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Nude paintings by Titian

oil painting of. A self-portrait painted by Titian.

Left, Titian's self-portrait
TITIAN born c. 1485 died 1576
The artist Titian is regarded as the greatest painter of the Venetian school. This was at a time, the 1600’s, when Venice was at its height, both economically and culturally. His early training was typical for young artists during the Renascence period: apprenticed to another painter, in Titian’s case, the painter Giovanni Bellini. – Himself one of Italy’s greatest painters and was one of the first artists to really refine the art of oil painting. Venice at this time was the envy of the then known world, it had peace with its neighbours, was very wealthy and had a high regard for the arts.

painting of a nude by titian, detail: sacred and profane love.

Painting right (detail): "Sacred and Profane Love," painted c.1514

In 1513 Titian was invited by Pope Leo X to Rome to join two wonderful artists, Raphael and Michelangelo, but he turned down the offer, preferring to stay and work in Venice. Instead he worked for his wealthy patrons, producing religious paintings and portraits and other commissions for the wealthy Venetian elite and who included the Great Chancellor of the Republic, Niccolo Arelio, who commissioned the painting: “Sacred and Profane Love”, see detail of the painting on the right. Like many ambitious artist of his time, Titian was keen to paint for the famous and the wealthy. Eventually, after the death of Leonardo DeVinci in 1519 and that of Raphael in 1520, Titian was the most important painter in Italy. (though Michelangelo was still alive, he was busy working as a sculpture). Though he had an aversion to travelling, he did venture to Germany in order to paint Charles V, Emperor of the Holy Roman Empire and King of Spain. To show how he valued Titian’s work, he was made a Knight of the Golden Spur, giving the artist privileges of knighthood, giving him the right to enter Charles’ court. When the king gave up the throne, to retire to a monastery, his son Philip 11 succeeded to the throne and became Titian’s patron. This relationship didn’t always work well, with Titian often complaining that the new King hadn’t paid him – Though all the evidence shows that by this time Titian was a very rich man. This is further evidenced by the fact that Titian lived, from 1531, in a large house on the outskirts of Venice, opposite the islands of San Michele and Murano. Here Titian entertained his friends and patrons with lavish hospitality which was at odds to his claim, to the King, that he was impoverished!

Below: "Danae" c.1549-50."
This painting was commissioned by Philip 11 of Spain. Another erotic scene by Titian

nude painting of woman on a bed by artist titian

Titian was a prolific painter in his long life and his work included a wide subject range, from religious paintings to erotic nudes. Little is known about Titian in his later years. He was suffering from poor eyesight and from shaking hands, and this affected his work. By this time, one of Titian’s sons – Orazio and whom had followed in his father’s footsteps as an artist – took on the responsibility of much of his father’s work, with Titian adding the final touches. Though this method of production was known amongst the noblemen it didn’t put them off from buying these pieces. And the following is a quote from one nobleman to another…. “…I believe that a blotch by Titian will be better than anything by another artists”.

painting by titian of a nude, lying on a bed

Right: "Venus and the Lute Player," c.1560


Titian as a painter was renowned for his sensuous and colourful brushwork, which was also expressive. Titian developed the following painting method of quick brushwork. And the following comment was once made by a fellow artist, Giorgio Vasari, that Titian executed his paintings with fine and unbelievable diligence, while “…these last pictures are executed with broad and bold strokes and smudges, so that from nearby nothing can be seen whereas from a distance they seem perfect.” Vasari also observed that Titian gave to his painting an appearance of spontaneous facility and ease, involving long and hard brushwork: saying: “It is known that these works are much revised and that he went over them so many times with his colours that one can appreciate how much labour is involved.”painting of a female semi-nude by artist Titian An apprentice to Titian, Palma Giovane, made the following comments: Titian used to sketch in his pictures with large masses of colour which formed the foundation of his composition. He would then turn them to the wall and leave them there, sometimes for several months, without looking at them. Returning to his picture, over long intervals, he would then build up his figures, correct and revise them and make any changes he felt necessary. Finally he would retouch the work, moderate the highlights by rubbing them with his fingers and harmonize the colours and tones; or he would, again with his fingers, add dark strokes or bright red spots to liven up the composition. Apparently, in these last stages, Titian painted more with his fingers than his brushes. Vasari admitted that this method of working produced …”judicious, beautiful and stupendous results.” What I admire about these Renaissance artists was the way they worked. They would start with sketches, working out every detail of the composition in studied drawings. The final drawing could then be transferred almost mechanically to the canvas – or wooden panel – and coloured in.

left: St Mary Magdalen c.1535. (here we can see that the breasts have been carefully included to give a sensual interpretation to this image.

Michelangelo was a rival to Titian for many years, but each worked differently from the other. For example: while Michelangelo concentrated on the nude male figure as an heroic ideal, Titian was keen to capture the delicacy of the female nude, the softness of the flesh, the soft rounds and curves of the female shape. Titian was also keen to convey into his paintings a sense of mood and atmosphere. The tranquillity of the landscape, or the merry-making of people drinking and dancing, as depicted in the painting “The Andrians,” painted 1523-5. painting of a female nude by artist walter sickertIt’s worth mentioning that Titian’s approach to painting was later criticised by critics as being “…impressionistic…” And it was said that the spectator has to stand back from the painting in order to take in the whole composition. If he gets too close to the painted surface, the picture will dissolve in blots and smudges. Quite a remarkable statement when one considers that these very same criticisms were levelled against the Impressionist painters four hundred years later. It’s perhaps worth remembering that Titian was probably the first artist to realize the potential of oil paint, with all its richness and texture, and which was put to great use from the Impressionists onwards.

right: "Venus of Urbino" 1538. Titian has carefully placed a hand to cover the virgina. While the pose and the woman's look is intended to sexually excite the viewer.


It’s also worth noting that working practices of these great masters was very different to most modern day artists. Titian, together with the other masters, usually employed large workshops. (I think only Damien Hirst comes close to this method today) It’s believed that he had at least thirty apprentices. Only two of who became famous artists – Tintoretto and El Greco. Even Titian’s own son, Orazio, never made it as a master artist. Often a commission would be worked on by the apprentices, under the supervision of the master, with the great master applying the final touches before the work was sold. This system did have its critics, especially those paying for the paintings. But it seems they were prepared to accept this way of working rather than have a highly polished painting from an anonymous workshop. Titian died in Venice in 1576, during one of the regular plagues.

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