The Rape of Europa

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.

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