October 19th, 2008

Titian self portrait

What is essential in Venetian painting and how it came about.

In order to trace Titan’s innovation, I will first look at Venetian painting in general. Extraordinary, brilliant use color is a hallmark of Venetian painting. Perhaps the early painters got their inspiration from the mosaics of San Marco. Figures composed of hundreds of tiny glass tesserae adorn the basilica; reflected light and the polished glow of gold infuse the atmosphere. Patricia Fortini Brown suggests, in Art and Life in Renaissance Venice, that “The chromatic approach to color of Giovanni Bellini, Titian, and other Venetian artists had its antecedents here” (28) in San Marco’s mosaic work. Many Venetian painters and artisans worked on restoration projects; Titian is among these.

Paolo da Venezia, the earliest Venetian painter historians know by name, found inspiration for his altarpieces at San Marco. It was Venezia who brought the polytych to Venice in the fourteenth century where it became a standard. It was Giovanni Bellini, in the fifteenth century, who reinterpreted the artistry of San Marco into a more naturalistic form; Giovanni sought to place figures into a more realistic setting.

Brunelleschi’s linear perspective, mastered by Bellini, enabled him to bring illusionistic space into a two-dimensional picture plane, viewing a painting as a window. Bellini also extends the viewer’s space into the picture plane by uniting real and illusionistic elements of the frame. His tonality, well modulated color and golden light are all reminiscent of the mosaics of San Marco. Bellini experimented with oil glazing techniques as a way of duplicating the effects of light on glass tesserae. Titian later builds a career, in part, upon careful use of light in painting.

Vittore Carpaccio and Giorgione da Castlefranco eschewed the traditional smoothly-sanded wood panel for rough canvas supports. These painters allowed the grain of the fabric to show through areas of paint. This becomes a characteristic of Venetian painting that Titian also embraces. The color effects of glass tesserae are not the only inspiration artists found in San Marco; compositional elements and narrative too stimulate artist’s imaginations. Although painters overlap figures, the arrangement of figures in a row, as done in mosaic work, continues to be the norm. This develops into the sacra conversazione, a group of saints who do not interact with each other, and are not even always of the same period, but are placed in a unified group in the painting. In the fifteenth century three- dimensional space is indicated, but remnants of hieratic scale are still seen in the figures. By the sixteenth century Venetian artists favor the pala, a unified, single-panel altarpiece over the older polyptych. Titian’s Assumption and Ca Pesaro altarpieces reflect this trend, however; he returns to the polyptych for his Averoldi altarpiecs, perhaps at the request of the donor.

Venetian guilds provided protectionism to Venetian artists, but foreign artists were still welcome; they were just required to pay taxes on commissions they earned. New ideas found their way to Venice through foreign artists and imported art works. Durer came to work on an altarpiece for the Germans; his work greatly impressed and influenced Titian. The work of both Raphael and Michelangelo were well known to Venetian painters. While the Florentines insisted that disegno was of primary importance, the Venetians’ focused on colorito. Vasari, a biographer of artists, insists that disegno, the father of all arts, is the most important. Dolce, another theorist, sides with Titian’s focus on colorito, praising the artist’s achievements in that area.

Titian came to Venice during a period of flux in painting. New ideas were blooming in Italy and finding their way to Venice. Titian’s teachers, Bellini, Giorgione, and contemporaries, Raphael and Michelangelo, Drurer, had a profound influence on the direction of Titian’s painting. He came into the crucible that was Venice during the Renaissance, a time of ideas, exchange and classical thought. Titian’s genius, in part, was his flexibility and ability to synthesize the flow of idea, thought and talent surrounding him into innovation in painting that made him the premier painter in Venice.

  1. starrynight Says:

    I like your approach of exploring Titian through the history of other venetian painters. It would make a good background for your pieces especially if you found that Titian borrowed ideas from these artists.

    Thanks for the comment on my pictures. I like them too!


  2. karen4dk Says:

    Titian did borrow- rather liberally! There is evidence that he used the compositions, ideas, and occasional figures from his contemporaries as well as from classical works. He used classical statues for models, too! But we need to remember this has always been the case with artists. One idea is often born from another; it’s done today. Sometimes it is overt and a way of celebrating/showing appreciation for a great work/artist. Other times one great composition inspires a very similar work, or one figure is perfect for a new work. Titian nearly always took the borrowed elements to an entirely new level with innovative changes; don’t think that he merely copied from others. He saw the good in the painting and used it in an innovative way and made it better. His influence is far reaching.