Titian – The First Modern Artist – A Talk by Douglas Skeggs on 1st April

Often described as the first modern painter, Titian was completely different from any artist of his time and, as speaker Douglas Skeggs told the online audience of over 120 viewers, he was able to ‘put paint on a canvas like no artist before him’ leading him to have a very long and successful career. Titian was the most famous of all Venetian painters.

Born in a small town called Cadore, high in the Dolomite mountains, Titian’s education was fairly rudimentary. Latin wasn’t included in his studies and hence he was unable to read the classics in their original form, which led to a lifetime of insecurity about his knowledge. It is said that the local priest discovered signs of genius in Titian and he was shipped to Venice at the age of nine, where he began to develop his skills working for some mosaic makers.

In his early teens, Titian became an apprentice at the Bellini workshop. The most important painters at the time, the Bellini brothers, Gentile and Giovanni, influenced Titian greatly. For example, Gentile‘s painting of Caterina Cornaro, described as one of the first genuine psychological portraits, demonstrates techniques later observed in Titian’s portraits. Giovanni Bellini and latterly Giorgione, another apprentice in the workshop, influenced Titian in the creation of realism and light effects amongst other things. Giorgione and Titian worked together to paint frescos on the facade of The Fondaco dei Tedeschi in Venice (1508).

The talk highlighted the excellent use of the light effect in Titian’s work. In the early paintings of poetic landscapes, ‘The Three Ages of man’ for example, Titian manipulates the light making use of shadow and pools of light to draw the viewers eye to the centre of the picture which is highlighted with fabulous Venetian skies.

Titian was commissioned to paint portraits of many wealthy Venetians. The portrait of ‘The man With the Blue Sleeve’  is a masterpiece in texture and use of light. Titian remarkably manages to make the viewer know not only what the person looks like but also, through the clever use of posture and eyeline, see the character’s personality too – in this case, rather disdainful.

Titian progressed his career further by securing the commission to paint the altar piece of the Basilica Di Santa Maria Gloriosa. ‘The Assumption of the Virgin’ (1518), was the first example of an eye witness painting and established him as the leading painter in Northern Italy.

Douglas talked enthusiastically about the background, stories and extraordinary detail of several subsequent paintings by Titian, including ‘The Worship of Venus’ and Bacchus and Ariadne’ .

Titian went on to have several patrons and commissions including Pope Paul III and Charles V. Portraits, including those of Pietro Aretino, Frederigo Gonzago, Isabella of Portugal and Charles V, led Titian to become ever more popular and in demand. Phillip II of Spain commissioned Titian to paint mythological pictures for his new palace and he spent the remainder of his life doing this.

Titian died from the plague as a very old man having painted a wealth of extraordinary paintings.

Jackie Bearman