Titian (Tiziano Vecellio)

  • about 1487 - 1576
  • Artist, Painter
  • Italian

A biographer related a telling story about Titian: Emperor Charles V once picked up a brush for him, to which Titian responded, "Sire, I am not worthy of such a servant." The Emperor replied, "Titian is worthy to be served by Caesar." Only Michelangelo's closeness with the popes compares. Legend suggests that at age nine Titian began training in Venice. He studied with Bellini, but Giorgione's influence was decisive: Titian's forms became larger, treatment of light subtler, and his mood gentler. In 1516 Titian became painter to the Venetian republic, and in 1533 Charles V named him court painter.

Roman painting could match the grandeur of his forms, but Titian's brilliant, expressive color was unprecedented. His sensuous Bacchus and Ariadne showed his ability to depict any hue or texture. Titian's portraits combined incisive, sensitive characterizations with an opulent treatment of accessories, eventually developing into the official style that inspired Peter Paul Rubens, Anthony van Dyck, and many artists of the 1800s.

After 1555 Titian painted mythological works for Philip II of Spain, rising to new heights in creating sensuous flesh, with colors flowing in harmony rather than contrasting boldly as in his youth. What from a distance appear to be magical combinations of form and color prove upon closer inspection to be blobs of paint, thumb marks, and brush scratches. Titian used oil paint for itself, exploring its expressive rather than representational possibilities.