Tiziano Vecelli or Tiziano Vecellio (c. 1488/1490 – 27 August 1576) better known as Titian was an Italian painter, the most important member of the 16th-century Venetian school. He was born in Pieve di Cadore, near Belluno (in Veneto), in the Republic of Venice. During his lifetime he was often called da Cadore, taken from the place of his birth.
Recognized by his contemporaries as "The Sun Amidst Small Stars" (recalling the famous final line of Dante's Paradiso), Titian was one of the most versatile of Italian painters, equally adept with portraits, landscape backgrounds, and mythological and religious subjects. His painting methods, particularly in the application and use of color, would exercise a profound influence not only on painters of the Italian Renaissance, but on future generations of Western art.
During the course of his long life, Titian's artistic manner changed drastically but he retained a lifelong interest in color. Although his mature works may not contain the vivid, luminous tints of his early pieces, their loose brushwork and subtlety of polychromatic modulations are without precedent in the history of Western art.
The exact date of Titian's birth is uncertain; when he was an old man he claimed in a letter to Philip II to have been born in 1474, but this seems most unlikely. Other writers contemporary to his old age give figures which would equate to birthdates between 1473 to after 1482, but most modern scholars believe a date nearer 1490 is more likely; the Metropolitan Museum of Art's timeline supports c.1488, as does the Getty Research Institute. He was the eldest son of Gregorio Vecelli and his wife Lucia. His father was superintendent of the castle of Pieve di Cadore and managed local mines for their owners. Gregorio was also a distinguished councilor and soldier. Many relatives, including Titian's grandfather, were notaries, and the family of four were well-established in the area, which was ruled by Venice.
At the age of about ten to twelve he and his brother Francesco (who perhaps followed later) were sent to an uncle in Venice to find an apprenticeship with a painter. The minor painter Sebastian Zuccato, whose sons became well-known mosaicists, and who may have been a family friend, arranged for the brothers to enter the studio of the elderly Gentile Bellini, from which they later transferred to that of his brother Giovanni Bellini. At that time the Bellinis, especially Giovanni, were the leading artists in the city. There Titian found a group of young men about his own age, among them Giovanni Palma da Serinalta, Lorenzo Lotto, Sebastiano Luciani, and Giorgio da Castelfranco, nicknamed Giorgione.
A fresco of Hercules on the Morosini Palace is said to have been one of Titian's earliest works; others were the Bellini-esque so-called Gypsy Madonna in Vienna, and the Visitation of Mary and Elizabeth (from the convent of S. Andrea), now in the Accademia, Venice.
Titian joined Giorgione as an assistant, but many contemporary critics already found his work more impressive, for example in the exterior frescoes (now almost totally destroyed) that they did for the Fondaco dei Tedeschi (state-warehouse for the German merchants), and their relationship evidently had a significant element of rivalry. Distinguishing between their work at this period remains a subject of scholarly controversy, and there has been a substantial movement of attributions from Giorgione to Titian in the 20th century, with little traffic the other way. One of the earliest known works of Titian, Christ Carrying the Cross in the Scuola Grande di San Rocco, depicting the Ecce Homo scene, was long regarded as the work of Giorgione.
The two young masters were likewise recognized as the two leaders of their new school of arte moderna, which is characterized by paintings made more flexible, freed from symmetry and the remnants of hieratic conventions still to be found in the works of Giovanni Bellini.
In 1507–1508 Giorgione was commissioned by the state to create frescoes on the re-erected Fondaco dei Tedeschi. Titian and Morto da Feltre worked along with him, and some fragments of paintings remain, probably by Giorgione. Some of their work is known, in part, through the engravings of Fontana. After Giorgione's early death in 1510, Titian continued to paint Giorgionesque subjects for some time, though his style developed its own features, including bold and expressive brushwork.
Titian's talent in fresco is shown in those he painted in 1511 at Padua in the Carmelite church and in the Scuola del Santo, some of which have been preserved, among them the Meeting at the Golden Gate, and three scenes (Miracoli di sant'Antonio) from the life of St. Anthony of Padua, The Miracle of the Jealous Husband which depicts the Murder of a Young Woman by Her Husband, A Child Testifying to Its Mother's Innocence, and The Saint Healing the Young Man with a Broken Limb.
From Padua in 1512, Titian returned to Venice; and in 1513 he obtained a broker's patent, termed La Sanseria or Senseria (a privilege much coveted by rising or risen artists), in the Fondaco dei Tedeschi and became superintendent of the government works, being especially charged to complete the paintings left unfinished by Giovanni Bellini in the hall of the great council in the ducal palace. He set up an atelier on the Grand Canal at S. Samuele, the precise site being now unknown. It was not until 1516, after the death of Giovanni Bellini, that he came into actual enjoyment of his patent. At the same time he entered an exclusive arrangement for painting. The patent yielded him a good annuity of 20 crowns and exempted him from certain taxes—he being bound in return to paint likenesses of the successive Doges of his time at the fixed price of eight crowns each. The actual number he painted was five.
During this period (1516–1530), which may be called the period of his mastery and maturity, the artist moved on from his early Giorgionesque style, undertook larger and more complex subjects and for the first time attempted a monumental style. Giorgione died in 1510 and Giovanni Bellini in 1516, leaving Titian unrivaled in the Venetian School. For sixty years he was to be the undisputed master of Venetian painting. In 1516 he completed for the high altar of the church of the Frari, his famous masterpiece, the Assumption of the Virgin, still in situ. This extraordinary piece of colorism, executed on a grand scale rarely before seen in Italy, created a sensation. The Signoria took note, and observed that Titian was neglecting his work in the hall of the great council, but in 1516 he succeeded his master Giovanni Bellini in receiving a pension from the Senate.
The pictorial structure of the Assumption—that of uniting in the same composition two or three scenes superimposed on different levels, earth and heaven, the temporal and the infinite — was continued in a series of works such as the retable of San Domenico at Ancona (1520), the retable of Brescia (1522), and the retable of San Niccolò (1523), in the Vatican Museum), each time attaining to a higher and more perfect conception, finally reaching a classic formula in the Pesaro Madonna, (better known as the Madonna di Ca' Pesaro) (c. 1519–1526), also for the Frari church. This perhaps is his most studied work, whose patiently developed plan is set forth with supreme display of order and freedom, originality and style. Here Titian gave a new conception of the traditional groups of donors and holy persons moving in aerial space, the plans and different degrees set in an architectural framework.
Titian was now at the height of his fame, and towards 1521, following the production of a figure of St. Sebastian for the papal legate in Brescia (a work of which there are numerous replicas), purchasers pressed for his work.
To this period belongs a more extraordinary work, The Death of St. Peter Martyr (1530), formerly in the Dominican Church of San Zanipolo, and destroyed by an Austrian shell in 1867. Only copies and engravings of this proto-Baroque picture remain; it combined extreme violence and a landscape, mostly consisting of a great tree, that pressed into the scene and seems to accentuate the drama in a way that looks forward to the Baroque.
The artist simultaneously continued his series of small Madonnas which he treated amid beautiful landscapes in the manner of genre pictures or poetic pastorals, the Virgin with the Rabbit in the Louvre being the finished type of these pictures. Another work of the same period, also in the Louvre, is the Entombment. This was also the period of the three large and famous mythological scenes for the camerino of Alfonso d'Este in Ferrara, The Andrians and the Worship of Venus in the Prado, and the Bacchus and Ariadne (1520–23) in London, "...perhaps the most brilliant productions of the neo-pagan culture or "Alexandrianism" of the Renaissance, many times imitated but never surpassed even by Rubens himself." Finally this was the period when the artist composed the half-length figures and busts of young women, probably courtesans, such as Flora of the Uffizi, or Woman at the Mirror in the Louvre (the scientific images of this painting are available, with explanations, on the website of the French Center for Research and Restoration of the Museums of France).
Titian's wife, Cecilia--a barber's daughter from his hometown village of Cadore--was a young woman who had been his housekeeper and mistress for some 5 years. Cecilia had already borne Titian 2 fine sons, Pomponio and Orazio, when in 1525 she fell seriously ill. Titian, wishing to legitimize the children, married her. The marriage was a happy one and Cecilia recovered and bore him 2 more children, both daughters. Only one of them, Lavinia, survived. Titian's favorite child was Orazio, who became his assistant.
In August 1530 his wife died giving birth to daughter Lavinia, and with his two boys plus infant girl he moved house, and convinced his sister Orsa to come from Cadore and take charge of the household.
Meanwhle, about 1526 he had became acquainted, and soon exceedingly intimate, with Pietro Aretino, the influential and audacious figure who features so strangely in the chronicles of the time. Titian sent a portrait of him to Gonzaga, duke of Mantua.
During the next period (1530–1550), Titian developed the style introduced by his dramatic Death of St. Peter Martyr. The Venetian government, dissatisfied with Titian's neglect of the work for the ducal palace, ordered him in 1538 to refund the money which he had received, and Pordenone, his rival of recent years, was installed in his place. However, at the end of a year Pordenone died, and Titian, who meanwhile applied himself diligently to painting in the hall the Battle of Cadore, was reinstated. This major battle scene was lost along with so many other major works by Venetian artists by the great fire which destroyed all the old pictures in the great chambers of the Doge's Palace in 1577. It represented in life-size the moment at which the Venetian general, D'Alviano attacked the enemy with horses and men crashing down into a stream, and was the artist's most important attempt at a tumultuous and heroic scene of movement to rival Raphael's Battle of Constantine and the equally ill-fated Battle of Cascina of Michelangelo and The Battle of Anghiari of Leonardo (both unfinished). There remains only a poor, incomplete copy at the Uffizi, and a mediocre engraving by Fontana. The Speech of the Marquis del Vasto (Madrid, 1541) was also partly destroyed by fire. But this period of the master's work is still represented by the Presentation of the Blessed Virgin (Venice, 1539), one of his most popular canvasses, and by the Ecce Homo (Vienna, 1541). Despite its loss, the painting had a great influence on Bolognese art and Rubens, both in the handling of details and the general effect of horses, soldiers, lictors, powerful stirrings of crowds at the foot of a stairway, lit by torches with the flapping of banners against the sky.
Less successful were the pendentives of the cupola at Santa Maria della Salute (Death of Abel, Sacrifice of Abraham, David and Goliath). These violent scenes viewed in perspective from below-like the famous pendentives of the Sistine Chapel Ceiling-were by their very nature in unfavorable situations. They were nevertheless much admired and imitated, Rubens among others applying this system to his forty ceilings (the sketches only remain) of the Jesuit church at Antwerp.
At this time also, the time of his visit to Rome, the artist began his series of reclining Venuses (The Venus of Urbino of the Uffizi, Venus and Love at the same museum, Venus and the Organ-Player, Madrid), in which is recognized the effect or the direct reflection of the impression produced on the master by contact with ancient sculpture. Giorgione had already dealt with the subject in his Dresden picture, finished by Titian, but here a purple drapery substituted for a landscape background changed, by its harmonious coloring, the whole meaning of the scene.
Titian had from the beginning of his career shown himself to be a masterful portrait-painter, in works like La Bella (Eleanora de Gonzaga, Duchess of Urbino, at the Pitti Palace). He painted the likenesses of princes, or Doges, cardinals or monks, and artists or writers. "...no other painter was so successful in extracting from each physiognomy so many traits at once characteristic and beautiful", according to The Catholic Encyclopedia. Among portrait-painters Titian is compared to Rembrandt and Velázquez, with the interior life of the former, and the clearness, certainty, and obviousness of the latter.
The last-named qualities are sufficiently manifested in the Portrait of Paul III of Naples, or the sketch of the same pope and his two nephews, the Portrait of Aretino of the Pitti Palace, the Eleanora of Portugal (Madrid), and the series of Emperor Charles V of the same museum, the Charles V with a Greyhound (1533), and especially the Equestrian Portrait of Charles V (1548), an equestrian picture which as a symphony of purples is perhaps the ne plus ultra of the art of painting.
In 1532 after painting a portrait of the emperor Charles V in Bologna he was made a Count Palatine and knight of the Golden Spur. His children were also made nobles of the Empire, which for a painter was an exceptional honor.
As a matter of professional and worldly success his position from about this time is regarded as equal only to that of Raphael, Michelangelo, and at a later date Rubens. In 1540 he received a pension from D'Avalos, marquis del Vasto, and an annuity of 200 crowns (which was afterwards doubled) from Charles V from the treasury of Milan.
Another source of profit, for he was always aware of money, was a contract obtained in 1542 for supplying grain to Cadore, where he visited almost every year and where he was both generous and influential.
Titian had a favorite villa on the neighboring Manza Hill (in front of the church of Castello Roganzuolo) from which (it may be inferred) he made his chief observations of landscape form and effect. The so-called Titian's mill, constantly discernible in his studies, is at Collontola, near Belluno.
He visited Rome in 1546, and obtained the freedom of the city—his immediate predecessor in that honor having been Michelangelo in 1537. He could at the same time have succeeded the painter Sebastiano del Piombo in his lucrative office as holder of the piombo or Papal seal, and he was prepared to take holy orders for the purpose; but the project lapsed through his being summoned away from Venice in 1547 to paint Charles V and others in Augsburg. He was there again in 1550, and executed the portrait of Philip II which was sent to England and proved useful in Philip's suit for the hand of Queen Mary.
During the last twenty-six years of his life (1550–1576) the artist worked mainly for Philip II and as a portrait-painter. He became more self-critical, an insatiable perfectionist, keeping some pictures in his studio for ten years, never wearying of returning to them and retouching them, constantly adding new expressions at once more refined, concise, and subtle. He also finished off many copies of earlier works of his by his pupils, giving rise to many problems of attribution and priority among versions of his works, which were also very widely copied and faked outside his studio, during his lifetime and afterwards.
For Philip II he painted a series of large mythological paintings known as the "poesie", mostly from Ovid, which are regarded as among his greatest works. Thanks to the prudishness of Philip's successors, these were later mostly given as gifts and only two remain in the Prado. Titian was producing religious works for Philip at the same time. The "poesie" series began with Venus and Adonis, of which the original is in the Prado, but several versions exist, and Danaë, both sent to Philip in 1553. Diana and Actaeon and Diana and Callisto, were despatched in 1559, then Perseus and Andromeda (Wallace Collection, now damaged) and the Rape of Europa (Boston, Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum), delivered in 1562. The Death of Actaeon was begun in 1559 but worked on for many years, and never completed or delivered. Another painting that apparently remained in his studio at his death, and has been much less well known until recent decades, is the powerful, even "repellant", Flaying of Marsyas (Kroměříž, Czech Republic) Another violent masterpiece is the Tarquin and Lucretia (Cambridge, Fitzwilliam Museum).
For each of the problems which he successively undertook he furnished a new and more perfect formula. He never again equaled the emotion and tragedy of the The Crowning with Thorns (Louvre), in the expression of the mysterious and the divine he never equaled the poetry of the Pilgrims of Emmaus, while in superb and heroic brilliancy he never again executed anything more grand than The Doge Grimani adoring Faith (Venice, Doge's Palace), or the Trinity, of Madrid. On the other hand from the standpoint of flesh tints, his most moving pictures are those of his old age, such as the poesie and the Antiope of the Louvre. He even attempted problems of chiaroscuro in fantastic night effects (Martyrdom of St. Laurence, Church of the Jesuits, Venice; St. Jerome, Louvre; Crucifixion, Church of San Domenico, Ancona).
Titian had engaged his daughter Lavinia, to Cornelio Sarcinelli of Serravalle. She had succeeded her aunt Orsa, then deceased, as the manager of the household, which, with the lordly income that Titian made by this time, placed her on a corresponding footing. The marriage took place in 1554. She died in childbirth in 1560.
He was at the Council of Trent towards 1555, of which there is a finished sketch in the Louvre. Titian's friend Aretino died suddenly in 1556, and another close intimate, the sculptor and architect Jacopo Sansovino, in 1570. In September 1565 Titian went to Cadore and designed the decorations for the church at Pieve, partly executed by his pupils. One of these is a Transfiguration, another an Annunciation (now in S. Salvatore, Venice), inscribed Titianus fecit, by way of protest (it is said) against the disparagement of some persons who caviled at the veteran's failing handicraft.
Around 1560 Titian painted the oil on canvas Sacra Conversazione: The Madonna and Child with Saints Luke and Catherine of Alexandria, a derivative on the motif of Madonna and Child. It is suggested that members of Titian's Venice workshop probably painted the curtain and Luke, because of the lower quality of those parts.
He continued to accept commissions to the end of his life. He had selected as the place for his burial the chapel of the Crucifix in the Santa Maria Gloriosa dei Frari, the church of the Franciscan Order; in return for a grave, he offered the Franciscans a picture of the Pietà, representing himself and his son Orazio before the Savior, another figure in the composition being a sibyl. This work he nearly finished, but some differences arose regarding it, and he then settled to be interred in his native Pieve.
Titian was probably in his late eighties when the plague raging in Venice took him on 27 August 1576. He was the only victim of the Venice plague to be given a church burial. He was interred in the Frari (Santa Maria Gloriosa dei Frari), as at first intended, and his Pietà was finished by Palma the Younger. He lies near his own famous painting, the Madonna di Ca' Pesaro. No memorial marked his grave, until much later the Austrian rulers of Venice commissioned Canova to provide the large monument.
Titian himself never attempted engraving, but he was very conscious of the importance of printmaking as a means of further expanding his reputation. In the period 1517–1520 he designed a number of woodcuts, including an enormous and impressive one of The Crossing of the Red Sea, and collaborated with Domenico Campagnola and others, who produced further prints based on his paintings and drawings. Much later he provided drawings based on his paintings to Cornelius Cort from the Netherlands who engraved them. Martino Rota followed Cort from about 1558 to 1568.
Two of Titian's works in private hands have been up for sale. One of these works, Diana and Actaeon, was recently purchased by London's National Gallery and the National Galleries of Scotland on February 2, 2009 for ₤50 million ($71 million). The galleries had until December 31, 2008 to make the purchase before the work would be offered to private collectors, but the deadline was extended. The other painting, Diana and Callisto, will be up for sale for the same amount until 2012 before it is offered to private collectors.
The sale has created controversy with politicians who said "the money, some of which came from government funds, could have been spent more wisely during a deepening recession." The Scottish government offered ₤12.5 million and ₤10 million came from the National Heritage Memorial Fund. The rest of the money came from the National Galleries in London and from private donations.
In 2011, A Sacra Conversazione: The Madonna and Child with Saints Luke and Catherine of Alexandria, was put for an auction at Sotheby's, and it was sold on 28. January 2011 for $16.9 million, a record for any Titian's painting until then.
On February 11, 2009, an argument about Titian's age at death arose between British Prime Minister Gordon Brown, and Leader of the Opposition David Cameron at Prime Minister's Questions, where Cameron was attempting to ridicule Brown's general factual accuracy. This debate spilt over onto Titian's entry on Wikipedia, when an editor from Conservative Party HQ altered Titian's dates to substantiate David Cameron's claim and then directed the BBC to the article for them to use as verification. Cameron later apologized and said the staff member had been "disciplined". The precise date of Titian's birth is uncertain.