Archive for December, 2011

Final Paper

Monday, December 12th, 2011

Carolyn Higgins

Dr. Marjorie Och

ARTH 470Z.01

December 11, 2011

The Power of Color: Titian and Colorito

Venetian artists had an intense competition with central Italians and there was a constant back and forth between the two sides. Venetian artists found their breakthrough in the High Renaissance with Titian and his perfection of oil painting. But Titian’s importance goes past inspiring just Veniceand many consider him to be the “first painter in modern times to free the brush from the task of exactly describing tactile surfaces, volumes, and details, and to convert it into a vehicle for the direct perception of light through color and for the unimpeded expression of feeling.”[1] He did this by being the champion of colorito, the application of color. In his long career, Titian’s style changed drastically as he worked more with the medium and the canvas. This essay will examine Titian’s colorito in the development art, the importance of Venice in this development, and the significance of color and brushwork to his paintings in both style and meaning.

Italyat this time was not the unified state but groups of city-states that had plenty of conflict and competition. These people were not Italians but identified with their city as Florentines, Venetians, or Romans. City pride was one that could not be broken. Pride and competition was present in the art world with the competing schools of painting between Florenceand Venice. The Florentine style focused on disegno, the act of preparatory drawing. Artists would work first on separate paper or parchment to perfect their design before turning onto the canvas. Design was vital and drawing was the most important element for perfection. This idea started long before the High Renaissance because “the notion that drawing serves as a foundation for the arts of painting and sculpture had been expressed at least as early as Petrarch.”[2] Disegno was more than just for the perfection in painting, but it was the staple for all areas of art in the Renaissance: painting, sculpture, and architecture. InVenice, however, design was not the area of style that artists focused on the most. It was color and the application of color that was important when creating nature on canvas, the goal for Renaissance artists.

Colorito in Italian is a verb meaning the application of color and the process of painting. Titian’s color is important because it was different from what was being produced, but it was the physical process that was key to the style. The Venetians’ would draw directly on the canvas and create and change their design while painting. The artist “drew on the canvas with charcoal and paint rather than using the complicated drawing process” of the Florentines.[3] Venetians believed that coloring was the closest aspect of painting to nature. It was not disegno or “the muscular energy or movement of the figure…but the coloring – colorito – in all its variety and its blending is source of animation, of the pulse of life and likeness, in Venetian eyes.”[4]

The Venetians produced drawings but these artists did not generate as many drawings on paper as the Florentines, because they worked directly on the canvas. This method of work is what separates the two schools of Italian painting. Where as the Florentines were planning and perfecting their design on paper, the Venetians were instead drawing directly onto canvas. They would alter their design while painting, thus focusing on the brushwork and color that they were applying right onto the canvas. Titian was using an “empirical method, working his way through the design as it laid out on the primed canvas” which was a process he produced “slowly and carefully, always adjusting his forms and paint to achieve a premeditated effect and often strikingly original results.”[5]

Contemporary authors fueled this competition through biographies of artists, letters, and critical writings on the theories of art. These theories centered on the artist’s ability to imitate and copy nature, an idea studied greatly during the humanist and Renaissance times. In some instances “texts on disegno and colorito [in the mid-sixteenth century] probably reveal more about the topoi of literary debate than the practice of the painter with his brushes.”[6]

Giorgio Vasari, an artist and author of The Lives of the Artists, believed that disegno was the key to the perfection and naturalism in art. Vasari saw disegno as the main element of the three main branches of art: painting, architecture and sculpture. The critic saw Michelangelo as the hands sent from God to show the art world perfection and be the leader of the disegno style. Vasari writes that “drawing on paper fills the mind with beautiful conceits and teaches the painter to imagine al objects of Nature without always having to keep his drawings in front of him, or to conceal under the charm of colors his poor knowledge of how to draw.”[7] When looking at Vasari’s Life of Titian, the distinction between the two schools of colorito and disegno can be better understood.

Vasari wrote in his Life of Titian that it would have been better if Titian had learned how to draw like the Florentines. The author does not seem to be blaming Titian for his lack of draftsmanship but instead faults Venice and the line of Venetian artists. The tone of Vasari’s writing is almost sympathetic toward Titian, and he pities his lack of knowledge when trying to understand nature for the realism of his paintings. Vasari does comment highly on Titian’s use of color, however, and seems to believe that Titian’s style of painting is the best to come out of Venice, surpassing the Bellini family, stating “it was [just] a pity artisans in Venice did not learn to draw well from the beginning and that Venetian painters did not have a better method of study.”[8] Also important in the Life of Titian is Vasari’s observation that Titian’s style did change from his early career to his later career. The development of colorito is evident and seemingly goes farther away from disegno than Vasari can appreciate. He wishes Titian to stop painting during his older years so that he would not tarnish his own career. Vasari wrote in many of his Lives that artists had an old-age style and an artist’s judgment changes with age, and that for Titian “his last works are executed with such large and bold brush-strokes and in such broad outlines that they cannot be seen from close up.”[9] This old-age style that Vasari disproves of for Titian is something much more than just growing old but a new style of oil painting that surpasses the artists of the High Renaissance.

Another author and important critical figure of Renaissance Italy is Pietro Aretino. Aretino was a great poet and art critic who influenced the popularity of many artists, including Michelangelo and especially Titian. Aretino is from the small town of Arezzoin Tuscanybut spent the majority of his life in Veniceand wrote many poems and letters concerning how much he loved the city. In one letter to Andrea Gritti the Doge in 1530, Aretino writes that Veniceis “the nurse of all cities and the mother chosen by God to bestow more glory upon the world.”[10]  He had an interesting relationship with Titian; the two were great friends but also “perhaps this association resulted from pure self-interest” and profit for both.[11] Aretino sent Titian to many of the greatest patrons at the time, including Holy Roman Emperor Charles V and the Medici family. In his letters, Aretino writes highly of the color of Titian’s paintings. He explains the artist’s brush as creating life, that one unknown work “the flesh-tints so beautifully painted that they resemble snow streaked with vermillion, and seem to be warm and to pulsate with the very essence of life.”[12] It was a quite the relationship, and through the letters they wrote to each other “they seem to have agreed about everything, from types of feminine beauty to the misdeeds of princes, as well as in all problems of painting techniques.”[13]

Aretino was not solely praising Titian’s style, however, and was also an admirer of Michelangelo and the Florentine style. He would often times send Titian to a patron but then quietly remind these people of Michelangelo’s work. Aretino was also critical of Titian’s late style, such as Vasari. In his portrait done by the artist in 1545, Aretino believed it to be unfinished. This change of style was revolutionary and important but at this time contemporaries like Aretino saw “this daring application of paint, which re-creates the feeling and sense of the material world rather than minutely describing it, [disturbing], leading him to suggest that Titian had left the painting unfinished.”[14] It is important to note that scholars today are careful of Aretino’s writings and criticism because the author seemed to love himself more than anyone else and that his writing was “too much filled with a sense of his own importance to be a reliable reporter.”[15]

The last contemporary author, Lodovico Dolce, was competing with Vasari’s theory on painting. In his work, L’ Aretino, Dolce writes about his thought on painting but it seems his “intention [was] to persuade [his readers] that besides Michelangelo, many have achieved artistic excellence, although the finest remain Michelangelo, Raphael, and Titian.”[16] Dolce saw nothing wrong with what Titian was doing with oil painting and believed it was the greatest work being made at the time. Dolce does discuss more than the competition of the two Italian schools, and defines what the meaning of painting is to him. He sees painting as “nothing other that the imitation of art” and its purpose was to “express ‘the thoughts and feelings of the spirit.’”[17] The common theory at this time which Dolce writes about concerns the idea there were three categories to consider when producing a painting: invention, design, and color. His main goal, however, seemed to focus on increasing the fame of Titian and Raphael, and decreasing the power of Michelangelo.

As it can be understood from these three critics, contemporary people understood the distinction and the competition of the two styles. The artists, themselves, were not oblivious to other styles but made conscious decisions to follow one of the two. Titian traveled all over Europe, after 1543, and studied the work of other High Renaissance artists such as Michelangelo and Raphael.[18] He drew and studied many pieces, like the Battle of Cascina by Michelangelo and the Battle of Anghiari by Leonardo da Vinci in Florence (fig.1 & fig. 2). Titian’s development and understanding of colorito was a conscious decision and he did not change his style to be more design focused after his travels. He talked to Vasari and was visited by Michelangelo, so he would have understood disegno, but he did not want to follow the style of the Florentine school. He was not producing sculpture or architectural plans like many central Italians because for Titian it was about the painting alone and all the characteristics, such as brushwork and painting. The commonality of these schools centered on the idea that the end result of a work should imitate and depict nature to the best of the artist’s abilities. As the humanists believed, depicting nature was depicting perfection. The Venetian and Florentines just took different methods to reach this goal.

Titian was aided in the development of colorito by Venice itself.  The city was one of the most important trade routes in all of Europe at this time. The number of immigrants and merchants coming into the city was immense and created a culture emphasized by the amount of difference. Because Venice was an important base for many different cultures coming together, “the Venetian eye was – in consequence – practiced and discriminated as to pattern, color, quality, and material.”[19] The artists’ influences extended beyond antiquity, the main inspiration for cities like Rome, and were influenced also by the styles coming in from the East. The best example of this combination of styles is on the basilica of San Marco in Venice whose façade was “the collage-like assemblage of ‘borrowed’ fragments” so that Venetians could “[appreciate] the visual complexity of the pastiche” of different cultures.[20] This amount of information and material coming intoVenice also would give artisans more freedom and more choices in material and style.

Venetian artists utilized canvas as the base to their paintings. Tied to the fact that Venicewas a ship-building town and the material was more readily available, canvas brought an additional level to the achievement in oil painting, something that Titian would greatly use to his advantage. Canvas is an important to colorito, because there is a focus on the physical application of the paint onto the courser material. It was a relationship between surface and medium that had never been seen before where the “oil paint was either brushed or dragged across it in thin patches to allow texture of the canvas to show through, or else it was applied in thick impasto strokes further to emphasize the surface.”[21]

Venetian artists focused on one medium for their whole career. This was not the way many artists worked elsewhere, where an artist was not just a painter, but also a sculptor and architect. Not every artist would be working in more than one field but artists who were on a similar level of fame as Titian did seem to experiment in other mediums. A comparison between Titian and Michelangelo can explain this even further. Michelangelo is a constant enemy to Titian in the art history field because of their similarities in power but also their extreme difference in style. It is an interesting comparison, however, because their paintings are discussed even though Michelangelo believed himself to be a sculptor above everything else. He was producing plans for many architectural programs and was producing the frescos in the Sistine Chapel at the same time. Michelangelo only completed one painting on panel, the Doni Tondo in 1505, where Titian worked only briefly with fresco and focused his whole career on the perfection of canvas painting (fig.3).

Titian’s birth year is unknown but he was likely to be born around 1490; career as a painter lasted for sixty-eight years.[22] When he moved to Venice at a young age, Titian began studying and working with Giovanni Bellini sometime before 1505. The style of art that the Bellini family had been producing was not what Titian desired to create. Perhaps this was because Giovanni was very old, he died in 1510, and his style might have seemed out of date to Titian. It would be Giorgione’s style that Titian would begin to develop and make his own. There are many instances of Titian completing Giorgione’s work, for example the Sleeping Venus (fig. 4). Titian, however, was not studying directly from the painters before him but took elements of many styles and created his own style to put on the canvas.

Titian had a great knowledge of the city of Veniceand the art that was in the international trade center. Titian studied the great number of mosaics that were present in the city, like the façade of San Marco. Dolce writes that Titian, when he arrived in Veniceat the age of eight, first studied with the mosaicist Zuccato before working in the Bellini studio.[23] This study of mosaics helps the artist with his color choice because mosaics played with light and color. A mosaic had to be planned out prior to its creation with extremely detailed measurement, thus Titian understood preparatory planning. His use of color and colorito would become a conglomerate of all different styles but became something revolutionary.

The Assumption of the Virgin, commissioned in 1516, is the first large scale work that Titian completed it in 1518 for the Basilica of Santa Maria Gloriosa dei Frari in Venice (fig.5). One of the characteristics that link the Assumption to an early period of Titian’s work is that it is on panel and not canvas, so the style is not the extreme painterly quality of later works. With this panel support, the work is more glossy and precise in style than if it was on a canvas. But the color of this work is revolutionary and Titian used color to create meaning. The entire church is large and highly decorated, but this work stood out among all of the architectural detail. The color of the heavens, painted by Titian, matches the gold detail of the architecture around it. The light created by the color as well as its monumental figures enhance its visibility even though Vasari writes when he visited the church that “little of it can be seen” because he believes it might have been “poorly cared for.”[24]

This work is separated into two episodes, the “the departure of the Virgin from this earth and her reception in Heaven.”[25] What is new about this altarpiece is that within the whole panel there are three realms, “the earth-bound apostles, the soaring Madonna and accompanying angels, and the heavenly dominion of the welcoming God the Father.”[26] Although there are these separate sections, Titian uses his application and choice of color to create a cohesive narrative. This was a new way of approaching this scene. The artist was representing two different moments on one panel and using color as an element tying the two together so it doesn’t become confusing to understand for the viewer.

There are not many different colors but different tones of the same colors in this work. The piece has rosy and golden features that remains the same throughout the whole piece, even though in heaven, it is more greatly displayed. There are connections throughout all three realms with the same colors. The reds of the garments echo through out as do the blue hues, and the piece is “tuned to a full harmony” with these colors.[27] This element brings meaning to moment. These colors lead the viewers’ eyes to move up the painting, perhaps creating the feeling of helping the Virgin along to her rightful throne. She moves in a great sweeping movement, with fabric swirling around her brilliantly, only highlighted more by the same journey of colors. It is this application and “simplification of the coloring [that] enhances the impression of certainty, inevitability, and sanctity.”[28]

Titian’s use of the competition of dark and light supports the impression and drama of this work, which Dolce writes is one of the “principal [parts] of colorito.”[29] At the bottom of the panel the colors are darker so the apostles seem to emerge from the shadows and “stand out like silhouettes.”[30] In Heaven, God is very dark in contrast to the golden burst of heaven that helps him stand out in a sweeping rush. In this work, Titian has used light to enhance his figures as well as enhance the meaning of the moment. The gold light lifts the Virgin upward. God is highlighted against the head of the putti. The light explodes behind of the body of God, who cuts through the painting in a diagonal movement, supported by his cape-like drapery that fades directly into the light.

Even though not as extreme as will be understood in later works, Titian has utilized color in a new way by creating the amazing Assumption of the Virgin. The monks who commissioned this work, however, were taken aback when they viewed it and at first rejected it. The problem that the monks had with this work was the “heightening of the sensual effect” that Titian was creating in this work through his figures. His reality that he displays and “this aesthetic motive endows the picture with a worldly and theatrical element” that was new for this conservative monks who were still used to the medieval style of art not these bold colors and figures that “enhanced expression of a subjective sensual experience.”[31] An example of this sensuality is seen in the putti below and next to the Virgin. These figures are fully fleshed out and pose in a realistic but sensual manner. However, the Assumption of the Virgin was accepted by the monks and is still located in the church today.

Years after the Assumption was completed, Titian completed the work, Venus with a Mirror in 1555 (fig. 6). Titian was a very important portrait artist and also produced many mythological pieces, this work being a mix of the two. The representation of the female nude is one of the most important elements for an artist in Renaissance Italy to perfect. But the idea of naturalism in the form is different between Venice and central Italy. In central Italy, artists studied directly from figures and in many cases, study human cadavers to advance a figure’s realism. Here Titian is showing the ideal woman but through the application of color and the relationship of the medium with the canvas. This type of woman would become the “epitome of the theme” of Venus and the representation of beauty.[32] Dolce wrote, that along with the contrast of dark and light, “the principal difficulty of colorito resides in the imitation of flesh and involves diversifying the tones and in achieving softness” which Titian was perfecting with his Venus.[33]

There are many elements to this work that show how well Titian worked both the medium and the canvas. The mirror becomes an important object to include in painterly quality works. The mirror’s reflective quality led to the painter’s ability “enhance his representation of an object to include a full 360 degrees,” which will help them imitate nature.[34] This quality was important for the method and medium of oil painting and the colorito by being “responsive to the challenge of representing luminosity and surface tension.”[35] This important addition to this style of “the juxtaposition of female flesh and reflecting surface would become especially important to the Venetian development of the oil medium…particularly with the use of a thicker impasto that gave new material substance to the medium.”[36]

Observed in Venus’s garment, Titian’s coloring and brushwork advanced. The red velvet folds perfectly in the light and seems to breathe on the canvas. Titian uses this garment to “[play a] role in enhancing tactile invitation” because of the garment’s “varied textures – of rich velvet, etched embroidery, and, especially, deep fur lining – set off the broad display of her exposed flesh.”[37] To the right of the painting, the black and yellow stripped fabric shows that Titian wanted his brushstrokes to be seen. They are not straight lines by any means, creating the illusion that it is being stepped on, and in many cases there is more paint present on one line then on another. It is a physical work because it remains in the moment of painting that Titian wanted the viewer to experience.

Titian’s style seemed to shift in his mature years from the late 1530s on. He changed his style even more and his work from this period barely echoes that of his early works. The brushwork was more pronounced and his colors more sweeping. His works seem to take an even more personal turn where patronage was not his main goal. When Michelangelo was fighting his salvation in his old age, Titian seemed to be fighting the canvas and paints creating works that have as much a physical story as a literary one.

Contemporary writers did not shy away from this change in Titian’s work and commented on it throughout their writings. Vasari saw this changing style as negative because Titian was moving further and further away from a focus on design. Aretino seemed confused by the change in style. Aretino sent a portrait of himself by Titian to Cosimo de’ Medici along with a note stating that work must just be unfinished (fig. 7). It was not a senile artist who was producing these works; however, it was one who was experimenting and perfecting the medium that had given him much fame.

Perhaps the best example of Titian’s late style and his method of colorito is the Rape of Europa, a painting sent to Phillip II, the King of Spain in 1562 (fig. 8). Titian called this work a “poesie” meaning it was a “poetic [interpretation] of themes of divine love from Greek mythology and Roman sources.”[38] This term goes along with the theory of painting that Dolce discusses in his writings that painting should be the same as a poem just through a different medium, “lines and colors.”[39] There was a mood that painting was supposed to create for the viewer like the lines of a poem would evoke.

It is obvious when observing this work that Titian is getting further away from a non-painterly quality than ever before. This painting shows the development of Titian’s application of color, called pittura di macchia or spot painting.[40] Many scholars see this as second revolution of oil painting. This new application of painting was not only for aesthetic purposes but also brought new meaning to the work. Titian created an experience for the viewer that is brand new, something that they could interact with and see the painting on both an emotional and physical level. Titian made his brushstrokes and sweeping color seen in a way that was never done before. He was interacting with not only the paint but also the canvas, showing how the interaction of base and medium could be used to the artist’s advantage. Examining some of the elements of the Rape of Europa will only make this revolution in painting more apparent.

The color tonalities of this work continually go back to the meaning of the painting. On one side of the work there is a rosy-red color where Titian showcased the under-painting of the painting and created a mood that “evokes the passion of the moment.”[41] Europa is leaving this warm area of her world and being taken into a cold maritime world of dark blue hues. Here is a contrast of dark and light suggests passion but also the known and unknown worlds.

An important moment for the central Italians during the early Renaissance was depicting atmospheric perspective. These early Renaissance painters utilized mathematics and linear details to create perspective that enhanced the realism of the work. Titian utilized his paint to show atmospheric pressure rather than the techniques of the central Italian artists. In this work, it is “the very build-up of paint [that] brings the object rendered that much closer to the viewer.”[42] In the other direction, with the objects far away have very little paint and the canvas shows through much more so much so the viewer has a new experience with the painting then ever before because they are “invited not to stand back and squint until a focused illusion is obtained, but rather to approach, to respond to the tactile appeal of articulated stroke and surface.”[43]

This is a painting about physical desire and Titian created a very physical painting, a canvas that the viewers had to interact with, a tactile experience. The visible, sweeping brushstrokes only highlight the moment of the story, when Europa is being swept away. The figure of Europa is also another great example from this work that shows the progression of colorito. It was the process of applying the paint that brought another level of meaning to this work. Titian, along with a brush, used his fingers to create the full, fleshy figure. It was the “vivid, fluid effects he sought, conveys through color the emotion at the heart of the painting.”[44]

The Rape of Europa was copied many times by great artists and inspired entire movements of art because of this new painterly style that had never been seen before. It was a piece composed of many elements, each of which was “a gleam of light, a strip of color which passes before [ones] eyes like a dream.”[45] What is so amazing about this work is that it was produced by a man whose style surpassed the influence of the ancients and other Italian masters. Titian was on another level from his contemporaries and his colorito will forever be his greatest accomplishment.

Titian’s development of colorito was a conscious decision. He traveled through Italy and met artists such as Michelangelo and understood a style with focus on disegno. He experimented with brushwork and color to create a mood and tone in his work. His paintings changed ideas in the theories of art that had been so important in Renaissance Italy. Though his brushwork did change and become more physical during the later years, his colorito was evident in his early compositions as well, seen in the importance of color in the Assumption of the Virgin. He made his color and brushwork a character in his works that only emphasized the meaning and mood of the paintings. It was his ability to utilize color to its extremes, something “he never tortured or forced, but let it stream out free and unfettered” leading him to be “the first painter to entrust his power of expression almost entirely to color.”[46]

This rivalry of two major schools of painting from two powerful cities can be seen not only in the painting and drawings of the artists but also in the way art was produced and the bickering of contemporary writers. Titian was in the center of this competition with central Italians, especially Michelangelo, but the paintings that Titian created were something revolutionary that had never been seen before. His paintings and had meaning through the color and how he worked the paint. He advanced oil painting and worked with the physical aspects of the canvas to create an entire new level for the viewer’s experience. This sweeping visibility of his brushwork progressed throughout his career when it got to a point where his style was drastically different. However, all of Titian’s paintings, early or late, commissioned or not, had one thing in common: color being a complete character in the work and bringing all the elements together into a beautiful and emotional design.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 



Notes

 

[1] Frederick Hartt, History of the Italian Renaissance, (New York: Harry N. Abrams Inc., 1994), 586.

[2] Robert Williams, Art, Theory, and Culture in Sixteenth-Century Italy, (New York: Cambridge University Press, 1997), 16.

[3] Bruce Cole, Titian and Venetian Paintings: 1450-1590, (Boulder, CO: Westview Press, 1999), 70.

[4] Paul Hills, Venetian Colour: Marble, Mosaic, Painting and Glass 1250-1550, (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1999), 216.

[5] Cole, Titian and Venetian Paintings, 70.

[6] Hills, Venetian Colour: Marble, Mosaic, Painting and Glass 1250-1550, 219.

[7] Giorgio Vasari, The Lives of the Artists, Trans. Julia Conaway Bondanella and Peter Bondanella, (New York: Oxford Press, 1998), 490.

[8] Vasari, The Lives of the Artists, 501.

[9] Ibid, 508.

[10] Pietro Aretino, Selected Letters, Trans. By George Bull, (New York: Penguin Books, 1976), 65.

[11] Cole, Titian and Venetian Paintings, 138.

[12] Aretino, Selected Letters, 68.

[13] James Cleugh, The Divine Aretino, (New York: Stein and Day, 1965), 184.

[14] Cole, Titian and Venetian Paintings, 139.

[15] Hans Tietze, Titian: The Paintings and Drawings, (London: Phaidon Press Ltd., 1950), 1.

[16] D. R. Wright, “Structure and Significance in Dolce’s L’Aretino,” The Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism 45, no. 3 (Spring 1987): 278, http://www.jstor.org/stable/431456 (accessed November 7, 2011).

[17] Wright, “Structure and Significance in Dolce’s L’Aretino,” 277.

[18] Encyclopedia Britannica Online, s.v. “Titian,” accessed December 5, 2011, http://www.britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/597229/Titian.

[19] Patricia Fortini Brown, Art and Life in Renaissance Venice, (Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall, 1997), 23.

[20] Brown, Art and Life in Renaissance Venice, 23.

[21] Ibid, 32.

[22] Hartt, History of the Italian Renaissance, 586.

[23] Ibid, 586.

[24] Vasari, The Lives of the Artists, 494.

[25] Tietze, Titian: The Paintings and Drawings, 19

[26] Cole, Titian and Venetian Paintings, 78.

[27] Tietze, Titian: The Paintings and Drawings, 20.

[28] Ibid, 20.

[29] Hills, Venetian Colour: Marble, Mosaic, Painting and Glass 1250-1550, 220.

[30] Tietze, Titian: The Paintings and Drawings, 20.

[31] Ibid, 20.

[32] Frederick Ilchman, Titian, Tintoretto, Veronese: Rivals in Renaissance Venice, (Boston: MFA Publications, 2009), 185.

[33] Hills, Venetian Colour: Marble, Mosaic, Painting and Glass 1250-1550, 220.

[34] Ilchman, Titian, Tintoretto, Veronese: Rivals in Renaissance Venice, 185.

[35] Ibid, 185.

[36] Ibid, 185.

[37] Ibid, 185.

[38] Hilliard T. Goldfarb, David Freedberg, and Manuela B. Mena Marques, Titian and Rubens: Power, Politics, and Style, (Boston: Trusteets of the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum, 1998), 12.

[39] Wright, “Structure and Significance in Dolce’s L’Aretino,” 277.

[41] Goldfarb et al, Titian and Rubens: Power, Politics, and Style, 12.

[42] Rosand, “Titian and the Eloquence of the Brush,” 93.

[43] Ibid, 93.

[44] Goldfarb et al, Titian and Rubens: Power, Politics, and Style, 19.

[45] Tietze, Titian: The Paintings and Drawings, 45.

[46] Ibid, 55.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Conclusion

Monday, December 12th, 2011

Titian’s development of colorito was a conscious decision. He traveled through Italy and met artists such as Michelangelo. He experimented with brushwork and color to create a mood and tone in his work. His paintings changed ideas in the theories of art that had been so important in Renaissance Italy. Though his brushwork did change and become more physical during the later years, his colorito was evident in his early compositions as well, seen in the importance of color in theAssumption of the Virgin. He made his color and brushwork a character in his works that only emphasized the meaning and mood of the paintings. It was his ability to utilize color to its extremes, something “he never tortured or forced, but let it stream out free and unfettered” leading him to be “the first painter to entrust his power of expression almost entirely to color.”[i]

Image Credit to Carolyn Higgins

This rivalry of two major schools of painting from two powerful cities can be seen not only in the painting and drawings of the artists but also in the way art was produced and the bickering of contemporary writers. Titian was in the center of this competition with central Italians, especially Michelangelo, but the paintings that Titian created were something revolutionary that had never been seen before. His paintings breathed and had meaning through the color and how he worked the paint. He advanced oil painting and worked with the physical aspects of the canvas to create an entire new level for the viewer’s experience. This sweeping visibility of his brushwork progressed throughout his career when it got to a point where paintings looked drastically different. However, all of Titian’s paintings, early or late, commissioned or not, had one thing in common: color being a complete character in the work and bringing all the elements together into a beautiful and emotional design.


[i] Hans Tietze, Titian: The Paintings and Drawings, (London: Phaidon Press Ltd., 1950), 55.

Thoughts on Titan’s Mature Style

Monday, December 12th, 2011

Many critics believe that many artists have an “old-age” style in their later works. Titian’s style did seem to shift in his mature years from the late 1530s on. He changed his style even more and his work from this period barely echoes that of his early works. The brushwork was more pronounced and his colors more sweeping. When Michelangelo was fighting his salvation in his old age, Titian seemed to be fighting the canvas and paints creating works that have as much a physical story as a literary one.

Contemporary writers did not shy away from this change in Titian’s work and commented on it throughout their writings. The development of colorito is evident and seemingly goes farther away from disegno than Giorgio Vasari could appreciate. He wishes Titian to stop painting during his older years so that he would not tarnish his own career. Vasari wrote in many of his Lives that artists had an old-age style and an artist’s judgment changes with age, and that for Titian “his last works are executed with such large and bold brush-strokes and in such broad outlines that they cannot be seen from close up but appear perfect from a distance.”[i]

Image Credit to ARTstor

Pietro Aretino also seemed confused by the change in Titian’s work. In his portrait done by the artist, Aretino believed it to be unfinished. This change of style was revolutionary and important but at this time contemporaries like Aretino saw “this daring application of paint, which re-creates the feeling and sense of the material world rather than minutely describing it, [disturbing], leading him to suggest that Titian had left the painting unfinished,” which he wrote in a letter to Cosimo de’ Medici.[ii]

It was not a senile artist who was producing these works; however, it was one who was experimenting and perfecting the medium that had given him much fame.

 


[i] Giorgio Vasari, The Lives of the Artists, Trans. Julia Conaway Bondanella and Peter Bondanella, (New York: Oxford Press, 1998), 508.

[ii] Bruce Cole, Titian and Venetian Paintings: 1450-1590, (Boulder, CO: Westview Press, 1999), 139.

The Rape of Europa

Monday, December 12th, 2011

Perhaps the best example of Titian’s late style and his method of colorito is the Rape of Europa (fig. 4), a painting sent to Phillip II, the King of Spain in 1562.

It is obvious when observing this work that Titian is getting further away from refinement than ever before. This painting shows the development of Titian’s application of color, called pittura di macchia or spot painting.[iii] Many scholars see this as second revolution of oil painting. This new application of painting was not only for aesthetic purposes but also brought new meaning to the work. Titian created an experience for the viewer that is brand new, something that they could interact with and see the painting on both an emotional and physical level. Titian made his brushstrokes and sweeping color seen in a way that was never done before. He was interacting with not only the paint but also the canvas, showing how the interaction of base and medium could be to the artist’s advantage.

The entire color tone of this work continually goes back to the meaning of the painting. On one side of the work there is a rosy-red color where Titian showcased the under-painting and creating a mood that “evokes the passion of the moment.”[iv] Europa is leaving this warm area of her world and being taken into a maritime world of dark blue hues. Here is a contrast of dark and light suggests passion but also the known and unknown worlds.

Image Credit to ARTstor

An important moment for the central Italians during the early Renaissance was the effect of atmospheric perspective. These early Renaissance painters utilized mathematics and linear details to create perspective that enhanced the realism of the work. Titian utilized his paint to show atmospheric pressure rather than the techniques of the central Italian artists. In this work, it is “the very build-up of paint [that] brings the object rendered that much closer to the viewer.”[v] In the other direction, with the objects far away have very little paint and the canvas shows through much more so much so the viewer has a new experience with the painting then ever before because they are “invited not to stand back and squint until a focused illusion is obtained, but rather to approach, to respond to the tactile appeal of articulated stroke and surface.”[vi]

Image Credit to ARTstor

This is a painting about physical desire and Titian created a very physical painting, a canvas that the viewers had to interact with, a tactile experience. The visible, sweeping brushstrokes only highlight the moment of the story, when Europa is being swept away. The figure of Europa is also another great example from this work that shows the progression of colorito. It was the process of applying the paint that brought another level of meaning to this work. Titian, along with a brush, used his fingers to create the full, fleshy figure. It was the “vivid, fluid effects he sought, conveys through color the emotion at the heart of the painting.”[vii]

The Rape of Europa was copied many times by great artists and inspired entire movements of art because of this new painterly style that had never been seen before. It was a piece composed of many elements, each of which was “a gleam of light, a strip of color which passes before [ones] eyes like a dream.”[viii] What is so amazing about this work is that it was produced by a man who had not started in this style and was an artist of the High Renaissance, even though his style surpassed the influence of the ancients and other Italian masters. Titian was on another level from his contemporaries and his style of colorito will forever be his greatest accomplishment.


[i] Hilliard T. Goldfarb, David Freedberg, and Manuela B. Mena Marques, Titian and Rubens: Power, Politics, and Style, (Boston: Trusteets of the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum, 1998), 12.

[ii] Wright, 277.

[iii] Rosand, 85.

[iv] Titian and Rubens, 12.

[v] David Rosand, “Titian and the Eloquence of the Brush,” Artibus et Historiae 2, No. 3 (1981), 93.

[vi] Rosand, 93.

[vii] Goldfarb, 19.

[viii] Tietze, 45.

Venus with a Mirror

Monday, December 12th, 2011

Years after the Assumption was completed, Titian completed the work that would lead to numerous copies, Venus with a Mirror. Titian was a very important portrait artist and also produced many mythological pieces, this work being a mix of the two. The representation of the female nude is one of the most important items for an artist in Renaissance Italy to perfect. But the idea of naturalism in the form is different between Venice and Central Italy. Here Titian is showing the ideal woman but through the application of color and the relationship of the medium with the canvas. This type of woman would become the “epitome of the theme” of Venus and the representation of beauty.[i] Dolce wrote, that along with the contrast of dark and light, “the principal difficulty of colorito resides in the imitation of flesh and involves diversifying the tones and in achieving softness” which Titian was perfecting with his Venus.[ii]

Image Credit to National Gallery of Art

There are many elements to this work that show how well Titian worked both the medium and the canvas. The mirror becomes an important object to include in painterly quality works. The mirror’s reflective quality led to the painter’s ability “enhance his representation of an object to include a full 360 degrees,” which will help them imitate nature.[iii] This quality was important for the method and medium of oil painting and the style ofcolorito by being “responsive to the challenge of representing luminosity and surface tension.”[iv] This important addition to this style of “the juxtaposition of female flesh and reflecting surface would become especially important to the Venetian development of the oil medium…particularly with the use of a thicker impasto that gave new material substance to the medium.”[v]

Image credit to National Gallery of Art

Observed in Venus’s garment, Titian’s coloring and brushwork advanced. The red velvet folds perfectly in the light and seems to breathe on the canvas. Titian uses this garment to “[play a] role in enhancing tactile invitation” because of the garment’s “varied textures – of rich velvet, etched embroidery, and, especially, deep fur lining – set off the broad display of her exposed flesh.”[vi] To the right of the painting, the black and yellow stripped fabric shows that Titian wanted his brushstrokes to be seen. They are not straight lines by any means, creating the illusion that it is being stepped on, and in many cases there is more paint present on one line then on another. It is a physical work because it remains in the moment of painting that Titian wanted the viewer to experience.


[i] Frederick Ilchman, Titian, Tintoretto, Veronese: Rivals in Renaissance Venice, (Boston: MFA Publications, 2009), 185.

[ii] Hills, 220.

[iii] Ilchman, 185.

[iv] Ilchman, 185.

[v] Ilchman, 185.

[vi] Ilchman, 185.

The Assumption of the Virgin

Monday, December 12th, 2011

The Assumption of the Virgin, commissioned in 1516, is the first large scale work that Titian completed it in 1518 for the Basilica of Santa Maria Gloriosa dei Frari in Venice. The color of this work is revolutionary and Titian used color to create meaning.

Within the whole panel there are three realms, “the earth-bound apostles, the soaring Madonna and accompanying angels, and the heavenly dominion of the welcoming God the Father.”[iii] Although there are these separate sections, Titian uses his application and choice of color to create a cohesive narrative. This was a new way of approaching this scene. The artist was representing two different moments on one panel and using color as an element tying the two together so it doesn’t become confusing to understand for the viewer.

One can see that there are not too many different colors but different tones of the same colors. The piece has a rosy and golden complexion that remains the same throughout the whole piece, even though in heaven, it is more greatly displayed. There are connections throughout all three realms with the same colors. The reds of the garments echo through out as do the blue hues, and the piece is “tuned to a full harmony” with these colors.[i]This element brings meaning to moment. These colors lead the viewers’ eyes to move up the painting, helping the Virgin along to her rightful throne.

Image Credit to ARTstor

She moves in a great sweeping movement, with fabric swirling around her brilliantly, only highlighted more by the same journey of colors. It is this application and “simplification of the coloring [that] enhances the impression of certainty, inevitability, and sanctity.”[ii]

Image Credit to ARTstor

Titian’s use of the competition of dark and light supports the impression and drama of this work, which Dolce writes is one of the “principal [parts] ofcolorito.”[vi] At the bottom of the panel the colors are darker so the apostles seem to emerge from the shadows and “stand out like silhouettes.”[vii] In Heaven, God is very dark in contrast to the golden burst of heaven that helps him stand out in a sweeping rush. In this work, Titian has used light to enhance his figures as well as enhance the meaning of the moment. The gold light lifts the Virgin upward. God is highlighted against the head of the putti. The light explodes behind of the body of God, who cuts through the painting in a diagonal movement, supported by his cape-like drapery that fades directly into the light.

Image credit to Dr. Marjorie Och

[i] Giorgio Vasari, The Lives of the Artists, Trans. Julia Conaway Bondanella and Peter Bondanella, (New York: Oxford Press, 1998), 494.

[ii] Tietze, 19

[iii] Cole, 78.

[i] Tietze, 20.

[ii] Ibid, 20.

[iv] Tietze, 20.

[v] Ibid, 20.

[vi] Hills, 220.

[vii] Tietze, 20.

[viii] Tietze, 20.

 

Venice: The City of Color

Monday, December 12th, 2011

Titian was aided in the development of colorito by Venice itself.  The city was one of the most important trade routes in all of Europe at this time. The number of immigrants and merchants coming into the city was immense and created a culture emphasized by the amount of difference. Because Venice was an important base for many different cultures coming together, “the Venetian eye was – in consequence – practiced and discriminated as to pattern, color, quality, and material.”[i] The artists’ influences extended beyond antiquity, the main inspiration for cities like Rome, and were influenced also by the styles coming in from the East. The best example of this combination of styles is on the basilica of San Marco in Venice whose façade was “the collage-like assemblage of ‘borrowed’ fragments” so that Venetians could “[appreciate] the visual complexity of the pastiche” of different cultures.[ii] This amount of information and material coming intoVenice also would give artisans more freedom and more choices in material and style.

Image Credit to Carolyn Higgins

Venice was also the first city to utilize canvas as the base to their paintings. Tied to the fact that Venicewas a ship-building town, canvas brought an additional level to the achievement in oil painting, something that Titian would greatly use to his advantage. It was a relationship between surface and medium that had never been seen before where the “oil paint was either brushed or dragged across it in thin patches to allow texture of the canvas to show through, or else it was applied in thick impasto strokes further to emphasize the surface.”[iii]

Venetian artists focused on one medium for their whole career. This was not the way many artists worked elsewhere, where an artist was not just a painter, but also a sculptor and architect. Not every artist would be working in more than one field but artists who were on a similar level of fame as Titian did seem to experiment in other mediums. Titian worked only briefly with fresco and focused his whole career on the perfection of canvas painting.


[i] Patricia Fortini Brown, Art and Life in Renaissance Venice, (Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall, 1997), 23.

[ii] Brown, 23.

[iii] Brown, 32.

Contemporary Critics

Monday, December 12th, 2011

Contemporary authors fueled this competition through biographies of artists, letters, and critical writings on the theories of art. These theories centered on the artist’s ability to imitate and copy nature, an idea studied greatly during the humanist and Renaissance times. In some instances “texts on disegno and colorito [in the mid-sixteenth century] probably reveal more about the topoi of literary debate than the practice of the painter with his brushes.”[i]

Image Credit to Museums of Florence

Giorgio Vasari was an artist, author of The Lives of the Artists, and, many consider, the first art historian. Vasari knew and conversed with the Renaissance masters, such as Michelangelo and Titian. He wrote much on the concept ofdisegno vs. colorito, siding with his Tuscan brethren that disegno was superior over all. He praised Titian for his understanding of color but believed “it was [just] a pity artisans in Venice did not learn to draw well from the beginning and that Venetian painters did not have a better method of study.”[ii]

 

 

Image Credit to ARTstor

Pietro Aretino was a great poet and art critic who influenced the popularity of many artists, including Michelangelo and especially Titian. Aretino is from the small town of Arezzoin Tuscanybut spent the majority of his life in Veniceand wrote many poems and letters concerning how much he loved the city. He had an interesting and important relationship with Titian and wrote that the Venetian’s work was amazing. He explains the artist’s brush as creating life, that in one work “the flesh-tints so beautifully painted that they resemble snow streaked with vermillion, and seem to be warm and to pulsate with the very essence of life.”[iii] It was a quite the relationship, and through the letters they wrote to each other “they seem to have agreed about everything, from types of feminine beauty to the misdeeds of princes, as well as in all problems of painting techniques.”[iv]Aretino does begin to question Titian’s late works and believes that they might be unfinished.

Image Credit to ARTstor

Lodovico Dolce was another important critic of Italian painting and believed Titian and colorito were superior. In his work, L’ Aretino, Dolce writes on his theories of painting but his “intention [was] to persuade [his readers] that besides Michelangelo have achieved artistic excellence, although the finest remain Michelangelo, Raphael, and Titian.”[v] Dolce saw nothing wrong with what Titian was doing with oil painting and believed it was the greatest work being made at the time. He sees painting as “nothing other that the imitation of art” and its purpose was to “express ‘the thoughts and feelings of the spirit.’”[vi] The common theory at this time which Dolce writes about concerns the idea there were three categories to consider when producing a painting: invention, design, and color. His main goal, however, still seemed to focus on increasing the fame of Titian and Raphael, and decreasing the power of Michelangelo.

 


[i] PaulHills, Venetian Colour: Marble, Mosaic, Painting and Glass 1250-1550, (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1999), 219.

[ii] Vasari, 501.

[iii] Aretino, 68.

[iv] Cleugh, The Divine Aretino, 184.

[v] D. R. Wright, Structure and Significance in Dolce’s L’Aretino, 278.

[vi] Wright, 277.

Disegno vs. Colorito

Monday, December 12th, 2011

There were two different methods of painting production that were popular in Renaissance Italy. The two areas of these methods wereFlorenceandVenice.

Image Credit to the British Museum.

The Florentine style was focused on the design of a work, called disegno. Artists would work first on separate paper or parchment to perfect their design before moving onto the canvas. Design was vital and drawing was the most important element to perfect the design. This idea started long before the High Renaissance because “the notion that drawing serves as a foundation for the arts of painting and sculpture had been expressed at least as early as Petrarch.”[i] Disegno was more than just for the perfection in painting but it was the staple for all areas of art in the Renaissance. InVenice, however, design was not the area of style that focused on the most. It was color and the application of color that was important when creating nature on canvas.

Image Credit to ARTstor.

Colorito in Italian is a verb meaning “coloring” or the application of color and the process of painting. The Venetian’s would draw directly on the canvas and create and change their design while painting. The artist “drew on the canvas with charcoal and paint rather than using the complicated drawing process” of the Florentines.[ii] Venetians believed that coloring was the closest aspect to nature above all other parts of painting. It was not disegno or “the muscular energy or movement of the figure…but the coloring – colorito – in all its variety and its blending is source of animation, of the pulse of life and likeness, in Venetian eyes.”[iii]

The Venetians did produce drawings on paper but not as many as the Florentines, because they worked directly on the canvas. This method of work is what separates the two schools of Italian painting. Where the Florentines were planning and perfecting their design on paper, the Venetians were drawing directly on the canvas. They would remodel their work while painting their work, thus focusing on the brushwork and color that they were applying right onto the canvas. Titian was using an “empirical method, working his way through the design as it laid out on the primed canvas” which was a process he produced “slowly and carefully, always adjusting his forms and paint to achieve a premeditated effect and often strikingly original results.”[iv]


[i] Robert Williams, Art, Theory, and Culture in Sixteenth-Century Italy, (New York: Cambridge University Press, 1997), 16.

[ii] Bruce Cole, Titian and Venetian Paintings: 1450-1590, (Boulder, CO: Westview Press, 1999), 70.

[iii]PaulHills, Venetian Colour: Marble, Mosaic, Painting and Glass 1250-1550, (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1999), 216.

[iv] Cole, 70.

 

The Power of Color: Titian and Colorito

Monday, December 12th, 2011

Titian is the poster child for a High Renaissance master. He was the city of Veniceand developed the style of oil painting. Venetian artists had an intense competition with central Italians and there was a constant back and forth between the two sides. Venetian artists found their breakthrough in the High Renaissance with Titian and his perfection of oil painting. But Titian’s importance goes past inspiring just Veniceand many consider him to be the “first painter in modern times to free the brush from the task of exactly describing tactile surfaces, volumes, and details, and to convert it into a vehicle for the direct perception of light through color and for the unimpeded expression of feeling.”[i] He did this by being the champion of colorito, the application of color. In his long career, Titian’s style changed drastically as he worked more with the medium and the canvas. This exhibit will examine Titian’s colorito in the development art, the importance of Venice in this development, and the significance of color and brushwork to his paintings in both style and meaning.


[i] Frederick Hartt, History of the Italian Renaissance, (New York: Harry N. Abrams Inc., 1994), 586.

Image information:

Titian, Assumption of the Virgin, 1516-1518, Basilica of Santa Maria Gloriosa dei Frari, Veince, Image courtesy of ARTstor

Titian, Venus with a Mirror, 1555, National Gallery of Art, Washington D.C., image courtesy of National Gallery of Art

Titian, Rape of Europa, 1559-1562, Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum, Boston, image courtesy of ARTstor