Tiziano Vecelli or Vecellio (c. 1477 August 27, 1576), commonly known as Titian, was one of the greatest 16th century Renaissance painters of Venice, Italy.
He was born at Pieve di Cadore (Friuli) in Italy, and died at Venice. He was commonly called during his lifetime Da Cadore, from the place of his birth, and has also been designated Il Divino.
Titian was one of a family of four and son of Gregorio Vecelli, a distinguished councilor and soldier, and of his wife Lucia.
At the age of ten Titian was brought to Venice and placed by his brother with the celebrated mosaicist, Sebastian Zuccato, but at the end of four or five years he entered the studio of the aged painter Giovanni Bellini, at that time the most noted artist in the city. There he 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 his earliest works; others were the Virgin and Child, in the Vienna Belvedere, and the Visitation of Mary and Elizabeth (from the convent of S. Andrea), now in the Venetian Academy.
Titian entered into partnership with Giorgione, and it is difficult to distinguish their early works. The earliest known work of Titian, the little Ecce Homo of the Scuola di San Rocco, was long regarded as the work of Giorgione. And the same confusion or uncertainty is connected with more than one of the Sacred Conversations.
St. John the Baptist, painted 1542.
The two young masters were likewise recognized as the two leaders of their new school of Arte moderna, that is of painting 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 execute frescoes on the re-erected Fondaco de Tedeschi. Titian and Morto da Feltre worked along with him, and some fragments of Titian's paintings remain. Some of their work is known to us in part through the engraving of Fontana.
An idea of Titian's talent in fresco may be gained from 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 from the life of St. Anthony of Padua, 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.
Among the religious paintings of this period may be mentioned that of Antwerp, The Doge Pesaro presented to St. Peter by Alexander VI (1508), and the beautiful St. Mark surrounded by Sts. Cosmas and Damian, Sebastian and Rocco (Venice, S. Maria della Salute, c. 1511).
Already the young master was in possession of his type of Virgins with powerful shoulders and somewhat rounded countenances, and in particular he had elaborated an extremely refined type of Christ, the most beautiful example of which is the wonderful Christ of The Tribute Money, at Dresden, a face whose delicacy, spirituality, and moral charm have never been surpassed by any other School. From the same period seems to date the Triumph of Faith, a subject borrowed from Savonarola's famous treatise, The Triumph of the Cross, and treated with a magnificent fire in the spirit of Mantegna's cartoons and Dürer's prints of the Triumph of Maximilian (cf. Male, L'art réligieux en France à la fin du moyen âge, 1908, 296 sqq.).
But what may be called the most enduring works of Titian's youth are the secular and indeterminately allegorical ones. An example is the charming picture of The Three Ages of Man, in the Ellesmere Gallery; such especially is the masterpiece in the Cassino Borghese, Profane and Sacred Love, whose meaning has never been successfully penetrated.
From Padua Titian in 1512 returned to Venice; and in 1513 he obtained a broker's patent in the Fondaco de Tedeschi (state-warehouse for the German merchants), termed La Sanseria or Senseria (a privilege much coveted by rising or risen artists), 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, upon the death of Bellini, that he came into actual enjoyment of his patent. At the same date an arrangement for painting was entered into with Titian alone, to the exclusion of other artists who had heretofore been associated with him. 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 which he executed was five.
Giorgione died in 1510 and the aged Bellini in 1516, leaving Titian after the production of such masterpieces without a rival in the Venetian School. For sixty years he was to be the absolute and undisputed head, the official master, and as it were the painter laureate of the Republic Serenissime. As early as 1516 he succeeded his old master Bellini as the pensioner of the Senate.
During this period (1516-1530) which may be called the period of his bloom and maturity, the artist freed himself from the traditions of his youth, undertook a class of more complex subjects and for the first time attempted the monumental style.
Salomé with the Head of John the Baptist, painted circa 1515 (Galleria Doria Pamphilj, Rome)
In 1518 he produced, for the high altar of the church of the Frari, one of his most world-renowned masterpieces, the Assumption of the Madonna, now in the Venetian Academy. It excited a vast sensation, being indeed the most extraordinary piece of colourist execution on a great scale which Italy had yet seen. The signoria took note of the facts and did not fail to observe that Titian was neglecting his work in the hall of the great council.
The theme of the Assumptionthat of uniting in the same composition two or three scenes superimposed on different levels, earth and heaven, the temporal and the infinitewas 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 Niccolo (1523, at the Vatican), each time attaining to a higher and more perfect conception, finally reaching an unsurpassable formula in the Pesaro retable, (1526), in the Church of the Frari at Venice. This perhaps is his most perfect and most studied work, whose patiently developed plan is set forth with supreme display of order and freedom, of 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.
Vecelli 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 became extremely urgent for his productions.
To this period belongs a still more extraordinary work, The Death of St. Peter of Verona (1530), formerly in the Dominican Church of San Zanipolo, and destroyed by an Austrian shell in 1867. There now exist only copies of this sublime picture (there is an excellent one at Paris in the Ecole des Beaux Arts). The association of the landscape with a scene of murdera rapidly brutal scene of slaying, a cry rising above the old oak-trees, a Dominican escaping the ambush, and over all the shudder and stir of the dark branchesthis is all, but never perhaps has tragedy more swift, startling, and pathetic been depicted even by Tintoretto or Delacroix.
The artist continued simultaneously his series of small Madonnas which he treated more and more 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 marvelous work of the same period, also in the Louvre, is the Entombment, surpassing all that has been done on the same subject. This was likewise the period of the exquisite mythological scenes, such as the famous Bacchanals of Madrid, and the Bacchus and Ariadne of (or Domenico Theotocopuli) was employed by the master to engrave from his works. It is said that Titian himself engraved on copper and on wood, but this may well be questioned.