Italia • 1477−1576
Titian, full in Italian Tiziano Vecellio or Tiziano Vecelli (born 1488/90, Pieve di Cadore, Republic of Venice—died August 27, 1576, Venice), one of the greatest Italian artists, the brightest representative of the Venetian School of Art of the Italian Renaissance.

Special art style of Titian Vecellio:

• The painter masterly worked with color that allowed for rendering subtle spiritual mood in portraits as well as for depicting grandiose dramatic events in his artworks on mythological or religious subjects. His coloration was the goal number one for many generations of painters that followed.
• Titian’s portraits have an unprecedented psychological depth and emotional authenticity.
• The painter used diagonal composition to create dynamics in his large-scale scenes.

Famous artworks by Titian: Danaë, Venus of Urbino, Saint Sebastian.

He was a tall stately highlander of proud bearing, eagle-like in profile” or “By his nature, Titian was silent, like a true highlander,” in such a way the artist is described in the sources about his life and artwork. He is quite often called “a highlander.” Neither was he one of those immortal highlanders from the famous movie, as some cinemaddicts could make a joke. Although he is certainly acknowledged as an immortal artist of the Italian Renaissance along with his great contemporaries, such as Leonardo, Michelangelo, and Rafael (only great Italians were called simply by their first names, omitting their family names). Nor was he a highlander because the painter lived to the age of the patriarchs. He died at the age of 96 or 99 (the exact date of his birth is still fiercely debated). It is all much simpler. Titian was a highlander because of his birth place. He was born in a city-fortress of Pieve di Cadore, a small town at the foot of the Dolomites on the northern Italian side of the Alps, the terrain with harsh climate and hard tempers.

Neither the Vecellio family, nor the whole town of Pieve di Cadore, a place of smiths, weavers and loggers, had a single artist among them. It was a common belief that one should make a living from the job that fed. The boys on a par with the adults worked in a blacksmith’s workshop or fell trees, the girls gathered berries and herbs to make dyes for the homespun cloth. Sunday mornings were spent in a church.

Once, when the family returned from the mass, Tiziano, the oldest son of Gregorio Vecellio and his wife, Lucia, used dyes from the home dyeworks and depicted Virgin Mary on a white wall of their house. One could easily recognize his mother's beautiful features in the image. Even though his father, a distinguished councilor and soldier, preferred the son being a notary, Lucia, nonetheless, insisted on sending him and his brother Francesco for apprenticeship to their uncle, a painter from Venice.

First, the Vecellio brothers gained their experience in the mosaicist workshop of Sebasian Zuccato. Then, they moved to a studio of the elderly Gentile Bellini whose works were highly appreciated outside the republic as well, including the Ottoman Empire, which helped a lot to strengthen international relations with Venice. Gentile opened his secrets of composition to the brothers, but he was dissatisfied with Titian’s drawings and assured him that he would never become an artist! So, the proud apprentice left for Giovanni Bellini, Gentile’s younger brother, whom Venetians affectionately called their favorite Giambellino.

Albrecht Dürer, the indisputable star of the German Renaissance, visited Venice and influenced on Titian’s becoming an artist. It was not only in mastering the art of drawing. From Dürer, he has learnt how to promote his paintings making them popular among as many people as possible. He has caught the idea that oil paintings could be shown only to a few viewers, but the engravings, produced in multiples, could give access to thousands of less well-off art collectors but helped with the cash flow. That is why Titian went in for engraving for some time, and later, he always used the assistance of the experienced engravers to copy his art works.

The shadow of Giorgione, another renowned painter of the Italian Renaissance, has been haunting Titian for all his life. They knew each other, but it`s unlikely that they were friends, for they had completely opposite temperaments. Giorgione possessed an amazing larger-than-life charisma; he was a favorite artist of Venetian intellectuals, a merry fellow, a musician and a roisterer. Titian, on the contrary, was exquisitely polite in his treatment, restrained and even phlegmatic. In 1508-09, they worked together on the decoration of the external walls of the ‘Fondaco dei Tedeschi’ in Venice, but the companionship went wrong due to their artistic rivalry.

A terrible plague came to Venice in 1510. More than 40,000 people died. Venetians were afraid to leave their houses not to get infected. All days long, gondolas, loaded with corpses, floated along the canals. Titian was working in his studio, when a friend came to him with a terrible news – the plague killed Giorgione! In a blink of an eye, the painter rushed to Giorgione's house. He came running over to the door of the deceased just when the personal belongings were being burnt: it was the only known way to get protected from the plague at that time. Titian managed to snatch several canvases from the fire. The Sleeping Venus was one of those. In a while, Giorgione's friends asked Titian to repaint some of the most badly damaged canvases. His consent has made a cruel joke with him, some of his paintings were later unfairly attributed to Giorgione's hand.

Unlike windy Giorgione, Titian was a profound thinker. He read a lot, penetrating deeply into the subjects. Nasty tongues even called him "slow-witted." His art style derived from his thinking peculiarity – he painted very slowly. If work on a painting had gone wrong, Titian usually turned the canvas face to wall for better times. Time and again, this continually led to scandals. Customers literally besieged him, reminding that he had missed all deadlines. The Venetian government was dissatisfied with Titian's neglect of the work on the battle scene commissioned to him in 1538. So Pordenone, his rival of those years, was installed to his place as the official painter to the Republic.

Titian has been painting Venetian doges and Roman popes, dukes, and kings for more than 70 years, but even noble status of his customers has not helped to speed up his work. We know about a letter from his annoyed patron, Alfonso I d'Este, duke of Ferrara, handed over to him by diplomatic channels, which states: "The artist Titian completely ignores us! He plays a bad game. This is going to end badly for him!" However, when the duke received Bacchanal of the Andrians, one of the Titian’s mythological scenes commissioned by Alfonso, he appreciated its perfection and came into a rapturous delight. Meanwhile, the painter applied himself diligently to the painting in the hall of the Cadore Battle and was reinstated as the official artist to Venice. Unfortunately, his major battle scene was lost along with many other major works of the Venetian artists by the great fire in 1577.

Titian had a powerful and solid nature. His body and soul co-existed in harmony avoiding any duality. Towards the end of his life only, when the High Renaissance came to its end and revealed tragic contradictions between the world and a man, Titian lost his faith in coming of the “golden age”, so much praised by the humanists, and his late works have acquired sounds emotionally alarming.

He was an incredibly firm, fit, tall, and handsome man who inherited strong health and had many love stories in his biography. Mostly, he had affairs with his models. To sit for Titian’s painting was a great honor for women of different social classes: he depicted the countesses and marquises. We know that he painted famous Lucrezia Borgia as well as Laura de' Dianti, her rival in beauty and nobility. The first one was an unfaithful wife of Alfonso d'Este, duke of Ferrara, and the other one was his mistress. For the artist, it was a pleasure likewise to paint courtesans. There were 11,000 women selling officially their love to men in his beloved Venice at that time.

His love affair with a beautiful Violante had a scandalous flavor. She was a daughter of his friend, a painter named Palma the Elder. The romantic affair with a man old enough to be her dad made Palma furious. Violante had never been following a strict moral code, she willingly agreed to be a model, not to Titian alone. Her beauty made a legend in Venice. One can recognize her traits in the most famous Titian’s works: Flora, Bacchanal of the Andrians, Sacred And Profane Love. In his Judith with the Head of Holofernes, the divinely beautiful Violante holds the severed head on a dish in her hands, and you can easily recognize Titian’s profile in it.

In 1510s, when visiting his relatives in Pieve di Cadore, Titian saw Cecilia Soldano who served to his mother. A sweet smart wholesome Cecilia astonished him. She was so different from the frivolous Venetian girls and the idle beauties of Ferrara and Padua. The painter left home, but he could not forget the impression she had made on him. His brother Francesco surprised him by talking Cecilia’s parents into letting the girl come to Venice. Wasn’t it a good job to take care of the brothers Vecellio household after all? Titian appreciated his brother’s commitment, but he did not dare to stay next to Cecilia for quite a long time.

She took care of the painter showing her maternal tenderness. She blushed red when he was reading his favorite erotic poems by Catullus and Ovidius, not even asking for more. His passion for Cecilia blinded him so much, that any other model could have seduced him any longer. Finally, the fortress fell. However, there could be no talks about their official marriage. They have been just lovers for a long time. Titian finally married Cecilia in 1525 to legitimize their children. His faithful mistress gave lives to their two sons, Pompeo (Pomponio) and Orazio. In five years` time, his wife died while giving birth to their daughter Lavinia. We can see her as an adult girl in the Girl with a Basket of Fruits.

The painter lived a long, happy, and impressive life. He gained renown as the greatest colorist of all times and was called “Titian Divine”. However, the plague that had once taken away Giorgione’s life took him on as well, in 1576, just around his 100th birthday. He was severely ill, but did not give up painting. One version speaks of him dying in his own studio with brushes in his hands, another one has it that he was holding his own canvas Maddalena penitente (Penitent St. Mary Magdalene).

Written by Anna Vcherashniaya
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