Titian was the best painter that Venice had ever produced during the 16th century. His pool of clientele extends to Spain, making him an in-demand court artist during his professional career while these travels would have exposed him to different styles and techniques of painting. Therefore, it can be said that Titian was a significant figure not only of the Italian Renaissance but also of the Western Art.
Titian was one of the core founders of the Venetian School of Painting together with his master, Giovanni Bellini. He was a leader and a favorite of his contemporaries, giving him the description “The Sun Amidst Small Stars” that is taken out from one of the lines in Dante’s Paradiso. He was indeed the center of Venetian Art through his groundbreaking works like Salome with the Head of John the Baptist (1515), Venus and Organist and Little Dog, Bacchus and Danae (1556).
Tiziano Vecellio was born and raised in Pieve di Cadore, which was a town located at Dolomites, Venice. His family had been living in Cadore since 14th century and they have a noble reputation, with his grandfather being a lawyer and his father being a well-known military officer to the ruling family of Venice. His father, Gregorio Vecellio married Lucia sometime in the late 1470’s, and historians believe that Titian was born around 1490.
Titian had a brother named Francesco who he grew up with and shared the same interest as his, which must be painting. At a young age, the siblings were sent by their father to a relative in Venice to look for a master who’d train and work with them. In Venice, the Vecellio brothers met up with mosaic artist, Sebastian Zuccato, to help them arrange a meeting with Gentile Bellini. They got Zuccato’s recommendation to enter the Bellini studio, after which jumpstarted their early career.
After Gentile’s death, Titian’s apprenticeship was transferred to Giovanni Bellini who was already a significant painter of the city at that time. Titian had found a good company with other pupils, many of whom became popular in their respective career paths, such as Giorgio da Castelfranco, Lorenzo Lotto, Giovanni Palma da Serinalta and Sebastiano Luciani. Having this kind of social circle helped Titian to further pursue his career in painting as they influence each other. Meanwhile, his brother Francesco would have been working as an independent artist in Venice by that time.
One of the earliest paintings of Titian was a wall painting of Hercules on the Morosini Palace. His earliest works looked like those of Bellini particularly with the way he painted the Gypsy Madonna and the Visitation of Mary and Elizabeth. Both paintings evidently showed how Titian paid a great deal of attention to detail and clarity in the strokes and colors, which was Bellini-esque.
In 1509, Titian completed The Man with a Quilted Sleeve, in which Gerolamo Barbarigo’s figure was painted. It was also during this period when he entered the studio of Giorgione and worked as his assistant. He did some frescoes for the Fondaco dei Tedeschi warehouse which impressed the owners that later on Giorgione found Titian as a competitor rather than as his assistant. Both painters shared resemblance to how they paintings looked like that can be attributed to their style and training acquired through schooling in Venice. In fact, historians had once mistaken Titian’s work Christ Carrying the Cross for Scuola Grande di San Rocco was executed by Giorgione.
Titan was an in demand fresco artist in the 1500’s. From 1507 to 1511, he would have been completing some frescoes for the churches and monasteries in Venice and Padua. The one he painted for the Carmelite Church in Padua have been taken care well by art historians, which depict the life of Saint Anthony. After this stint, he moved back to Venice and received an award called La Sanseria that served as a token of appreciation of his artistic contributions to the city.
The golden age of Titian’s career is dated anywhere between 1516 and 1530. This was the time he finally came up with his own style of painting more diverse subjects and started painting life-size art works. It can’t be helped that Giorgione died in 1516 so the spotlight was then shifted to his works and name. He stepped out of Bellini and Giorgione’s shadows to become the most revered master of the Venetian school of painting.
After Giorgione died, he continued working on a high altarpiece entitled the Assumption of the Virgin for the Basilica di Santa Maria Gloriosa dei Frari. This particular painting was well-received for its vibrant colors and Titian’s skill in exercising this technique on a monumental scale, and this approach was rare in Italy during that time. Thus, Titian became the talk of the town and earned a place in the elite circle of painters in Venice.
The grand Asuumption painting was then followed by a series of phenomenal works. He did some more frescoes of San Domenico at Ancona, San Niccolo and Brescia which have been preserved in the museum of the Vatican Palace. Executing these paintings helped Titian to master his craft that he was able to develop an excellent approach to painting Pesaro Madonna for the Frari Church around 1519 to 1526. This masterpiece revealed the painter’s original style, form and quality that were rarely exercised in Italy.
In 1530, Titian had completed The Death of St. Peter Martyr for the Dominican Church of San Zanipolo, but was destroyed in 1867. Today, what survived of this image were mechanical and mass produced copies and its Baroque version. The painting’s theme was violence and a dramatic landscape, far from the usual works of Titian that usually consisted of charming landscapes that could provoke literary inspiration.
For example, the Virgin with the Rabbit was one of Titian’s works that looked very poetic with the tranquility and grace present on the faces of the figures. Subsequently, he continued painting mythological figures as his subject of art. He had The Andrians and the Worship of Venus and Bacchus and Ariadne as primary subjects of the said genre.
Titian was a painter who’s famous for his extreme talent in using colors to create larger than life works of art. It would seem that he has the closest affinity to colors than any other artists of his time which resulted to seemingly-alive paintings that could strike your senses, imprinting its image on your mind.
In 1553, Titian started painting Danae, a series of mythological paintings. This was commissioned by Alessandro Farnese and then supported by King Philip II of Spain later on. King Philip II was the first international client of Titian, which also made him the first painter to have had a foreign art patron. Danae became Titian’s most important work because it showcased his coloring skill and poetic interpretation of those mythological scenes.
Beyond 1530, Titian perfected a certain style that he utilized for painting Death of St. Peter Martyr although the Venetian government was disappointed about its outcome. This caused him to be fired from work and to return the money that the government had paid him. He was replaced by his arch rival, Pordenone, but this painter died a few years later. Consequently, he was reinstated by the government to paint the Battle of Cadore.
Towards the end of 1530, Titian’s commissions have been mainly portraits of noble men and women. He worked on La Bella, a portrait of the Duchess of Urbino Eleanora de Gonzaga which would be place at the Pitti Palace. In this work, Titian yet again showed how excellent he was in absorbing forms and figures to paint them. Moving forward, he painted portraits of cardinals, writers, princes and other artists that went highly successful.
In 1533, Titian has had international clients from the Iberian Peninsula and other parts of Europe. He made Isabella of Portugal a portrait and interpreted her as a woman of great magnitude of beauty and charm. He also created a series of portraits depicting the life of Emperor Charles V such as Charles with a Greyhound (1533) and the Equestrian Portrait of Charles V (1548).
Titian devoted the last two decades of his life to Philip II as the King’s court painter. The importance of this client prompted him to become a perfectionist more than he really was before and develop new styles to express human feelings in the painting. He became more concise and refined in painting figures and landscapes.
However, in August 1576, Titian died due to a high fever. His remains were buried in the Basilica di Santa Maria Gloriosa dei Frari while Palma il Giovane completed his last painting, which was a Pieta. In the Frari, his tomb was located close to Madonna di Ca Pesaro, his sensational painting that was produced in Venice.