Thursday, October 28, 2010

The Subject of Art #15: Titian and the Venetian Renaissance!

We have an unprecedented opportunity here in Atlanta to experience the wonder of painting on a truly masterpiece scale! The High Museum has opened a new exhibition, as of October 17th, entitled "Titian and the Golden Age of Venetian Painting," which features twenty five works by some of the most famous names in Western art history: Tintoretto, Veronese, Lotto and two very special works by the supreme painter of 16th century Venice, Titian. The exhibition represents a collaboration between the High Museum, the Minneapolis Institute of Arts and the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, to bring this incredible array of artistic vision and talent over from the National Galleries in Scotland. It is particularly exciting since the two paintings by Titian have never traveled to the United States before, one of them having been purchased from a private collection less than two years ago. Let's take a look and the life and work of Titian and gain a better understanding of why he was so important in his day and remains so relevant now!

Tiziano Vecellio, known popularly as Titian, was born sometime in the late 15th century (the exact date is not known), to a well-to-do family in a small town in northern Italy. At a young age he was sent to Venice to become an apprentice to the painter Giovanni Bellini, who was the most successful artist in Venice at the time, where he learned all the basics of his craft. He then went on to serve as an assistant to the revered painter Giorgione, with whom he shares many stylistic traits. Some of the frescoes that he worked on during his time as an assistant can still be found in churches around Venice today. Giorgione died at a young age in 1510 and Giovanni Bellini passed on a few years later, leaving a vacuum in the art establishment of Venice which Titian boldly stepped into.

Fortunately for Titian (and all the rest of us), his talents as a painter were equal to his ambitions and his works soon became renowned and eagerly sought after throughout Europe. He was, on the one hand, a gifted portrait painter who was given the ultimate commission in 1548 to paint the state portrait of the Holy Roman Emperor, Charles V, and it is said that his portrait of Phillip II, the king of Spain, was instrumental in convincing England's Queen Mary to agree to marriage! However, Titian's true genius can be seen in his history paintings, with subjects ranging from Classical Mythology to the Bible to contemporary scenes of battles that had recently taken place. His ability to create complex compositions, full of chaotic movement that somehow resolves itself into the most beautiful harmonies, was unrivaled by anyone living at the time and placed him firmly in the same league as Michelangelo and Raphael. For the people in Europe during the 16th century, it was a great triumph to know that the brilliance of the great Renaissance master's was not just a momentary phenomenon, with the advent of Titian, they knew that there would continue to be great artists producing great works, each building on the pioneering works of their predecessors. Titian himself would go on to be one of the primary inspirations for the next generation of painters, including Rembrandt and Rubens, and he continues to inspire today.

The one thing that makes the work of Titian stand out, even from the giants of the Renaissance, was his amazing expertise with color. He had the eye and the skill to work out subtle, yet explosive, color harmonies that had a depth that went far beyond anything that had been seen before. While the art of someone like Michelangelo was based on a bold drawing style, Titian told his stories in color, with each shifting shade and hue carrying layers of meaning and wonder. It is this fantastic ability that still holds us spellbound today and makes Titian a worthy subject for the twenty-first century artist to study.

To that end, a trip to the High Museum to visit this exhibition will be worth far more than the price of admission to the true lover of art. The two paintings by Titian, "Diana and Callisto" and "Diana and Actaeon," painted in 1559, represent him at the height of his powers and fame and will allow you to get the full effect of his formidable talent.

We'll see you there and we also hope to see you at BINDERS Artfolio coming up the first weekend of November!

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