-Impressionist homage, which sparked a great deal of controversy when it was first displayed. Olympia is lying in the same position as Venus, with eyes that shamelessly meet those of the viewer, however, she is not a goddess, but a prostitute lying in the room in which she works. Manet's painting demonstrates the powerful influence of Titian's Venus in representing fleshy and sensual feminine beauty.