Artist Of The Month: Titian
The Great 16th Century Venetian Painter
Titian (real name Tiziano Vecellio, c. 1485 - 1576) was the most important painter of the Venetian school. His mastery was unsurpassed in portraits, mythological compositions and religious art. He revolutionized the use of color and is considered to be a pivotal figure in Western art.
Titian was born in the small village of Pieve di Cadore in the Italian Alps, then part of the Venetian Republic, sometime between 1485 and 1490. The exact date of his birth is not known because Titian purposely made himself out to be older than he was in order to play upon the sympathies of his patrons. The Vecellio family into which was born was comfortably off. Several other family members were artists and some of them were renowned.
When Titian was around nine to twelve years old he was sent to Venice together with one of his brothers, and apprenticed to Sebastiano Zuccati, a master mosaicist,. Not long afterwards he entered the studio of Giovanni Bellini, who had a lasting influence on him. While studying under Bellini, Titian met Giorgione and the two painters became so close both in style and in friendship that it is often very difficult to differentiate between their works.
At first, Titian was Giorgione’s assistant and the two artists collaborated on the frescoes for the exterior of the German Exchange on the Grand Canal. The frescoes have mostly not survived. Giorgione died unexpectedly in 1510 and it fell to Titian (who many already considered to be the better artist) to complete his commissions. Giovanni Bellini died in 1516 and Titian became the leading artist in Venice. He was to be unrivalled in the city-state for his entire 60-year career.
By now Titian was much in demand and he set up his own studio on the Grand Canal. He was very good at getting pensions and support from wealthy patrons, even though he liked to plead poverty. At around the time of Bellini’s death he succeeded in being nominated as official painter of the Venetian Republic. He was producing masterpieces of dramatic composition whose color work was fresh and revolutionary. Each painting he produced caused a sensation. An example is his masterpiece the Assumption of the Virgin, painted in 1518. Such bold colors and grand scale had never been seen before.
Titian was in a relationship with Cecilia, a young woman from his home town; the couple married when their second son, Orazio, was born in 1525. They went on to have two daughters, only one of whom survived. Cecilia died in childbirth in 1530 and Titian never remarried. His sister, and later his daughter, Lavinia, would take care of his household. Orazio became Titian’s assistant and was a notable portrait painter. A change became apparent in Titian’s work after his wife’s death. His paintings were now more reserved, both in form and color. There were fewer contrasting colors and more pale shades used in juxtaposition.
Meanwhile, Titian had been neglecting his obligations to the government of Venice. In 1538 they ordered him to refund money he received for work on the Doge’s palace and appointed one of his rivals in his place. But the rival died within the year and Titian, who in the meantime had dutifully applied himself to painting a victorious Venetian battle, was reinstated.
In 1548, Emperor Charles V summoned Titian to Augsburg to paint two portraits and in 1550 he was summoned there again, this time to paint a portrait of the Emperor’s son, who was to become King Philip II of Spain.
Sometime after 1550, Titian returned to Venice and his style changed again. He worked on a commission for King Philip II of Spain – a series of mythological paintings the most famous of which is the Rape of Europa. In this work form becomes vapid. The intense color and strong brushstrokes dissolve in hazy textures giving the impression of impending doom.
Titian died of the plague in Venice on August 27, 1576. He was around 91 years old and his formidable career had spanned over 60 years. He had been a supreme master during his lifetime -- his contemporaries called him “the sun amidst small stars” -- and a major influence on future generations after his death.
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Art in the News:
Chavez Shakes up the Art World
Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez is in the news again, only this time the fiery head of state is making news not for his revolutionary statements, but with a painting he produced while he was a young army officer serving a jail term for a failed coup attempt.
La luna de Yare, an oil painting depicting the full moon seen through prison bars, broke all records when it sold at auction for $255,000, or 20 times the expected price. The young Chavez had scrawled a message in red paint at the bottom of the canvas: “The mill of the gods grinds slowly!” The painting is now considered to be a symbol of the Venezuelan revolution.
This is not Chavez’s first painting; he has been a keen amateur painter since childhood and when he was a cadet in the military academy of Caracas he would draw caricatures of his comrades for their graduation yearbooks.
Sotheby’s says Painting by Famous Artist is Worthless
The art experts at Sotheby’s declared a painting by British contemporary artist Damien Hirst to be worthless, even though other works by this artist regularly sell for around $300,000 and a sale of his paintings just recently broke all previous auction records. What made them decide that this particular painting is worthless?
Damien Hirst painted his girlfriend’s family cat as a favor to its owner (his girlfriend’s sister) when he was just 17 years old, before he became successful, and it was in a style very different to the one that has made him famous.
Now if the cat had been dead, chopped into pieces and dropped into formaldehyde, the painting would probably have been very valuable, stated the experts.
Julie Staniforth, the owner of the painting (and the cat), is quoted as saying “It really is a good painting bearing in mind he did it when he was 17. To me, it is priceless.”
This cover-up has made the headlines all over Italy and has art historians up in arms; only, it has nothing to do with politics or the Mafia. No, this particular cover-up by Italy’s Prime Minister involves the 18th century masterpiece “The Truth Unveiled by Time” by Giovanni Battista Tiepolo, which serves as a backdrop for press conferences in the Prime Minister’s official residence.
So what’s all the fuss about? Reuters reports that aides to the Prime Minister had the painting altered to cover up the bare-breasted allegorical figure of Truth because her nipple could be seen in the TV footage of government press conferences. "That breast, that nipple ... it ends up exactly inside the frame captured by TV news stations at press conferences" said Mr. Berlusconi’s spokesman, Paolo Bonaiuti.
Art critics have described the alteration as “crazy”. Fortunately, it is only a copy. The original painting is still bare-breasted and is housed in the Palazzo Chiericati civic museum in Vicenza.
Outside the Lines
Paolo Ucello painted a fresco in very strange colors on the walls of a church in Florence to show his disapproval of the boring food he was given by the monks: the meals were all based on cheese! He downed tools in protest and only finished the work after the menu was improved.
The orange-tinted brown oil color "titian" was named after the artist Titian because he often used that color mix to depict the hair color of the beautiful courtesans whose portraits he painted.
While Leonardo da Vinci was painting his masterpiece The Last Supper, he also found time to invent the parachute. In June 2000, around 500 years later, a Swiss amateur parachutist constructed a parachute based on da Vinci’s sketch, but using modern fabric. He landed on Geneva airport after jumping from a helicopter hovering at 2,000 feet above ground. The triangular-shaped parachute design dates from 1485 and the parachutist is quoted as saying it was “a perfect jump.”