Titian Artworks

Italian Painter

Born: 1488-90 - Pieve di Cadore, Italy
Died: August 27, 1576 - Venice, Italy

Progression of Art

Amor Sacro and Amor Profano (c. 1515)
c. 1515

Amor Sacro and Amor Profano

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.

oil on canvas - Borghese Gallery, Rome

The Assumption of the Virgin (1516-18)

The Assumption of the Virgin

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.

oil on board - Basilica di Santa Maria Gloriosa dei Frari, Venice

The Venus of Urbino (1538)

The Venus of Urbino

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.

Oil on canvas - Uffizi Gallery, Florence

Portrait of Charles V on horseback (1548)

Portrait of Charles V on horseback

This work depicts the Holy Roman Emperor Charles V wearing armor made of gold and silver. The painting was commissioned by Charles' sister, the Queen of Hungary and created to celebrate his victory in the battle of Muhlberg (1547) against the German Protestants. Charles V is represented on horseback, as a true soldier, fighting for Catholicism against the threat of Protestantism. In his right hand he holds a spear, a reference to St. George suggesting military prowess and bravery in fighting a foe. The red of the sash and the horse's caparison symbolize the Catholic faith. In this work Titian generated a powerful and symbolic piece of propaganda aimed at both Charles' subjects and his enemies. In representing the emperor in this way Charles was shown, in victory, as a courageous ruler, an image, perhaps, at odds with his age and failing health.

The representation of a figure on horseback refers to the classical tradition of Roman equestrian monuments, but unlike these Titian does not portray the horse rearing on its hind legs. Instead the horse appears to be setting off at a canter and the confident and easy pose of Charles suggests his horsemanship. In depicting Charles in this manner, Titian created a new genre of portraiture, the equestrian portrait, and in doing so sparked a fashion for nobles and royalty to be depicted on horseback. The impact of this continued into the seventeenth century and examples include Equestrian Portrait of the Duke of Lerma (1603) by Rubens and Equestrian Portrait of Philip IV (c.1635) by Velazquez. Stylistically the painting is mixed, marking a transitionary period in the artist's work. The armor and harness show the detail and realism of Titian's earlier pieces, whilst the landscape and sky are composed of the broader brushstrokes that became prevalent in his art from the 1540s onwards.

Titian was highly sought after as a portraitist, known for his ability to closely capture the character and likeness of his sitters, whilst also producing flattering images which represented the best aspects of them. This subtlety of approach can be seen in some of his other famous portraits including Charles V with a Greyhound (1533), Portrait of Pope Paul III (1543), and Portrait of Pietro Aretino (1545).

Oil on canvas - Prado Museum, Madrid

Venus and Adonis (1554)

Venus and Adonis

This is the one of several versions of paintings based on this subject that Titian produced and this particular image was created for Philip II of Spain. The subject of the painting is drawn from Ovid's Metamorphoses and the scene depicts the beautiful Adonis leaving the goddess Venus after a night of passion to prepare his dogs for a hunt. He is later killed by an angry boar. The canvas is one of a series of mythological images that Titian painted for the King, which he called 'poesie' (poems) and it was designed to be viewed alongside Danae (1553), which, contrastingly, featured a nude drawn from the front. The depiction of the distended flesh on Venus' bottom was novel in art of the period and was considered extremely erotic.

In the image Venus pleads with Adonis to stay and tries to restrain him (as she has had a premonition of his death). He seems impassive to her entreaties and his dogs strain at their leashes highlighting his impatience to leave. Titian's loose and vigorous brushstrokes add to the sense of energy and movement of the piece. The sleeping form of Cupid in the background is unable to intervene and his bow and arrows hang uselessly in the tree to the left of the painting. In the sky a figure is visible in a chariot, this may either be Venus from later in the same story or a representation of Apollo, symbolizing the dawn. In the original story Venus leaves first, whereas here, Titian inverts the events and portrays Adonis leaving, possibly to add more emotional drama to the subject matter. Parallels can be drawn between the sense of loss that Venus displays in Adonis' departure and the later loss she experiences when he is killed.

Oil on canvas - Prado Museum, Madrid

Pieta (1575-76)


One of Titian's last paintings, Pieta was created to hang over his grave and it depicts the Virgin Mary cradling the dead body of Christ, she is accompanied by two further figures, believed to be Nicodemus and Mary Magdalene. It has been suggested that Nicodemus is a self-portrait and that Titian is either viewing his own imminent death in Christ's face or touching his body in the hope of salvation. The painting was unfinished at Titian's death and was completed by Palma il Giovane, although it seems that Giovane's contribution to the image was fairly minimal. The painting is characteristic of Titian's late style in its dark subject matter and rough and expressive rendering. This picture marks the pinnacle of Titian's Mannerist approach and this is exemplified by its non-traditional and unbalanced composition and the use of broken brushstrokes and impasto, techniques that departed from the conventions of Renaissance art, but which were, later, imitated by both Rubens and Rembrandt.

The scene is darkly atmospheric, perhaps indicating Titian's fear of death. It is lit only by shafts of moonlight and a putto carrying a torch and this allows for the use of bold chiaroscuro, with the light particularly illuminating the image of a pelican in piety on the dome of the building, a common symbol for the Passion of Christ and for redemption. In the bottom right-hand corner of the image is a small picture within the picture and this is generally understood to show Titian and his son Orazio in prayer, probably asking to be spared from the plague which was ravaging Venice at the time and eventually killed both of them. The picture partially conceals Titian's coat of arms behind it. The statues of Moses and Sybil which flank the image seem to overwhelm the depiction of the mourners and indicate the frailty of life, a subject of increasing relevance to the artist.

Oil on canvas - Gallerie dell' Accademia, Venice

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Content compiled and written by Pamela Breda

Edited and revised, with Summary and Accomplishments added by Kate Stephenson

"Titian Artist Overview and Analysis". [Internet]. . TheArtStory.org
Content compiled and written by Pamela Breda
Edited and revised, with Summary and Accomplishments added by Kate Stephenson
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First published on 20 Jun 2018. Updated and modified regularly
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