Titian, a painter of the Venetian school of the 16th century Renaissance, revolutionized the oil technique with his free and expressive brushwork. Famous for his religious paintings, he earned the name ‘Titian’ for his use of auburn color.
Titian (Tiziano Vecellio) was born in the small alpine village of Pieve di Cadore, Italy. He is believed to have been born in 1477 to Gregorio di Conte dei Vecelli, a distinguished councilor and soldier, and his wife Lucia.At about the age of ten, he and his elder brother Francesco were sent to Venice to be apprentices to Sebastiano Zuccato. About five years later, he moved up to study under the great Giovanni Bellini, the most celebrated artist in the city.
A fresco of Hercules is believed to be Titian’s earliest work. He partnered with Giorgio da Castelfranco (Giorgione) whom he had met when he was a student of Bellini. The two artists became the masters of the new school of ‘arte moderna’. The authorship of certain works of that period is still being disputed.
In 1507–1508, Titian assisted Giorgione, who was commissioned by the state, to create frescoes on the re-erected Fondaco dei Tedeschi. Upon Giorgione's death in 1510, the artist completed several works-in-progress, and began to win independent commissions of his own that would establish his reputation in Venice. His first major independent commission was for three frescoes on the life of St Antony of Padua in the Scuola del Santo, Padua, in 1511. They are noble and dignified paintings suggesting an almost central Italian firmness and monumentality.
Titian was requested to complete the paintings in the hall of the great council in the ducal palace, works left unfinished by Bellini who had died in 1516. With the deaths of Giorgione and Bellini, he was unrivaled in the Venetian School. He freed himself from the stylistic domination of Giorgione and took on more complex subjects, developing a method of his own. ‘Sacred and Profane Love’ (1515) reflects the artist’s dynamic style. He maintained his position as the leading painter of Venice until his death sixty years later.
The artist created the magnificent altarpiece ‘The Assumption of the Virgin’ (1516-18). Other famous ones include the ‘Pesaro altarpiece’ (1519-26) and ‘The Death of St Peter Martyr’ (1530). The most grandiose of pieces surpassed those of his contemporaries in both splendor and color.
In 1525 at the age of 51, Titian married a young lady named Cecilia who bore him four children. Upon her death in 1530, the artist’s vivacity gave way to a more restrained and meditative art expressed through subtlety of color. Historical scenes such as ‘Battle of Cadore’ and ‘War of Pisa’ are from this period.
Early in the 1540s, the artist came under the influence of central and north Italian Mannerism. In 1545, he made his first and only journey to Rome. He was deeply impressed by Michelangelo's works and the remains of antiquity. His focus on portraiture included prominent subjects such as ‘Pope Paul III’ (1546) and ‘Charles V’ (1548), Emperor of the Holy Roman Empire, who appointed him court painter. This new position subsequently earned him the rank of Count Palatine and Knight of the Golden Spur.
After 1550, a change in style occurred in a series of superb mythological paintings. Works such as ‘Danaë’ (1553) and ‘Rape of Europa’ (1559-62) were referred to as ‘poésie’ (poems) because they stood among the most formidable statements ever made of the elemental powers of nature.
Titian died in Venice at ninety-one on August 27, 1577. His last work was ‘Pieta'’ created for his own tomb and completed after his death by Palma il Giovane.