- Full Name:
- Tiziano Vecellio
- Alternative Names:
- Tiziano Vecelli
- Date of Birth:
- circa 1488
- Date of Death:
- 27 Aug 1576
- Figure, Landscapes
- Art Movement:
- Pieve di Cadore, Italy
- Living In:
- Venice, Italy
Often hailed as a modern artist, with impressionistic tendencies, Tiziano Vecellio, known as Titian, has been revered for centuries as a pioneering painter.
Born in northern Italy in the Dolomite mountain range, Titian lived and worked during most of his career in Venice, the capital of the Venetian Republic, that had proven itself to be a formidable trading power in the Mediterranean Sea.
During his extended and illustrious career, Titian enjoyed great fame and wealth, thanks to his connections with the royalty of Europe, who constantly commissioned portraits and mythologies from him.
Titian's style is marked by an uncanny attention to color and light. He is even believed to have said that good painters really only need three colors: black, white and red.
Titian was born in around 1485 in the small town of Pieve di Cadore in the Dolomite Mountains, a former holding of the Venetian Republic. He came from a family that boasted numerous prominent members of local government - magistrates, mayors and ambassadors - as well as several artists.
Titian's elder brother, Francesco Vecellio, left home to train as a painter in Venice and became a respected artist soon after. Titian himself was brought to Venice around the age of 10 to be apprenticed to a mosaicist, Sebastiano Zuccati.
His time with Zuccati was short, however, and young Titian soon found himself apprenticed to Gentile Bellini, of the illustrious Bellini family of Venetian painters.
For reasons unknown, Titian transferred apprenticeships for the third time and joined the workshop of Gentile's brother, Giovanni Bellini, the artist credited with introducing the sensuous Venetian style to Italy. It would be the lessons learned in Giovanni Bellini's workshop that would provide Titian with a solid foundation for the rest of his life.
While apprenticed under Bellini, Titian met Giorgio Barbarelli da Castelfranco, commonly known as Giorgione, one of the artists that best represented the Venetian style of painting.
Titian admired Giorgione as a person and artist, and the two frequently collaborated on works. This has made attributing and dating Titian's early pieces exceedingly difficult for modern scholars, as they share similar features with Giorgione's or are signed by one of them when it seems both contributed.
Some of Titian's earliest works include a fresco of Hercules on the Morosini Palace, the Gypsy Madonna, and the Visitation of Mary and Elizabeth.
By the time Giorgione died, possibly of the plague, in 1510, a twenty-something Titian had already made a strong name for himself on the Venetian art scene. With his training essentially complete, he and Bellini occupied the pinnacle of Venetian painting.
During the middle of his career, Titian busied himself with the numerous commissions he received to paint altarpieces and frescoes. His first commission, and the one that ultimately launched his career, was to paint three frescoes for the Scuola del Santo in Padua.
Like his teacher, Bellini, Titian was also granted the honor of working in the Doge's Palace in Venice, painting large depictions of historical and religious scenes. Unfortunately, much of his painstaking effort in the palace was destroyed by fire in 1577.
Along with his work in Venice, Titian was concurrently working for the courts in Ferrara and Mantua, and had little free time. He gained these positions after spending a month working for Alfonso I, Duke of Ferrara on a few mythology paintings, perhaps alongside his former teacher, who had also been commissioned by the duke.
When Bellini died in 1516, Titian assumed the role of prominent painter in Venice and kept it for the next sixty years until his death.
In 1525, Titian married a young woman named Cecilia, with whom he already had one child, Pomponio. The couple went on to have two more children, a son and Titian's future assistant Orazio, and a daughter, Lavinia. Sadly, Cecilia died in 1530 while giving birth to Lavinia.
After his wife's untimely death, a change in Titian's style became quite apparent. Where he had once preferred bright juxtaposing colors and fluid, dynamic scenes, he now employed a more restrained style, using related hues.
For the ensuing decades, Titian became employed in a number of the European royal courts including Rome, Urbino, Naples, the Holy Roman Empire and Spain for which he painted dozens of mythologies, portraits and religious scenes. It was during this time that he painted some of his most well-known and celebrated works, including Danae, Diana and Actaeon, the Death of Actaeon and the Rape of Europa.
The last 26 years of Titian's life were almost entirely devoted to King Philip II of Spain, though he did make time to complete a number of works for patrons in Venice, such as those for the Doge's Palace.
Bellini's early style takes its greatest cues from the work of Giorgione, with a preference for idealism and the naturalistic. In fact, Titian's early offerings are so similar to Giorgione's that researchers are still unsure which are actually his.
It is probable that the two artists collaborated on numerous works, thus creating this incestuous style.
After Giorgione's death in 1510, Titian began to more fully develop a unique style. He carried with him the idealism and beauty that had occupied Giorgione, but added his own innovation and deep understanding of color to his early works.
Many of these, such as Assumption of the Virgin and the Pesaro Madonna were met with a twinge of controversy from conservative, older painters because Titian had dared to create unconventional layouts.
His St. Mark Enthroned with Four Saints perhaps most clearly shows his departure from Giorgione in that he strove for a "grandeur based on reality" rather than the whimsical painted poetry that Giorgione preferred. Many claim that this work is a prelude to the Baroque style (Brigstocke).
During his early career, Titian was also commissioned by the Duke of Ferrara, Alfonso I, to paint a number of mythological scenes, which exemplify his early style. These include Bacchanal and Bacchus and Ariadne. These paintings contained an energy and motion that had the power to keep viewers entranced.
By the 1530s, Titian's career was marked by a wave of portraits for the elite of Europe and his paintings from this time were some of the first that the rest of Europe had seen of the Venetian style, emphasizing color, flowing brushwork and atmospheric tone.
During his middle years, and particularly after the sudden death of his wife in 1530, Titian's style took on a more subdued refinement. His work caught the attention of Charles V, Holy Roman Emperor, who commissioned a number of portraits from the artist. Charles V went on to name Titian a Count Palatine and a Knight of the Golden Spur, an honor never before bestowed on a painter.
Titian's advanced years are defined by his preference for somewhat vague forms and vibrant brushstrokes, a style seldom seen again until the 20th century.
Many of his later subjects were taken from mythology, with his chaotic brushwork only adding to the mystery and power that surround the myths, as can be seen in The Flaying of Marsyas and The Death of Actaeon.
Such paintings have a way of transcending the physical - demonstrating Titian's penchant for portraying emotion such as confusion and fury. Titian often chose to place these paintings in a nocturnal setting, perhaps acknowledging that he was now in the twilight of his own life.
Although often described as an innovator, Titian was influenced by a slew of Italian artists, from his teacher Giovanni Bellini to the great Michelangelo.
Although the younger Bellini wasn't Titian's first teacher, Titian spent the bulk of his formative years studying in Bellini's workshop. Titian is known as the leading painter in the Venetian school but Giovanni Bellini was this school's father - solidifying Venetian art's preference for the senses through the use of luxuriant, blended colors, soft light, and flowing forms.
Titian was exposed to this early in his career and took Bellini's lessons to heart, even expanding on them to become the new master of color and light in Venice.
Presumably acquainted while both apprenticed under Bellini, Titian and Giorgione quickly formed a friendship and a professional relationship, with Titian acting as Giorgione's assistant on a number of projects.
Ten years Titian's senior, Giorgione had developed a lyrical style that emphasized mood and feeling over form and story. Titian admired this unique take on painting and many of his early works, such as Christ Carrying the Cross are clearly influenced by Giorgione.
In the early 1540s, Titian made his first and only visit to Rome, where he was introduced to Michelangelo and started to paint more frequently in the Mannerist style.
The definition of Mannerism is somewhat mixed but scholars agree that it referred to an artist style that was championed in north and central Italy during the mid-16th and early 17th centuries.
While some have defined Mannerism as the followers of certain artists (such as those who imitated Michelangelo in Florence and those who imitated Titian in Venice), others saw it as a decline in precision and the life-like qualities of paintings produced during the High Renaissance.
The latter camp cites imprecise drawing, washed-out color and a hurried and exaggerated style as the hallmarks of Mannerism. The style can be defined as anti-classical, with artists studying other works of art rather than studying nature.
Titian's work from the 1540s, such as Cain Slaying Able, David and Goliath, Pope Paul III and his Grandsons, and Sacrifice of Isaac, all display the qualities of Mannerism.
During his life, Titian further developed the Venetian style of painting conceived by Bellini, revolutionizing oil painting techniques with his expressive brushwork. He had the opportunity during his long life to explore and perfect his craft, sending the Venetian style to Spain and Austria with his commissions.
After Titian's death, Italian art had seemingly fallen into two separate camps: the Florentine school of Michelangelo and Raphael, where linearity and sculpted style dominated; and the Venetian school, championed by Titian, that offered an equally impressive, more expressive alternative.
Peter Paul Rubens:
The Flemish painter traveled extensively through Italy between 1600 and 1608 and was exposed to Mannerist paintings and the work of Titian. Rubens also traveled to Madrid as an emissary for the sovereigns of the Spanish Netherlands and saw more of Titian's works on display, such as the Diana paintings, of which he ardently made copies. His Diana and Callisto is the only one that survives.
During Rubens' visit to Spain, he met the young Velazquez and took him to see Titian's paintings, encouraging him to study the Italian masters of painting. The very next year, Velazquez traveled to Italy, collecting numerous works, including some by Titian, as he went. Velazquez's Rokeby Venus is directly inspired by Titian's Venus of Urbino.
Many of Titian's paintings, especially his later works, anticipated Impressionism of the 19th century. Painting such as The Flaying of Marsyas and Philip II in Armor seem surprisingly modern, and Impressionist painters followed in Titian's footsteps by choosing idea and emotion over form and line.
Throughout his long career, Titian's artwork was usually received with great praise and satisfaction, and today he is known as one of the fathers of modern painting.
Titian was the Venetian painter who achieved the greatest degree of fame during his life. As a particular favorite of both Emperor Charles V and his son, Philip II of Spain, Titian generally enjoyed positive feedback as his fame grew throughout Europe.
Some of his early pieces, however, were met with some consternation. Assumption of the Virgin, for example, caused a controversy among some older painters and even the public who were unsure about the three-layer approach as well as offended by the sumptuous curve of the Virgin's womanly form.
Titian's later work was occasionally misunderstood. Philip II of Spain wrote in a letter to his aunt that the portrait now known as Philip II in Armor appeared unfinished and that the artist had worked somewhat too hastily. In fact, Titian had been using some of the Mannerist technique to render this effect which Philip evidently didn't like.
In general though, the art world seemed to collectively identify Titian as an unrivaled master of painting in the Venetian school.
17th , 18th and 19th centuries:
Titian was always highly regarded during these centuries as one of the great Old Masters, but critics during this time preferred Raphael, for his more obvious reverence for the art of antiquity.
This dispute between what is basically conservativism and progressivism stemmed from the differing opinions of draftsmanship during the Italian Renaissance. While artists like Raphael and Michelangelo preferred their paintings to be precisely drawn, precision was not as important to Venetian artists like Titian.
Thus, Raphael was seen by critics such as Giorgio Vasari, Giovanni Peitro Bellori and Anton Raphael Mengs as the ideal Renaissance artist - capturing classicism in a modern net. Such critics acknowledged Titian's skill as well, but always with the overtone that they had more appreciation for the craft of non-Venetian artists.
According to Vasari, "when Michelangelo was introduced to Titian, he said... that Titian's coloring and his style much pleased him, but that it was a pity that in Venice men did not learn to draw well from the beginning, and that those painters did not pursue a better method in their studies."
20th century - present:
Opinions about the inherent superiority of the antique style began to change around the mid-19th century. Antiquity was losing its prestige, Raphael's status as a painting paragon was fading and critics such as Delacroix began to write more enthusiastically about Titian and artists following his style.
Although Titian was also greatly influenced by antiquity, as nearly all artists of the time were, he did not feel bound to it, which was the difference between the Venetian school and others, like the Florentine.
According to Edizione Storti, "The classicism of Venice did not find its fundamental expressive force in the use of line to create its images, but in the development of tonal painting, creating noble forms of a solemn plasticity to attain, with Titian, an ideal of ample, monumental beauty, anchored firmly in earthly reality. "
As these new attitudes took hold, critics and scholars were placing Titian above Raphael, regarding him as "the most generally revered of all Old Masters," (Gould). Of course, there are always dissenting opinions and the outspoken John Ruskin made it clear that he preferred Titian's teacher Bellini to all other Renaissance artists, calling Titian's work "languid and affected. "
Ruskin claimed, "Nobody cares much at heart about Titian; only there is a strange undercurrent of everlasting murmur about his name, which means the deep consent of all great men that he is greater than they. "
Ruskin aside, most art critics today hold Titian in high regard, calling him one of the founders of modern painting.
For further reading on Titian, please choose from the following recommended sources.
• Biadene, Susanna. Titian: Prince Of Painters. Marsilio Editori, 1990
• Bowron, Edgar Peters. Titian and the Golden Age of Venetian Painting (Museum of Fine Arts, Houston). Yale University Press, 2010
• Hudson, Mark. Titian: The Last Days. Bloomsbury Publishing, 2009
• Humfrey, Peter. Titian. Phaidon Press Ltd, 2007
• Ilchman, Frederick, et al. Titian, Tintoretto, Veronese: Rivals in Renaissance Venice. Lund Humphries, 2009
• Pagden, Sylvia Ferino & Scire, Giovanna Nepi. Later Titian and the Sensuality of Painting. Marsilio,Italy, 2008