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Exclusive Art Gallery: Titian | reviews, news & interviews

Exclusive Art Gallery: Titian

Exclusive Art Gallery: Titian

Nine masterpieces of the Venetian master

With thanks to the National Gallery, the Musée du Louvre, Madrid's Prado Gallery, Naples' Capodimonte Museum and Washington's National Gallery, and to mark the publication of Mark Hudson's major new biography, Titian: The Last Days, we reproduce a marvellous gallery of masterpieces. This is the first part of a four-part special, including three extracts from Hudson's book, about the master Venetian painter, Tiziano Vecellio (1489?-1576), universally known as Titian.

A powerful exhibition has just opened at the Louvre, in which several of these pictures are on display, and the £50 million Diana and Actaeon is on show at the National Gallery for the first time since its acquisition earlier this year, and this would seem to be Titian’s moment. But as Mark Hudson demonstrates, Titian’s star has always been in the ascendant.

Today, enjoy this gallery, made exclusively available to, and the first of three extracts.
  • Titian in Love: the painter's emotional life more
  • Titian in Old Age: the darker pictures more
Click on a picture to enter full view.


1. The Death of Actaeon, about 1559-75, National Gallery, London
This mysterious painting continues the story begun in Diana and Actaeon, the painting recently acquired by the National Gallery for £50million. The hunter Actaeon is turned into a stag and torn to pieces by his own hounds for looking on the naked goddess Diana. While The Death of Actaeon was promised to Titian’s patron Philip II in 1559, shortly after the dispatch of the earlier painting, it was still in Titian’s studio – apparently unfinished – at the time of his death in 1576. The painting’s dark mood and loose impressionistic treatment have been an inspiration to British painters from Constable to Francis Bacon.

2. The Entombment, 1559, Museo Nacional del Prado, Madrid (currently in the Louvre exhibition)
Darkness encloses this spectacularly brooding, tragic image in a way that prefigures the intense tonal contrasts of Caravaggio and Rembrandt. The way the image dissolves into swirling, smoke-like marks is intended to represent the emotional truth of the scene rather than its physical reality.

3. St Jerome, 1570-1575,  Museo Thyssen-Bornemisza, Madrid (currently in the Louvre exhibition)
Titian identified with the hermit saint who translated the Bible into Latin. He painted several versions of this image in late life, all bearing his own features.

4. Bacchus and Ariadne, 1520-3, National Gallery, London
Titian’s masterpiece has been endlessly drawn upon by artists down the centuries.

5. Danaë, 1544-6, Museo di Capodimonte, Naples © Scala, Florence (currently in the Louvre exhibition)
Titian’s first painting of Danae, the princess made love to by Zeus in the form of a shower of gold coins. He gave the figure the features of a well-known Roman courtesan, the mistress of Cardinal Alessandro Farnese, grandson and first minister of Pope Paul III, who he was cultivating in the hope of obtaining a particularly lucrative ecclesiastical living for his son. Michelangelo was appalled by the loose painterly handling, the absence of what he thought of as real drawing, but also perhaps by the painting’s frank, feminised eroticism.

6. Danaë, c.1553-4, Museo Nacional del Prado, Madrid (currently in the Louvre exhibition)
Painted eight years later for Philip II of Spain this second version is rawer and more impressionistic in treatment. Yet the loose, liquid treatment of the princess’s flesh – particularly apparent when seen up close – corresponds far more closely to our ideas of the erotic than the more tightly finished works of Titian’s contemporaries.

7. Venus with a Mirror,  c.1555, National Gallery of Art, Washington (currently in the Louvre exhibition)
Thinly mythologised paintings of sexy young women were among the most popular products of Titian’s studio. This one was left in his house at the time of his death, suggesting it was kept as a prototype for the creation of varients and replicas.

8. Self-Portrait, c.1562, Museo Nacional del Prado, Madrid (currently in the Louvre exhibition)
Ruthlessly competitive, Titian cultivated an air of venerable grandeur appropriate to a great master, even when he was still relatively young. He is seen here in his early seventies, about 15 years before his death during the biggest plague epidemic in Venice’s history.

9. An Allegory of Prudence,  c1550-65, National Gallery, London
Long misunderstood, this painting is a symbolic representation of Titian’s family business. The three animals – the wolf, lion and dog – represent the past, present and future, while the human heads are from left: Titian; his son, assistant and heir, Orazio; and a cousin, probably Marco Vecellio who worked in Titian’s studio. While Titian intended that his workshop would provide for his family after his death, Orazio was a pedestrian talent with little interest in art, and had no children. Both men died in the great plague epidemic of 1576.

Mark Hudson's 'Titian: The Last Days', published by Bloomsbury

The exhibition 'Titian, Tintoretto, Veronese… Rivals in Renaissance Venice’ is at the Musée du Louvre, Paris, until 4 January 2010. Information here

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