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Venus and Adonis, Titian (Tiziano Vecellio)

Venus and Adonis, Titian (Tiziano Vecellio)

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Venus and Adonis

A composition of Venus and Adonis by the Venetian Renaissance artist Titian has been painted a number of times, by Titian himself, by his studio assistants and by others. In all there are some thirty versions that may date from the 16th century, the nudity of Venus undoubtedly accounting for this popularity. It is unclear which of the surviving versions, if any, is the original or prime version, and a matter of debate how much involvement Titian himself had with surviving versions. There is a precise date for only one version, that in the Prado in Madrid, which is documented in correspondence between Titian and Philip II of Spain in 1554. However, this appears to be a later repetition of a composition first painted a considerable time earlier, possibly as early as the 1520s.

The Prado version is set at dawn and shows the young Adonis pulling himself away from Venus, his lover. He carries a feathered spear or "dart", a weapon often used in hunting in the 16th century. The leads of his three hounds are wound around his arm at right. Under the trees behind them at left Cupid lies asleep, with his bow and quiver of arrows hanging from a tree this is not a time for love. High in the sky, a figure rides a chariot this is either Venus from later in the story, or Apollo or Sol, representing the dawn. Venus sits on a rock covered with a rich tablecloth with gold braid edges and buttons (not a military jacket, as sometimes thought). Adonis has a horn hanging from his belt his dress is classical, taken from Roman sculptures.

It is thought that the Roman poet Ovid was the main source, though other literary and visual sources have been suggested. In Book X of Ovid's Metamorphoses Adonis is a beautiful youth, a royal orphan, who spends his time hunting. Venus falls in love with him after one of Cupid's arrows hits her by mistake. They hunt together, but she avoids the fiercer animals, and warns him about them, citing the story of Atalanta. One day Adonis hunts alone and is gored by a wounded wild boar. Venus, in the sky in her chariot, hears his cries but cannot save him. In some versions, the death of Adonis is shown in the distance to the right. In Ovid, it is Venus who leaves first, and Adonis pulling himself away seems to be Titian's invention, for which some criticized him.

Two basic types of the composition were described by Harold Wethey, who called them the "Prado" and "Farnese" types the Prado type is most common and is described above. Alternative terms are the "three-dog" and "two-dog" types. They are in most respects the same, but the Farnese type has a tighter crop on the subject and a wider shape, losing most of the sky. Adonis' raised hand is just below the picture edge, so the feathers on the spear are not seen, nor is the chariot in the sky, though the sun bursts through clouds in about the same place. There are only two hounds and no gold vessel on the ground at left. Cupid is brought closer to the main couple, and is now awake, holding a dove in his hands.

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Background of the Theme

The story of these famous paintings is recounted in Ovid’s Metamorphoses. In Ovid’s account, one of the cupid’s arrows accidentally wounds Venus, and she falls in love with Adonis, a handsome hunter. Venus forgets her divide duties and descents to earth so that she can be with him. In order for her to please her younger lover, the goddess decides to take up hunting and pursue a harmless prey. She warns Adonis regarding the peril that could befall the huner. Adonis is careless of her waning and when the goddess goes back to her realm, a wild boar slays him.

Titian creation of Venus and Adonis was during the Late Renaissance period in 1570. On the contrary, Rubens’ version was created during the Flemish Baroque style period in mid to late 1630s. Titian created the Venus and Adonis painting using a canvas that measured 42 1/16 x 53 9/16 in (106.8 x 136 cm). The artist has located the main figures in the center while the supporting figures enclose them. The supporting figures that Titian has used are a tree on the left and a dog on the right. The secondary figure plays an essential role in the painting of conveying the composition to the canvas’ borders. In addition, the manner in which Titian has placed Venus’ body constructs a strong diagonal stretching to the top right from the lower left of the painting’s composition. Titian’s painting shows a limited sense of depth. However, it has a clearly defined background and foreground. The accurate modeling of the figures in the painting creates a very strong three-dimensional space. The accuracy of the figures’ details shows Titian’s skills in handling of this material. From the painting, it is evident that the artist handled the figures more carefully than the background images, but they have a similar quality.

Titian’s loose and energetic stroke of paint gives the painting a sense of movement and spontaneity. The artist used his fingers to paint in some areas such as Adonis’ arm. The dynamism springs of the composition due to the torsion that the awkward pose of Venus causes. It was an inspiration from an ancient sculptural relief. Titian used rich colors, lush landscape, and shimmering highlights to make the painting’s evocative and poignant mood. He created this piece by handling the brushes smoothly. Brushstrokes appear more on the background that on the figures. The background of the painting consists of saturated greens and a warm golden brown color. Titian has framed the pale blue sky with illumination and warm rainbow. A deep red shade sprawls under Venus while the other tones wrap around the figure and move upwards to the illuminated sky. The illumination from above the heavens shines downwards from the composition’s top right corner. Titian has also given a strong glow to the figures that makes them stand out from the dark background. The diagonal that Venus’ body position has formed divides the color of the painting. On the right side, there is bright, warm light, whereas, on the left side, there is darkness left. Titan considered color a highly sophisticated complement in his paintings. Finally, Venus sits on a red piece of cloth. Titian could have used this to depict her aggression and strength.

Rubens’ Venus and Adonis painting was influenced by Titian’s painting which he saw when he visited Madrid and copied it in 1628-1629. However, overall, Rubens’ painting design in both mood and composition is more similar to the engraving made by Crispijn de Passe, a printmaker. There is a possibility that Rubens based his painting of Venus and Adonis on an ancient relief figure or stature holding a spear.

Titian and his paintings

Titian was born Tiziano Vecelli or Vecellio in Cadore, in the Republic of Venice, some time around 1488 to 1490. His exact date of birth is unknown, and he is thought to have misinformed people of his age during his lifetime. He was one of the most versatile and adept of the Italian Renaissance painters, particularly admired for his skill with colour and fine brushwork. He painted a wide range of subjects, from landscapes, to portraiture, to spiritual or mythological scenes, and his style, though changing dramatically over the course of his lifetime, continued to show his perfect understanding of colour and tone. In his lifetime, he was second only to Michelangelo in fame and success, and was the first painter to paint primarily for an overseas clientèle. He gained commissions from royalty and important people around Europe, who recognised the greatness of his talents.

At the age of ten or twelve, Titian arrived in Venice to start his training. He studied under Gentile and then Giovanni Bellini, leading artists in the city. It seems he showed a lot of talent, even at his young age. Some early works include the fresco of Hercules, situated in on the Morosini Palace, Gypsy Madonna, and the 'Visitation of Mary and Elizabeth'. The Man with a Quilted Sleeve is said to be another work from this period which is particularly well-executed, especially in the texture of the sleeve. The composition was later emulated by Rembrandt in his self portraits.

After this early training, Titian joined one of his contemporaries, Giorgio da Castelfranco, known as Giorgione, as an assistant. There is still much contention today in attributing works to one or other of these two masterful painters, as their style is very similar. At the time critics commented however that Titian, the assistant, produced the more impressive work. Still, both were and are lauded as leaders of the arte moderne movement. This new style of painting was characterised by a new freedom in style and composition, a rejection of the formal symmetries and hierarchical representation still found, for example, in the works of their old tutor, Giovanni Bellini. There was, it seems, a certain rivalry between the two men, though the similarity between Titian's early style and Giorgione's is proof of their closeness.

When Giorgione tragically died young, in 1510, and another of Titian's successful contemporaries, Sebastiano del Piombo, moved to Rome, Titian was left unrivalled in Venice. During his life it was said of Titian that he was a sun amongst minor stars. It was during this time that Titian really came into his own. His style was still heavily influenced by Giorgione, but he began to experiment more with his own style, developing bold, confident flair with a brush. For over sixty years, Titian was to be viewed as a masterly painter, without peer in Venice.

In 1516, Titian created his masterpiece, Assumption of the Virgin for the Basilica di Santa Maria Gloriosa dei Frari. It is still there today. This was the first of a series of framed altarpieces, which culminated in the perfectly conceived 'Pesaro Madonna', in which a classic formula was achieved. This formula has been much studied and emulated by later artists. Titian was at the height of his skills, and became well known not only for his religious work, but also for his portraiture, for example, 'La Schiavona' and many of Pietro Aretino, an outspoken thinker who championed Titian's work mythological scenes like Bacchus and Ariadne, and his half-length or busts of women, examples of which include Flora and Woman with a mirror. In this period, he gained much attention from Dukes of the North Italian Courts.

In the 1420s Titian had four children with his paramour, then wife, Cecilia. Titian had lived happily with Cecilia and had two children out of wedlock. They married when she was gravely ill. Fortunately, she recovered. They had two more children but, sadly, she died in childbirth only a few years after their marriage.

Titian's reputation grew, and spread, throughout the following decades. His understanding of colour continued to be unmatched, as is particularly evident in such works as Danae, and the reclining Venuses, including the Venus of Urbino, some of the fleshy nudes for which Titian became well known. His versatilities too, was impressive, as he continued to produce a huge variety of different types of painting, from the religious to the profane. He could paint royalty or artists, or beasts, with the same attention to detail and beautiful fluid brushwork, and tackled Madonnas and lowly prostitutes with the same aplomb.

Titian gained yet more influence as time passed, completing works for the Pope, Paul III, and Charles V. He was given the title of Count Palatine and was made knight of the Golden Spur. His children were also ennobled and he was granted the Freedom of the City of Rome during a visit of 1546, when he also finally got the opportunity to meet Michelangelo. Mannerist aspects in Titian's work increased after this meeting.

For much of the rest of his life, Titian worked for Charles V's son, Philip II of Spain, and his later works are characterised by a free and assured style that led one of his pupils to say that he worked more with his fingers than his brush. He lived a long life, but died of the plague in 1576, and was interred in the Frari Basilica.

As a portraitist, Titian is often compared to Rembrandt and Diego Velazquez. It is said that his portraits prefigured the internal life and depth of the former, and the clarity and certainty of the later. Titian knew paint like no other, not sketching, but working, and reworking, the paint directly on the canvas, with surety of colour mixing and brushwork that was second to none. His bold use of colour has influenced countless artists that followed him, not just immediately afterwards, but well into the 20th and 21st Centuries. His composition was also very influential on artists throughout the 16th-18th Centuries, and has been widely studied since. Without a doubt, Titian belongs among the top-tier Renaissance artists, and his name has become synonymous with the best of the Renaissance Art. Along with Leonardo da Vinci, Michelangelo, Donatello, Shakespeare, and a small band of contemporaries, Titian become the center of a movement of artists that has permanently enriched western culture.

Titian's groundbreaking use of bold, brilliant colors, his striking and powerful composition, and his loose, revolutionary brushwork inspired many generations of artists, including Johannes Vermeer, Caravaggio, Peter Paul Rubens and Rembrandt. Few artists have had such a profound and far-reaching influence on the art world.

Venus with a mirror by Titian Vecellio

Painting by artist Tiziano Vecellio “Venus with a Mirror”. The size of the picture is 124 x 105 cm, canvas, oil. Venus, in Roman mythology, the goddess of gardens, beauty and love. In ancient Roman literature, the name of Venus was often used as a synonym for fruits. Some scientists name the goddess translated as “the mercy of the gods.”

After the widespread tradition of Aeneas, Venus, revered in some cities of Italy as Frutis, was identified with the mother of Aeneas Aphrodite. Now she became not only the goddess of beauty and love, but also the patroness of the descendants of Aeneas and all the Romans. The expansion of the cult of Venus in Rome was greatly influenced by the Sicilian temple built in her honor.

Apotheosis of popularity cult of Venus reached in the I century BC. E., when her patronage began to count the famous senator Sulla, who believed that the goddess brings him happiness, and Guy Pompey, who built the temple and dedicated it to Venus the victor. Guy Julius Caesar particularly revered this goddess, considering her son, Aeneas, the ancestor of the genus Julius. Venus was rewarded with such epithets as gracious, cleansing, cropped, in memory of the brave Romans who, during the war with the Gauls, cut their hair to weave ropes out of them. In literary works, Venus appeared as the goddess of love and passion.

In honor of Venus, one of the planets of the solar system was named. “Venus with a mirror” – one of the best works of the Italian artist: Tiziano Vecellio creates a gallery of beautiful paintings, glorifying the sensuality and charm of female beauty. It is shrouded in flickering warm tones with restrained hot flashes of red, golden, cold blue – rather a poetic dream, a charming and exhilarating tale-song about beauty and happiness. Titian’s Venus, as the embodiment of femininity, fertility, motherhood, is beautiful with the mature beauty of an earthly woman.

Early life and works

The traditional date of Titian’s birth was long given as 1477, but most later critics favoured the date of 1488/90. Titian was the son of a modest official, Gregorio di Conte dei Vecelli, and his wife, Lucia. He was born in the small village of Pieve di Cadore, located high amid mountain peaks of the Alps, straight north of Venice and not far from the Austrian Tyrol. At the age of nine he set out for Venice with his brother, Francesco, to live there with an uncle and to become an apprentice to Sebastiano Zuccato, a master of mosaics. The boy soon passed to the workshop of the Bellini family, where his true teacher became Giovanni Bellini, the greatest Venetian painter of the day. Titian’s early works are richly evident of his schooling and also of his association as a young man with another follower of the elderly Giovanni Bellini—namely, Giorgione of Castelfranco. Their collaboration in 1508 on the frescoes of the Fondaco dei Tedeschi is the point of departure for Titian’s career, and it explains why it is difficult to distinguish between the two artists in the early years of the 16th century. Only ruined outlines of the frescoes survive, the Allegory of Justice being the chief scene assigned to Titian. The etchings (1760) of the frescoes by Antonio Maria Zanetti, already in a much faded condition, give a better notion of the idealism and the sense of physical beauty that characterize both artists’ work. The problem of distinguishing between the paintings of Giorgione and the young Titian is virtually insuperable, for there is little solid evidence and even less agreement among critics about the attribution of several works. The tendency among Italian writers was to assign far too much to Titian in his youth.

It is certain that Titian’s first independent commission was for the frescoes of three miracles of St. Anthony of Padua. The finest in composition is the Miracle of the Speaking Infant. Another, the Miracle of the Irascible Son, has a very beautiful landscape background that demonstrates how similar in topography and mood are Titian’s and Giorgione’s works of this time. In fact, after Giorgione’s death in 1510, Titian assumed the task of adding the landscape background to Giorgione’s unfinished Sleeping Venus, a fact recorded by a contemporary writer, Marcantonio Michiel. Still Giorgionesque is the somewhat more lush setting of Titian’s Baptism of Christ (c. 1515), in which the donor, Giovanni Ram, appears at the lower right.

The authorship of individual portraits is the most difficult of all to establish, but the Gentleman in Blue (so-called Ariosto) is certainly Titian’s because it is signed with the initials T.V. (Tiziano Vecellio). The volume and the interest in texture in the quilted sleeve seem to identify Titian’s own style. On the other hand, The Concert has been one of the most debated portraits, because since the 17th century it was thought to be most typical of Giorgione. The pronounced psychological content as well as the notable clarity of modelling in the central figure led 20th-century critics to favour Titian. Technique and the clear intelligence of the young Venetian aristocrat in the Young Man with Cap and Gloves led modern critics to attribute this and similar portraits to Titian.

The earliest compositions on mythological or allegorical themes show the young artist still under the spell of Giorgione in his creation of a poetic Arcadian world where nothing commonplace or sordid exists. The inspiration lies in the idyllic world of the love lyrics of the 16th-century Italian poets Jacopo Sannazzaro and Pietro Bembo. The Three Ages of Man, where the erotic relationship of the young couple is discreetly muted and a mood of tenderness and sadness prevails, is one of the most exquisite of these. The contemporary Sacred and Profane Love is likewise set in a landscape of extraordinary beauty, but here the allegory is less easily understood. The most generally accepted interpretation holds that the two women are the twin Venuses, according to Neoplatonic theory and symbolism. The terrestrial Venus, on the left, stands for the generative forces of nature, both physical and intellectual, while the nude Venus, on the right, represents eternal and divine love. Essentially an ideally beautiful young woman rather than a cruel biblical antiheroine is the lovely Salome.

Tizian, Venus und Adonis (Titian, Venus and Adonis)

This work is freely based on an episode recounted in Ovid’s Metamorphoses, the popular ancient poem published in Italian in Venice towards the end of the fifteenth century. In Ovid’s account, Venus, accidentally wounded by one of her son Cupid’s arrows, falls in love with the handsome hunter Adonis and, forgetting her divine duties, descends to earth to spend time with him. To please her young lover the goddess takes up hunting and pursues harmless prey, warning Adonis about the perils that can befall the hunter. When the goddess returns to her realm Adonis, careless of her warning, is slain by a wild boar (Metamorphoses, X, 519 ff.).

Titian’s canvas depicts the story in an unprecedented way, with Venus portrayed while trying to hold Adonis back from his dreadful fate. She pleads in vain, for although the hunter glances back at her, his body turns in the opposite direction, responding to the pull of the dogs. Adonis ignores the threatening signs of his fate: the fear shown by the small Cupid clenching a dove, and the stormy clouds on the far right. Titian’s composition was probably inspired by figures on a Roman sarcophagus the female body seen from behind may be based on an ancient design of Psyche discovering Cupid, known in the Renaissance as the Bed of Polyclitus, often found on reliefs and gems (Panofsky 1969, Rosand 1975, and Wethey 1975). The contrapposto of the figure and its ties to antique sculpture suggest that the painting represents the artist’s response to the Renaissance concept known as the paragone, or rivalry of the arts of painting and sculpture.

Titian’s studio produced numerous versions of the Venus and Adonis that can be divided into two major groups, known as the Farnese type and the Prado type (Wethey 1975, Bayer 2005, and Penny 2008). This example belongs to the Farnese type and probably follows the example painted by Titian in Rome for Cardinal Alessandro Farnese around 1545–46 (now lost, but known through an engraving by Sir Robert Strange of about 1769), which would account for the artist’s knowledge of ancient sources and Raphael’s work there. A painting in the National Gallery of Art, Washington, is derived from the same source. In both of these cases the artist returned to the composition decades later, perhaps as late as the last decade of his life. The Prado type, so named for the version sent in 1554 to Philip II in Spain (Museo del Prado, Madrid), differs from this one in numerous details: the shape of the canvas, the inclusion of an additional dog, the substitution of a sleeping cupid, the inclusion of Venus’s carriage in the sunburst at the upper right, and changes in some of the still life details. These compositions were enormously influential on artists ranging from Veronese to Rubens.

The Venus and Adonis is one of a group of canvases that Titian called poesie. By referring to the painting with this term Titian was aware of the comparison he was establishing with poetry as he imbued his work with the allusive and evocative power characteristic of the written word (Rosand 1972). The myth here may become a metaphor for the cycle of nature, through the death of Adonis and his return in the form of a flower, and an allegory of the perils of life guided by fate rather than reason.

Venus and Adonis, c. 1540s/c. 1560-1565

Peter Humfrey, &ldquoTitian, Italian 16th Century/Venus and Adonis/c. 1540s/c. 1560-1565,&rdquo Italian Paintings of the Sixteenth Century, NGA Online Editions, https://purl.org/nga/collection/artobject/1223 (accessed June 16, 2021).

You may download complete editions of this catalog from the catalog’s home page.

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Venus, as if filled with foreboding about Adonis’s fate, desperately clings to her lover, while he pulls himself free of her embrace, impatient for the hunt and with his hounds straining at the leash. The goddess’s gesture is echoed by that of Cupid, who anxiously watches the lovers’ leave-taking while clutching a dove—a creature sacred to Venus.

Titian’s scene was inspired by the account in Ovid’s Metamorphoses of the goddess Venus’s love for the beautiful young huntsman Adonis, who was tragically killed by a wild boar. Though Ovid did not describe the last parting of the lovers, Titian’s imagining of it introduced a powerful element of dramatic tension into the story.

Venus and Adonis was one of the most successful designs of Titian’s later career. At least 30 versions are known to have been executed by the painter and his workshop, as well as independently by assistants and copyists within the painter’s lifetime and immediately afterward, and the evolution of the composition over the years was highly complex. For stylistic reasons, the Gallery’s version is believed to date from the 1560s. However, technical examination of the underlying paint layers has revealed changes to the composition that suggest the painting may have been begun as early as the 1540s.


Even more than in the case of the Venus with a Mirror , the Venus and Adonis was one of the most successful inventions of Titian ’s later career. At least 30 versions are known to have been executed by the painter and his workshop, as well as independently by assistants and copyists within the painter’s lifetime and immediately afterward. The evolution of the composition was apparently highly complex, and scholars remain divided in their interpretation of the visual, technical, and documentary evidence. While there is general agreement that the Gallery’s version is a late work, dating from the 1560s, there is much less consensus regarding its quality and its relation to the most important of the other versions.

The subject is based on the account in Ovid, Metamorphoses (10.532–539, 705–709), of the love of the goddess Venus for the beautiful young huntsman Adonis, and of how he was tragically killed by a wild boar. [1]   [1]
For the relation of Titian’s subject to Ovid’s text, see Erwin Panofsky, Problems in Titian, Mostly Iconographic (London, 1969), 151–154 David Rosand, “Ut Pictor Poeta: Meaning in Titian’s Poesie,” New Literary History 3 (1972): 536–538 Philipp Fehl, “Beauty and the Historian of Art: Titian’s Venus and Adonis (1982),” in Decorum and Wit: The Poetry of Venetian Painting (Vienna, 1992), 108–110 Nicholas Penny, National Gallery Catalogues: The Sixteenth Century Italian Paintings, vol. 2, Venice 1540–1600 (London, 2008), 278–280. For an interpretation of the subject in allegorical terms, see Augusto Gentili, Da Tiziano a Tiziano: Mito e allegoria nella cultura veneziana del Cinquecento (1980), rev. ed. (Rome, 1988), 167–172 Jane Nash, Veiled Images: Titian’s Mythological Paintings for Philip II (Philadelphia, 1985), 28–32. But Ovid did not describe the last parting of the lovers, and Titian introduced a powerful element of dramatic tension into the story by imagining a moment in which Venus, as if filled with foreboding about Adonis’s fate, desperately clings to her lover, while he, impatient for the hunt and with his hounds straining at the leash, pulls himself free of her embrace. The goddess’s gesture is echoed by that of Cupid, who, clutching a dove—a creature sacred to Venus—anxiously watches the lovers’ leave-taking. It is usually assumed that this new conception of the story was the painter’s own idea, and in 1584 he was explicitly criticized by the Florentine Raffaello Borghini for his lack of fidelity to the ancient literary text. [2]   [2]
Raffaello Borghini, Il riposo (Florence, 1584), 64–65. Some scholars have suggested that in this respect Titian was following modern literary retellings, for example the Fábula de Adonis by the imperial ambassador to Venice in the early 1540s, Don Diego Hurtado de Mendoza, or by the Venetian Lodovico Dolce in the later 1540s. [3]   [3]
For Mendoza’s Fábula de Adonis, Hipómenes y Atalanta, published in Venice in 1553 (but written at some date between 1539 and 1545), as a possible source for Titian, see Pedro Beroqui, Tiziano en el Museo del Prado (Madrid, 1946), 77–81 Miguel Falomir, in Tiziano (Madrid, 2003), 238, 389–390. For Dolce’s Favola di Adone and Didone, published in Venice in 1545 and 1547 respectively, see Kiyo Hosono, “Venere e Adone di Tiziano: La scelta del soggetto e le sue fonti,” Venezia Cinquecento 13, no. 26 (2003): 128–147, with further observations on Mendoza. See also Miguel Falomir and Paul Joannides, “Dánae y Venus y Adonis: Origen y evolución,” in Dánae y Venus y Adonis: Las primeras “poesías” de Tiziano para Felipe II, ed. Miguel Falomir (Madrid, 2014), 31–33, 66. But Miguel Falomir and Paul Joannides have argued that, on the contrary, such texts could well have been inspired by their authors’ knowledge of the invention by Titian, which itself is more likely to have been inspired by visual sources. They identify one such source as Marcantonio Raimondi’s engraving Joseph and Potiphar’s Wife, after Raphael’s fresco in the Vatican Loggia, in which a young man similarly escapes the amorous advances of an older woman. [4]   [4]
Miguel Falomir and Paul Joannides, “Dánae y Venus y Adonis: Origen y evolución,” in Dánae y Venus y Adonis: Las primeras “poesías” de Tiziano para Felipe II, ed. Miguel Falomir (Madrid, 2014), 32, 66. As first recognized by Erwin Panofsky, another important visual source for Titian’s composition—although in this case not for the novel interpretation of the myth—was the so-called Bed of Polyclitus, an antique relief known in a number of versions and copies. Panofsky focused in particular on the representation of a twisting female figure from the back, but subsequent scholars have also noted the resemblance of Adonis’s left arm to the dangling arm of sleeping Cupid in the relief. [5]   [5]
Erwin Panofsky, Problems in Titian, Mostly Iconographic (London, 1969), 151 David Rosand, “Ut Pictor Poeta: Meaning in Titian’s Poesie,” New Literary History 3 (1972): 535–540 David Rosand, “Inventing Mythologies: The Painter’s Poetry,” in The Cambridge Companion to Titian, ed. Patricia Meilman (Cambridge, 2004), 43–55 Nicholas Penny, National Gallery Catalogues: The Sixteenth Century Italian Paintings, vol. 2, Venice 1540–1600 (London, 2008), 280. See also Aneta Georgievska-Shine, “Titian and the Paradoxes of Love and Art in Venus and Adonis,Artibus et Historiae 33, no. 65 (2012): 104, with reference to Roman sarcophagi.

The many versions of the composition fall into two main groups, which were respectively dubbed Groups A and B by Panofsky, [6]   [6]
Erwin Panofsky, Problems in Titian, Mostly Iconographic (London, 1969), 150–151 n. 34. and the “Prado” and “Farnese” types by Harold Wethey. [7]   [7]
See the listings by Harold Wethey, The Paintings of Titian (London, 1975), 3:188–194, 222–223, 241–242, cats. 40–44, X-39-40, L-19 and Nicholas Penny, National Gallery Catalogues: The Sixteenth Century Italian Paintings, vol. 2, Venice 1540–1600 (London, 2008), 280–284. The former type takes its name from the picture in the Prado, Madrid [fig. 1]   [fig. 1] Titian, Venus and Adonis, 1553–1554, oil on canvas, Museo Nacional del Prado, Madrid. © Photographic Archive Museo Nacional del Prado , which Titian painted in 1553–1554 for Prince Philip of Spain (from 1556 King Philip II). Other important versions of this type include those in the National Gallery, London in the J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles formerly in the collection of Patrick de Charmant, Lausanne and in a recently discovered example now in a private collection, Moscow. [8]   [8]
For the last, see Vittoria Markova, “Una nuova versione della Venere e Adone di Tiziano: Notizie storico artistiche,” in Una nuova versione della Venere e Adone di Tiziano (Venice, 2007), 12–24 and Alfeo Michieletto, “Il restauro,” in Una nuova versione della Venere e Adone di Tiziano (Venice, 2007), 26–44. The format of these pictures, although they are all wider than they are tall, is close to square Adonis has three dogs Cupid is shown asleep under a tree in the right background and Venus is again represented in her swan-drawn chariot in the sky. While the Prado painting is universally accepted as the finest example of the type, both the ex-Charmant and the Moscow versions have also sometimes been claimed to precede it. [9]   [9]
See respectively W. R. Rearick, “Titian’s Later Mythologies,” Artibus et Historiae 17, no. 33 (1996): 23–67 and Miguel Falomir and Paul Joannides, “Dánae y Venus y Adonis: Origen y evolución,” in Dánae y Venus y Adonis: Las primeras “poesías” de Tiziano para Felipe II, ed. Miguel Falomir (Madrid, 2014), 35–36, 67. With respect to the latter, Alfeo Michieletto, “Il restauro,” in Una nuova versione della Venere e Adone di Tiziano (Venice, 2007), 34, already commented on the quantity of pentimenti revealed by the x-radiograph of the Moscow picture, in contrast to the almost complete absence of such alterations in the Prado version. By contrast, the Gallery’s picture, like the version in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York [fig. 2]   />[fig. 2] Titian, Venus and Adonis, 1560s, oil on canvas, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, The Jules Bache Collection, 1949 , is broader and lower in its proportions than Panofsky’s Type A Adonis has only two dogs Cupid is awake and close to Venus and the sky is filled with a rainbow and a burst of light. Wethey called this the “Farnese” type, because he argued that both of these pictures—as well as all the examples of the “Prado” type—were preceded by a painting formerly in the Farnese collection in Rome, Parma, and Naples, now lost, but recorded in an engraving of 1769 by Robert Strange, in which the composition was reproduced in reverse. This lost version was recorded by Carlo Ridolfi in 1648 at Palazzo Farnese in Rome [10]   [10]
Carlo Ridolfi, Le maraviglie dell’arte, overo Le vite de gl’illustri pittori veneti, e dello stato, ed. Detlev von Hadeln (Berlin, 1914), 1:179. and in a succession of Farnese inventories, beginning in 1644, [11]   [11]
The picture is described in the Farnese inventory of 1680 as follows: “Una Venere, che siede sopra di un panno cremisi, abbraccia Adone, che con la sinistra tiene duoi levrieri e un Amorino con una colomba in mano, di Tiziano” (Amadeo Ronchini, “Delle relazioni di Tiziano coi Farnesi,” Atti e memorie delle RR Deputazioni di Storia Patria per le Provincie Modenesi e Parmensi 2 [1864]: 144 Giuseppe Campori, Raccolta di cataloghi ed inventarii inediti [Modena, 1870], 211). For the inventory of 1644, see Bertrand Jestaz, ed., L’inventaire du Palais et des propriétés Farnèse à Rome en 1644, Vol. 3, Pt. 3: Le Palais Farnèse (Rome, 1994), 77, no. 4394 for those of 1653 and 1708, see Giuseppe Bertini, La galleria del duca di Parma: Storia di una collezione (Bologna, 1987), 139. The picture was later transferred from Parma to the Palazzo di Capodimonte in Naples with the rest of the Farnese collection and was last heard of in 1804. and the writer implied that Titian painted this version for the pope’s grandson Ottavio Farnese on his visit to the papal capital in 1545–1546, together with the first version of the Danaë (Capodimonte, Naples). Although Ridolfi was certainly incorrect in saying that the Danaë was also commissioned by Ottavio, rather than by his elder brother Cardinal Alessandro, it does not necessarily follow that he was also wrong about the Farnese Venus and Adonis. There remains, in any case, a certain amount of circumstantial evidence in favor of Wethey’s hypothesis that this picture was painted for the Farnese family in the mid- or late 1540s, and critics who accept it include Fern Rusk Shapley, Rona Goffen, David Rosand, and (with reservations) Falomir and Joannides. [12]   [12]
Fern Rusk Shapley, Catalogue of the Italian Paintings (Washington, DC, 1979), 1:492–495 Philipp Fehl, “Beauty and the Historian of Art: Titian’s Venus and Adonis,” in Atti del XXIV Congresso Internazionale di Storia dell’Arte, Vol. 10: Problemi di metodo, condizioni di esistenza di una storia dell’arte (1979), ed. Lajos Vayer (Bologna, 1982), 188 Rona Goffen, Titian’s Women (New Haven and London, 1997), 248–249 David Rosand, “Inventing Mythologies: The Painter’s Poetry,” in The Cambridge Companion to Titian, ed. Patricia Meilman (Cambridge, 2004), 44 Paul Joannides, “Titian and the Extract,” Studi Tizianeschi 4 (2006): 139–140 Miguel Falomir and Paul Joannides, “Dánae y Venus y Adonis: Origen y evolución,” in Dánae y Venus y Adonis: Las primeras “poesías” de Tiziano para Felipe II, ed. Miguel Falomir (Madrid, 2014), 36–37, 67–68. As documented by a famous letter of 1554, Titian conceived the Venus and Adonis for Philip of Spain as a pendant to a second version of the Danaë, painted for him a year or two earlier and since the latter is clearly based on the Farnese Danaë, there is some logic in supposing that it, too, had an original pendant in the lost Venus and Adonis. And in the following century, at least, the Farnese Venus and Adonis came to be regarded as one of a pair with the original Danaë, as is evident from the Farnese inventory of 1680, which records the two hanging together. [13]   [13]
See Amadeo Ronchini, “Delle relazioni di Tiziano coi Farnesi,” Atti e memorie delle RR Deputazioni di Storia Patria per le Provincie Modenesi e Parmensi 2 (1864): 144 Giuseppe Campori, Raccolta di cataloghi ed inventarii inediti (Modena, 1870), 211 M. Utili in I Farnese: Arte e collezionismo, ed. Lucia Fornari Schianchi and Nicola Spinosa (Milan, 1995), 208.

The likelihood that Wethey’s name for this type is a misnomer does not, however, prove that Titian invented it only in the 1560s or that it must postdate his invention of the “Prado” type. Joannides and Penny have separately observed that the composition of the “Farnese,” or “two-dog,” type is more satisfactory than that of the “Prado,” or “three-dog,” type, and that for visual reasons it is more logical to interpret the latter as an expansion of the former, than the former as a simplification of the latter. [15]   [15]
Paul Joannides, “Titian and the Extract,” Studi Tizianeschi 4 (2006): 141 Paul Joannides and Jill Dunkerton, “A Boy with a Bird in the National Gallery: Two Responses to a Titian Question,” National Gallery Technical Bulletin 28 (2007): 38 Nicholas Penny, National Gallery Catalogues: The Sixteenth Century Italian Paintings, vol. 2, Venice 1540–1600 (London, 2008), 283. Penny pointed out that the concentration of the figures more tightly into the picture field, without being diluted by landscape, is dramatically more effective. [16]   [16]
Nicholas Penny, National Gallery Catalogues: The Sixteenth Century Italian Paintings, vol. 2, Venice 1540–1600 (London, 2008), 283. Joannides, in a series of articles, has argued that the “two-dog” type began with a now-lost composition reflected in a picture once in the Arundel collection, and destroyed in Vienna in World War II, of which there exists a miniature copy of 1631 by Peter Oliver (Burghley, Stamford) [fig. 3]   [fig. 3] Peter Oliver, after Titian, Venus and Adonis, 1631, tempera on vellum with gold, Burghley House, Stamford. © Burghley House Preservation Trust Limited . [17]   [17]
Paul Joannides, “Titian and the Extract,” Studi Tizianeschi 4 (2006): 140–141 Paul Joannides, “Titian’s Repetitions,” in Titian: Materiality, Likeness, Istoria, ed. Joanna Woods-Marsden (Turnhout, 2007), 46 Paul Joannides and Jill Dunkerton, “A Boy with a Bird in the National Gallery: Two Responses to a Titian Question,” National Gallery Technical Bulletin 28 (2007): 39–40 Paul Joannides, “Titian’s Vienna Mars and Venus: Its Lost Pendant and a Variant,” Paragone 61, no. 721 (2010): 3–27 Miguel Falomir and Paul Joannides, “Dánae y Venus y Adonis: Origen y evolución,” in Dánae y Venus y Adonis: Las primeras “poesías” de Tiziano para Felipe II, ed. Miguel Falomir (Madrid, 2014), 32–34, 66–67. Harold Wethey, The Paintings of Titian (London, 1975), 3:194, no. 3, had considered the ex-Arundel picture to be a free variant of the Gallery’s picture. This composition was appreciably more static and less dramatic than in later versions of the type, including the Gallery’s picture, and the foremost of the dogs was shown standing still and looking back toward its master. Not quite ready for the hunt, Adonis was shown with his right arm around Venus’s shoulder, instead of holding a spear. To judge from a prewar photograph of the ex-Arundel picture, it was not of high artistic quality, and it was apparently itself a workshop version of a lost autograph prototype. Joannides argued that both this lost original and the ex-Arundel picture were painted as early as the later 1520s and that the former was perhaps painted for Titian’s most important patron of the period, Alfonso d’Este. His principal reasons were that the poses of the pair of dogs were strikingly similar to those of the two cheetahs in the Bacchus and Ariadne (National Gallery, London) and that the color scheme, as transmitted by Peter Oliver’s copy, resembled that of the other mythologies painted for Alfonso between 1518 and 1523. Against this it may be argued that the thickset anatomy of Adonis in the ex-Arundel picture, the apparent breadth of its handling, and Venus’s hairstyle (which resembles that of the Portrait of a Young Woman of circa 1545–1546 at Capodimonte, Naples) all make it difficult to date it to the 1520s. Nevertheless, the ex-Arundel picture and its lost prototype—in other words, the earliest not only of the “two-dog” versions but of the whole series—cannot for visual reasons plausibly be dated after the mid-1540s. Indeed, if it is conceded that Don Diego Hurtado de Mendoza’s Fábula de Adonis, written in Venice between 1539 and 1545 (mentioned previously), was inspired by it, then the prototype cannot have been painted much after circa 1543.

Given the likelihood of this early date, the evidence revealed by a technical examination of the Gallery’s picture undertaken in 2004 is both interesting and surprising. Most significantly, the x-radiograph [fig. 4]   [fig. 4] X-radiograph, Titian and Workshop, Venus and Adonis, c. 1540s/c. 1560–1565, oil on canvas, National Gallery of Art, Washington, Widener Collection and the infrared reflectogram [fig. 5]   />[fig. 5] Infrared reflectogram, Titian and Workshop, Venus and Adonis, c. 1540s/c. 1560–1565, oil on canvas, National Gallery of Art, Washington, Widener Collection of the latter show that the foremost dog was originally represented in a standing pose, with its head looking backward, exactly as in the ex-Arundel picture other pentimenti corresponding to this composition include the originally vertical position of one of the leashes and the drapery that originally appeared above Adonis’s proper right shoulder. [18]   [18]
These pentimenti are usefully highlighted in red in the reproduction of the x-radiograph in Miguel Falomir and Paul Joannides, “Dánae y Venus y Adonis: Origen y evolución,” in Dánae y Venus y Adonis: Las primeras “poesías” de Tiziano para Felipe II, ed. Miguel Falomir (Madrid, 2014), fig. 33. It may be noted, however, that some of the other red highlights indicated in this reproduction are not fully warranted by the technical evidence. In other words, the Gallery’s picture must have been begun as another version of the ex-Arundel picture—very likely in the 1540s, or anyway, before the development of the “three-dog” composition—but was then, to judge from its surface handling, set aside and not completed until the 1560s.

This technical evidence naturally also has a bearing on another problem regarding the Gallery’s picture that has been much discussed: its relationship to the New York version. While in general agreement that both of these versions of the “two-dog” composition are late works, and that both show a certain degree of workshop assistance, scholars have expressed divergent opinions about their respective chronological relationship and quality. Hans Tietze regarded the Washington version as superior to that in New York, an opinion later reiterated by W. R. Rearick. [19]   [19]
Hans Tietze, Titian: The Paintings and Drawings (London, 1950), 402 W. R. Rearick, “Titian’s Later Mythologies,” Artibus et Historiae 17, no. 33 (1996): 24, 34, 53. Rodolfo Pallucchini, by contrast, followed by Francesco Valcanover, Augusto Gentili, David Alan Brown, and Maria Agnese Chiari Moretto Wiel, judged the New York version to be a substantially autograph work of the early 1560s, and the Gallery’s picture to be essentially a product of Titian’s workshop. [20]   [20]
Rodolfo Pallucchini, Tiziano (Florence, 1969), 1:142, 315 Francesco Valcanover, Tutta la pittura di Tiziano (Milan, 1960), 2:44 (and Francesco Valcanover, L’opera completa di Tiziano [Milan, 1969], 128–129 Francesco Valcanover, in Le siècle de Titien: L’Âge d’Or de la peinture à Venise [Paris, 1993], 616–617), Augusto Gentili, Da Tiziano a Tiziano: Mito e allegoria nella cultura veneziana del Cinquecento (Milan, 1980), 115–116 David Alan Brown, in Titian, Prince of Painters (Venice, 1990), 328–330 Maria Agnese Chiari Moretto Wiel, in Filippo Pedrocco, Titian: The Complete Paintings (New York, 2001), 260. At the end of the Titian exhibition in 1990, however, the opportunity was taken by a group of scholars, including Brown and Penny, to make a direct comparison between the two pictures and a consensus appears to have emerged that despite its abraded surface and the severely compromised state of the blues and greens, the present work is the earlier and the finer, and shows more evidence of intervention by the master. In support of this opinion, Penny has convincingly pointed to the greater tension of Venus’s arm and the greater expressiveness of her face in the Gallery’s picture to the addition of decorative accessories in the New York picture, such as the draperies over Adonis’s shoulders and the pearls in Venus’s plaits, not present in the Washington version or in the earlier “Arundel” composition or the picture for Philip II and to several of the pentimenti visible in the x-radiograph of the New York picture, which show changes to initial correspondences with the Washington version. [21]   [21]
Nicholas Penny, National Gallery Catalogues: The Sixteenth Century Italian Paintings, vol. 2, Venice 1540–1600 (London, 2008), 283. This reassertion of the quality of the Gallery’s picture renders superfluous previous attempts by scholars to attribute it to particular members of Titian’s workshop, for instance by Hans Tietze, “An Early Version of Titian’s Danaë: An Analysis of Titian’s Replicas,” Arte veneta 8 (1954): 201–202, to Orazio Vecellio, or by Fritz Heinemann, “La bottega di Tiziano,” in Tiziano e Venezia: Convegno internazionale di studi (1976) (Vicenza, 1980), 435, to Girolamo Dente. Since neither picture shows the extremely broken brushwork of Titian’s very late works of the 1570s, both may be dated to the 1560s, with the Gallery’s picture perhaps dating from the first half of the decade.

The various differences of detail between the Washington and New York pictures support the observation by Pallucchini that an engraving of the composition by Raphael Sadeler II, dated 1610 [fig. 6]   [fig. 6] Raphael Sadeler II, after Titian, Venus and Adonis, 1610, engraving, Heidelberg University Library. http://digi.ub.uni-heidelberg.de/fwhb/klebeband13/0149 © Universitätsbilbiothek Heidelberg , was made from the present work, probably when it was still in Venice. [22]   [22]
Rodolfo Pallucchini, Tiziano (Florence, 1969), 1:315. See also Maria Agnese Chiari, Incisioni da Tiziano: Catalogo del fondo grafico a stampa del Museo Correr (Venice, 1982), 142 Miguel Falomir and Paul Joannides, “Dánae y Venus y Adonis: Origen y evolución,” in Dánae y Venus y Adonis: Las primeras “poesías” de Tiziano para Felipe II, ed. Miguel Falomir (Madrid, 2014), 37, 51 n. 79, 68, 73 n. 80.


Robert Spencer, 2nd earl of Sunderland [1641-1702], London and Althorp, Northamptonshire, by 1679[1] by inheritance to his youngest son, the Hon. John Spencer [d. 1746], Althorp[2] by inheritance to John Spencer, 1st earl Spencer [1734-1783], Althorp[3] by inheritance to George John Spencer, 2nd earl Spencer [1758-1834], Althorp[4] by inheritance to John Charles Spencer, 3rd earl Spencer [1782-1845], Althorp by inheritance to Frederick Spencer, 4th earl Spencer [1798-1857], Althorp by inheritance to John Poyntz Spencer, 5th earl Spencer [1835-1910], Althorp by inheritance to Charles Robert Spencer, 6th earl Spencer [1857-1922], Althorp by inheritance to Albert Edward John Spencer, 7th earl Spencer [1892-1975], Althorp sold 1924 to (Thos. Agnew & Sons, Ltd., London) sold 1925 to (Arthur J. Sulley and Co., London) inheritance from Estate of Peter A.B. Widener by gift through power of appointment of Joseph E. Widener, Elkins Park, after purchased 1925 by funds of the Estate gift 1942 to NGA.

[1] The picture is first certainly recorded in the Chelsea house of Anne Russell Digby, Countess of Bristol [d. 1696/1697], mother-in-law of Lord Sunderland, by John Evelyn on 15 January 1679 (John Evelyn, The Diary of John Evelyn (1620–1706), ed. Esmond S. de Beer, 6 vols., Oxford, 1955: 4:162). Yet although Sunderland inherited a few family portraits from his mother-in-law, he acquired most of his extensive collection during his diplomatic career, including in Italy (Kenneth Garlick, “A Catalogue of Pictures at Althorp,” Walpole Society 45 [1974-1976]: xiii-xiv) and according to Thomas F. Dibdin, Aedes Althorpianae: An Account of the Mansion, Books and Pictures at Althorp, London, 1822: 13, the Venus and Adonis was one of Sunderland's favorite purchases. In 1685, still in the lifetime of Lady Bristol, Evelyn saw the picture again at Sunderland’s house in Whitehall (Evelyn 1955, 4:403). Harold Wethey repeats a theory that the picture is identical with a Venus and Adonis mentioned by Marco Boschini, in the Palazzo Barbarigo della Terrazza in Venice, and which is sometimes supposed to have been acquired by Cristoforo Barbarigo soon after Titian’s death from his son Pomponio see Harold Wethey, The Paintings of Titian, 3 vols., London, 1969-1975: 3(1975):193–194 and Marco Boschini, La Carta del Navegar Pitoresco (1660), ed. Anna Pallucchini, Venice, 1966: 30, 664. But apart from the fact that Cristoforo’s will of 1600, which does mention the Gallery’s Venus with a Mirror (NGA 1937.1.34), makes no mention of any Venus and Adonis, Siebenhüner demonstrated that the Barbarigo version was of an upright format, was still in Venice in 1793/1795, was sold to the Czar of Russia in 1850, and is now lost. See Herbert Siebenhüner, Der Palazzo Barbarigo della Terrazza in Venedig und seine Tizian-Sammlung, Munich, 1981: 30 and also Fern Rusk Shapley, Catalogue of the Italian Paintings, 2 vols., Washington, 1979: 1:495.

[2] George Knapton’s catalogue of 1746, with an attribution to “Schidone” (Andrea Schiavone), after Titian (Kenneth Garlick, “A Catalogue of Pictures at Althorp,” Walpole Society 45 [1974-1976)]: 99 no. 175).

[3] Althorp catalogue of 1750, as by Schiavone after Titian (Kenneth Garlick, “A Catalogue of Pictures at Althorp,” Walpole Society 45 [1974-1976]: 108).

[4] Althorp catalogue of 1802, as by Schiavone after Titian (Kenneth Garlick, “A Catalogue of Pictures at Althorp,” Walpole Society 45 [1974-1976]: 124) Thomas F. Dibdin, Aedes Althorpianae: An Account of the Mansion, Books and Pictures at Althorp, London, 1822: 13-14, as by Titian George John Spencer, 2nd Earl, Catalogue of the Pictures at Althorp House, in the County of North Hampton, 1831: 7.

Associated Names
Exhibition History
Technical Summary

The picture is painted on a relatively coarse, open, plain-weave fabric, estimated to be linen, which has been lined. The tacking edges have been removed, but cusping along all four edges and the composition imply that the painting’s dimensions have not been altered.

Infrared reflectography at 1.1 to 1.4 microns [fig. 1]   [fig. 1] Infrared reflectogram, Titian and Workshop, Venus and Adonis, c. 1540s/c. 1560–1565, oil on canvas, National Gallery of Art, Washington, Widener Collection [1]   [1]
Infrared reflectography was performed with a Santa Barbara Focalplane InSb camera fitted with a J astronomy filter. and x-radiographs [fig. 2]   />[fig. 2] X-radiograph, Titian and Workshop, Venus and Adonis, c. 1540s/c. 1560–1565, oil on canvas, National Gallery of Art, Washington, Widener Collection reveal extensive pentimenti, the most significant of which may be summarized as follows: the head of the dog on the right originally looked backward toward the figures a leash held by Adonis originally hung vertically downward the contours of his proper left arm and the proper left side of his torso have been adjusted part of his cloak fluttered above his proper right shoulder the position of the fabric by Venus’s proper left ankle has been altered and her left leg was originally slightly higher.

Close inspection by the naked eye suggests that the ground was applied thinly in reddish brown. The paint is freely applied with loose, confident brushwork lighter colors are used in a full-bodied, textured manner with scumbles, while the darks are generally painted much more thinly. The red drapery was created by covering a white underpainting with a transparent red glaze. To judge from its present gray/brown color, the sky on the right was painted with smalt pigment, but it has retained its correct hue in the area to the left of Adonis, where the smalt was clearly mixed with white lead. The copper resinate greens used for the foliage have typically discolored to a dark brown.

The picture has suffered from overzealous cleanings, and the fabric is visible in many places where the paint has been abraded. During treatment undertaken in 1992–1995 extensive old retouchings and the badly discolored varnish were removed. The painting had been treated previously in 1924 and again in 1930, this time by Herbert N. Carmer.

Peter Humfrey and Joanna Dunn based on the examination reports by Catherine Metzger and Joanna Dunn and the treatment report by David Bull

Venus and Adonis

The first Poesie presented to Prince Philip were Danaë (1553, The Wellington Collection) and Venus and Adonis (1554), versions of other previous works, but endowed with all the prestige of the commissioning party. In turn, these works became models for numerous replicas.

Titian painted the first Venus and Adonis, which was lost but is known from the copies that were made of it, at the end of the 1520´s. After his experience in the Camerino d´Alabastro, which familiarised him with mythology, Titian felt secure enough to visualise a scene not described in Ovid or any other classical or contemporary source: the action of Adonis extracting himself from Venus´ embrace. Titian´s deviation from the canonical sources, which incurred the reproach of Raffaello Borghini in 1584, has prompted historians to seek alternative literary sources. Beroqui pointed to the Fábula de Adonis, Hipómenes y Atalanta by Diego Hurtado de Mendoza, published in Venice in 1553, at the same time that Titian was working on the painting, but written during Mendoza´s years as the Emperor´s ambassador in Venice (1539-45), when he enjoyed close relations with Titian. More recently, Hosono Kiyo put forward as possible sources two works by Ludovico Dolce, the Favola d´Adone (Venice, 1545), in which Adonis rises from Venus with arrows in his hand, and Didone (Venice, 1547), in which Dido seeks to restrain Aeneas as Venus does Adonis. However, the dating of Titian´s invenzione to the 1520s permits us to consider a new option: that both Hurtado de Mendoza and Dolce were inspired by Titian. Dolce himself, in a passage in L´Aretino, admits that a work of pictorial art need not rely on a literary source and he goes further, saying that to contemplate a painting or a sculpture can inspire a writer. Although Dolce cites a watercolor supposedly by Raphael to illustrate his reasoning, he could as well have had in mind Titian´s Venus and Adonis.

Titian took up this theme again twenty years later in various compositions, one of which served as the point pf departure for the work belonging to the Museo del Prado. In this painting, produced in 1554, Titian presents the goddess with her back to us, demonstrating, in conjunction with the works Danaë (The Wellington Collection) and Venus and Adonis, that painting can represent different points of view, in a similar manner to sculpture.

The status of the Prado Venus and Adonis rests on its quality of execution, which is greatly superior to that of any other version, rather than on its composition, which follows earlier versions of the subject. This judgment is reinforced by technical evidence. The infrared reflectogram clearly shows that Titian departed from the Moscow painting (1542-1546) for Philip´s Venus and Adonis. The two human figures and the principal elements of the composition were laid in by tracings, and those tracings coincide precisely with the surface of the Moscow painting. As usual, Titian then included some minor changes and adjustments in Philip´s painting. The X-radiograph reveals a different position of Adonis´ hunting spear, but the most notable pentimenti are visible only on the surface, and mainly in the couple, particularly the profile of Venus and the torso of Adonis. This is because the surface of the Venus and Adonis was executed with very thin layers of paint, through which, as can be seen in parts of the sky, the preparation is visible, an effect noticeable in the contemporary Gloria at the Museo del Prado which Titian developed further in the later poesie, culminating in the Rape of Europa (Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum).

As for the eroticism of the Venus and Adonis, it certainly seemed to contemporaries to be the most erotic of the poesie despite the fact that, unlike the Danaë, it does not depict a sexual act. Dolce compares the effect of contemplating it to that of observing the Cnidian Venus, and for the Spanish ambassador to Venice, it seemed an excellent painting but demasiado lascivo. A strong contributor to this effect were the buttocks of Venus, the part of the female anatomy that most excited the imagination of male contemporaries but it is also likely that it was her scandalous behaviour, this being the only occasion in the series of poesie in which a woman takes the initiative in a movement that merges her desperate effort to restrain her lover with a seductive embrace.

Poesie is the name given to a series of works on mythological themes painted by Titian for Philip II between 1553 and 1562, comprising Danaë (The Wellington Collection, Apsley House), Venus and Adonis (Madrid, Museo del Prado), Perseus and Andromeda (London, The Wallace Collection), Diana and Actaeon and Diana and Callisto (Edinburgh, National Galleries of Scotland-London, National Gallery) and The Rape of Europa (Boston, Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum). The project must have been agreed by Titian and Philip in 1551, when the painter was summoned to the Imperial court at Augsburg. The earliest recorded reference to the poesie comes in a letter written to Philip from Venice, on 23 March 1553, in which Titian informs the prince that he has dispatched a portrait of him interim che metto al ordine le Poesie, suggesting that he was by then working on a project known to both.

The poesie, therefore, should be regarded as the fruit of a common interest shared by Philip and Titian, rather than of the painter´s unchallenged will. Titian often gave his patrons works of art, but never ventured to take the initiative in a project on this large scale. Philip may well have asked Titian, in Augsburg, to produce a series of mythological paintings, leaving the painter free to choose both the themes and their treatment.

Although the poesie were intended to be hung together, in a camerino, as Titian notes in his letter of 10 September 1554, they were not painted for a specific space, as had been the case decades earlier with the Camerino d´Alabastro. This is because, until some time after his return to Spain in August 1559, Philip had no fixed residence. The fact that the series was not produced for an existing space may have had aesthetic repercussions. Titian was concerned about the lighting in the spaces where his works were to be hung, and the lack of specific references may account for the uniform lighting of the poesie, where the figures barely cast shadows. In other contemporary works such as Saint Nicholas of Bari, the Transfiguration or the Annunciation, painted for Venetian churches, the lighting is more carefully focused.

On their arrival in Spain, the poesie were probably placed in the Alcázar in Madrid, where they are recorded as hanging in the 17th century this might account for their omission in the unfinished inventory of the Palace drawn up on the death of Philip II in 1598. Among the rooms not included were those located beside the gardens these would be the most likely location of the poesie, to judge by contemporary views on the placing of mythological paintings both abroad and in Spain. A good example is Fontainebleau, a source of inspiration for Philip II, where Francis I of France hung his picture collection in the bains, a set of seven rooms beside the palace gardens.

We do not know when the poesie entered the Alcázar. The earliest reference to paintings in the building, dating from 1567, makes no mention of them, although the record is incomplete. They may well have been among the eight paintings by Titian that were rehoused in 1587 en los entresuelos de la galería nueva. After 1623 they were hung in the so called bóvedas or vaults of the new Summer Apartment (Cuarto Bajo de Verano), where they were seen in 1626 by Cassiano dal Pozzo. By then, Perseus and Andromeda had left the Royal Collection (it had already done so in the latter years of Philip II´s reign), and Cassiano reports that the remaining poesie were exhibited in three different areas of the vaults. Danaë and Venus and Adonis no longer hung together, thus departing from the pairing originally intended by Titian.

Falomir, Miguel Joannides, Paul, Dánae y Venus y Adonis: origen y evolución. Boletín del Museo del Prado, Museo del Prado, 2014, p.16-51 [38-51 fg.40-fg.46]


Tiziano Vecelli or Tiziano Vecellio (c. 1488/1490 – 27 August 1576 better known as Titian (play /ˈtɪʃən/) was an Italian painter, the most important member of the 16th-century Venetian school. He was born in Pieve di Cadore, near Belluno (in Veneto), in the Republic of Venice. During his lifetime he was often called da Cadore, taken from the place of his birth.

Recognized by his contemporaries as "The Sun Amidst Small Stars" (recalling the famous final line of Dante's Paradiso), Titian was one of the most versatile of Italian painters, equally adept with portraits, landscape backgrounds, and mythological and religious subjects. His painting methods, particularly in the application and use of color, would exercise a profound influence not only on painters of the Italian Renaissance, but on future generations of Western art.

During the course of his long life, Titian's artistic manner changed drastically but he retained a lifelong interest in color. Although his mature works may not contain the vivid, luminous tints of his early pieces, their loose brushwork and subtlety of polychromatic modulations are without precedent in the history of Western art.

Early years

No one is sure of the exact date of Titian's birth when he was an old man he claimed in a letter to Philip II to have been born in 1474, but this seems most unlikely. Other writers contemporary to his old age give figures which would equate to birthdates between 1473 to after 1482, but most modern scholars believe a date nearer 1490 is more likely the Metropolitan Museum of Art's timeline supports c.1488, as does the Getty Research Institute. He was the eldest son of Gregorio Vecelli and his wife Lucia. His father was superintendent of the castle of Pieve di Cadore and managed local mines for their owners. Gregorio was also a distinguished councilor and soldier. Many relatives, including Titian's grandfather, were notaries, and the family of four were well-established in the area, which was ruled by Venice. This early portrait (c. 1512) was long wrongly believed to be of Ariosto it is more likely a self-portrait, and the composition was borrowed by Rembrandt for his own self-portraits.

At the age of about ten to twelve he and his brother Francesco (who perhaps followed later) were sent to an uncle in Venice to find an apprenticeship with a painter. The minor painter, Sebastian Zuccato, whose sons became well-known mosaicists, and who may have been a family friend, arranged for the brothers to enter the studio of the elderly Gentile Bellini, from where they later transferred to that of his brother Giovanni Bellini. At that time the Bellinis, especially Giovanni, were the leading artists in the city. There he found a group of young men about his own age, among them Giovanni Palma da Serinalta, Lorenzo Lotto, Sebastiano Luciani, and Giorgio da Castelfranco, nicknamed Giorgione. Francesco Vecellio, his older brother, later became a painter of some note in Venice.

A fresco of Hercules on the Morosini Palace is said to have been one of his earliest works others were the Bellini-esque so-called Gypsy Madonna in Vienna, and the Visitation of Mary and Elizabeth (from the convent of S. Andrea), now in the Accademia, Venice.

Titian joined Giorgione as an assistant, but many contemporary critics already found his work more impressive, for example in the exterior frescoes (now almost totally destroyed) that they did for the Fondaco dei Tedeschi (state-warehouse for the German merchants), and their relationship evidently had a significant element of rivalry. Distinguishing between their work at this period remains a subject of scholarly controversy, and there has been a substantial movement of attributions from Giorgione to Titian in the 20th century, with little traffic the other way. One of the earliest known works of Titian, Cristo portacroce in the Scuola Grande di San Rocco, depicting the Ecce Homo scene, was long regarded as the work of Giorgione.

The two young masters were likewise recognized as the two leaders of their new school of arte moderna, which is characterized by paintings made more flexible, freed from symmetry and the remnants of hieratic conventions still to be found in the works of Giovanni Bellini. Salome, or Judith this religious work also functions as an idealized portrait of a beauty, a genre developed by Titian, supposedly often using Venetian courtesans as models.

In 1507� Giorgione was commissioned by the state to create frescoes on the re-erected Fondaco dei Tedeschi. Titian and Morto da Feltre worked along with him, and some fragments of paintings remain, probably by Giorgione. Some of their work is known, in part, through the engravings of Fontana. After Giorgione's early death in 1510, Titian continued to paint Giorgionesque subjects for some time, though his style developed its own features, including bold and expressive brushwork.

Titian's talent in fresco is shown in those he painted in 1511 at Padua in the Carmelite church and in the Scuola del Santo, some of which have been preserved.

From Padua in 1512, Titian returned to Venice and in 1513 he obtained a broker's patent, termed La Sanseria or Senseria (a privilege much coveted by rising or risen artists), in the Fondaco dei Tedeschi and became superintendent of the government works, being especially charged to complete the paintings left unfinished by Giovanni Bellini in the hall of the great council in the ducal palace.

During this period (1516�), which may be called the period of his mastery and maturity, the artist moved on from his early Giorgionesque style, undertook larger and more complex subjects and for the first time attempted a monumental style. Giorgione died in 1510 and Giovanni Bellini in 1516, leaving Titian unrivaled in the Venetian School. For sixty years he was to be the undisputed master of Venetian painting. In 1516 he completed for the high altar of the church of the Frari, his famous masterpiece, the Assumption of the Virgin, still in situ. This extraordinary piece of colorism, executed on a grand scale rarely before seen in Italy, created a sensation. It took Titian two years (1516�) to complete the oil painting Assunta, whose dynamic three-tier composition and color scheme established him as the preeminent painter north of Rome. The Signoria took note, and observed that Titian was neglecting his work in the hall of the great council, but in 1516 he succeeded his master Giovanni Bellini in receiving a pension from the Senate.

The pictorial structure of the Assumption—that of uniting in the same composition two or three scenes superimposed on different levels, earth and heaven, the temporal and the infinite — was continued in a series of works such as the retable of San Domenico at Ancona (1520), the retable of Brescia (1522), and the retable of San Niccolò (1523), in the Vatican Museum), each time attaining to a higher and more perfect conception, finally reaching a classic formula in the Pesaro Madonna, (better known as the Madonna di Ca' Pesaro) (c. 1519�), also for the Frari church. This perhaps is his most studied work, whose patiently developed plan is set forth with supreme display of order and freedom, originality and style. Here Titian gave a new conception of the traditional groups of donors and holy persons moving in aerial space, the plans and different degrees set in an architectural framework.

The artist simultaneously continued his series of small Madonnas which he treated amid beautiful landscapes in the manner of genre pictures or poetic pastorals, the Virgin with the Rabbit in the Louvre being the finished type of these pictures. Another work of the same period, also in the Louvre, is the Entombment. This was also the period of the three large and famous mythological scenes for the camerino of Alfonso d'Este in Ferrara, The Andrians and the Worship of Venus in the Prado, and the Bacchus and Ariadne (1520�) in London, ". perhaps the most brilliant productions of the neo-pagan culture or "Alexandrianism" of the Renaissance, many times imitated but never surpassed even by Rubens himself." Titian's state portrait of Emperor Charles V (1548) at Mühlberg established a new genre, that of the grand equestrian portrait. The composition is steeped both in the Roman tradition of equestrian sculpture and in the medieval representations of an ideal Christian knight, but the weary figure and face have a subtlety few such representations attempt.

In 1525 he married a lady named Cecilia, thereby legitimizing their first child, Pomponio, and two others followed, including Titian's favorite, Orazio, who became his assistant. About 1526 he became acquainted, and soon exceedingly intimate, with Pietro Aretino, the influential and audacious figure who features so strangely in the chronicles of the time. Titian sent a portrait of him to Gonzaga, duke of Mantua.

In August 1530 his wife died giving birth to a daughter, Lavinia, and with his three children he moved house, and convinced his sister Orsa to come from Cadore and take charge of the household. The mansion, difficult to find now, is in the Bin Grande, then a fashionable suburb, at the extreme end of Venice, on the sea, with beautiful gardens and a view towards Murano.

During the next period (1530�), Titian developed the style introduced by his dramatic Death of St. Peter Martyr. The Venetian government, dissatisfied with Titian's neglect of the work for the ducal palace, ordered him in 1538 to refund the money which he had received, and Pordenone, his rival of recent years, was installed in his place. However, at the end of a year Pordenone died, and Titian, who meanwhile applied himself diligently to painting in the hall the Battle of Cadore, was reinstated. This major battle scene was lost along with so many other major works by Venetian artists by the great fire which destroyed all the old pictures in the great chambers of the Doge's Palace in 1577. It represented in life-size the moment at which the Venetian general, D'Alviano attacked the enemy with horses and men crashing down into a stream, and was the artist's most important attempt at a tumultuous and heroic scene of movement to rival Raphael's Battle of Constantine and the equally ill-fated Battle of Cascina of Michelangelo and The Battle of Anghiari of Leonardo (both unfinished). There remains only a poor, incomplete copy at the Uffizi, and a mediocre engraving by Fontana. The Speech of the Marquis del Vasto (Madrid, 1541) was also partly destroyed by fire. But this period of the master's work is still represented by the Presentation of the Blessed Virgin (Venice, 1539), one of his most popular canvasses, and by the Ecce Homo (Vienna, 1541). Despite its loss, the painting had a great influence on Bolognese art and Rubens, both in the handling of details and the general effect of horses, soldiers, lictors, powerful stirrings of crowds at the foot of a stairway, lit by torches with the flapping of banners against the sky. Titian's unmatched handling of color is exemplified by his Danaë with Nursemaid, one of several mythological paintings, or "poesie" ("poems") as the painter called them, done for Philip II of Spain. Although Michelangelo adjudged this piece deficient from the point of view of drawing, Titian and his studio produced several versions for other patrons.

At this time also, the time of his visit to Rome, the artist began his series of reclining Venuses The Venus of Urbino of the Uffizi, Venus and Love at the same museum, Venus and the Organ-Player, Madrid), in which is recognized the effect or the direct reflection of the impression produced on the master by contact with ancient sculpture. Giorgione had already dealt with the subject in his Dresden picture, finished by Titian, but here a purple drapery substituted for a landscape background changed, by its harmonious coloring, the whole meaning of the scene.

Titian had from the beginning of his career shown himself to be a masterful portrait-painter, in works like La Bella (Eleanora de Gonzaga, Duchess of Urbino, at the Pitti Palace). He painted the likenesses of princes, or Doges, cardinals or monks, and artists or writers. ". no other painter was so successful in extracting from each physiognomy so many traits at once characteristic and beautiful", according to The Catholic Encyclopedia. Among portrait-painters Titian is compared to Rembrandt and Velázquez, with the interior life of the former, and the clearness, certainty, and obviousness of the latter.

In 1532 after painting a portrait of the emperor Charles V in Bologna he was made a Count Palatine and knight of the Golden Spur. His children were also made nobles of the Empire, which for a painter was an exceptional honor.

As a matter of professional and worldly success his position from about this time is regarded as equal only to that of Raphael, Michelangelo, and at a later date Rubens. In 1540 he received a pension from D'Avalos, marquis del Vasto, and an annuity of 200 crowns (which was afterwards doubled) from Charles V from the treasury of Milan.

He visited Rome in 1546, and obtained the freedom of the city—his immediate predecessor in that honor having been Michelangelo in 1537. He could at the same time have succeeded the painter Sebastiano del Piombo in his lucrative office as holder of the piombo or Papal seal, and he was prepared to take holy orders for the purpose but the project lapsed through his being summoned away from Venice in 1547 to paint Charles V and others in Augsburg. He was there again in 1550, and executed the portrait of Philip II which was sent to England and proved useful in Philip's suit for the hand of Queen Mary.

Final years

During the last twenty-six years of his life (1550�) the artist worked mainly for Philip II and as a portrait-painter. He became more self-critical, an insatiable perfectionist, keeping some pictures in his studio for ten years, never wearying of returning to them and retouching them, constantly adding new expressions at once more refined, concise, and subtle. He also finished off many copies of earlier works of his by his pupils, giving rise to many problems of attribution and priority among versions of his works, which were also very widely copied and faked outside his studio, during his lifetime and afterwards.

For Philip II he painted a series of large mythological paintings known as the "poesie", mostly from Ovid, which are regarded as among his greatest works. Thanks to the prudishness of Philip's successors, these were later mostly given as gifts and only two remain in the Prado. Titian was producing religious works for Philip at the same time. The "poesie" series began with Venus and Adonis, of which the original is in the Prado, but several versions exist, and Danaë, both sent to Philip in 1553. Diana and Actaeon and Diana and Callisto, were despatched in 1559, then Perseus and Andromeda (Wallace Collection, now damaged) and the Rape of Europa (Boston, Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum), delivered in 1562. The Death of Actaeon was begun in 1559 but worked on for many years, and never completed or delivered.

For each of the problems which he successively undertook he furnished a new and more perfect formula. He never again equaled the emotion and tragedy of the The Crowning with Thorns (Louvre), in the expression of the mysterious and the divine he never equaled the poetry of the Pilgrims of Emmaus, while in superb and heroic brilliancy he never again executed anything more grand than The Doge Grimani adoring Faith (Venice, Doge's Palace), or the Trinity, of Madrid.

Titian had engaged his daughter Lavinia, the beautiful girl whom he loved deeply and painted various times, to Cornelio Sarcinelli of Serravalle. She had succeeded her aunt Orsa, then deceased, as the manager of the household, which, with the lordly income that Titian made by this time, placed her on a corresponding footing. The marriage took place in 1554. She died in childbirth in 1560.

In September 1565 Titian went to Cadore and designed the decorations for the church at Pieve, partly executed by his pupils. One of these is a Transfiguration, another an Annunciation (now in S. Salvatore, Venice), inscribed Titianus fecit, by way of protest (it is said) against the disparagement of some persons who cavilled at the veteran's failing handicraft.

He continued to accept commissions to the end of his life. He had selected as the place for his burial the chapel of the Crucifix in the Santa Maria Gloriosa dei Frari, the church of the Franciscan Order in return for a grave, he offered the Franciscans a picture of the Pietà, representing himself and his son Orazio before the Savior, another figure in the composition being a sibyl. This work he nearly finished, but some differences arose regarding it, and he then settled to be interred in his native Pieve.

Titian was (depending on his unknown birthdate—see above) probably in his late eighties when the plague raging in Venice took him on 27 August 1576. He was the only victim of the Venice plague to be given a church burial. He was interred in the Frari (Santa Maria Gloriosa dei Frari), as at first intended, and his Pietà was finished by Palma the Younger. He lies near his own famous painting, the Madonna di Ca' Pesaro. No memorial marked his grave, until much later the Austrian rulers of Venice commissioned Canova to provide the large monument.

Immediately after Titian's own death, his son and assistant Orazio died of the same epidemic. His sumptuous mansion was plundered during the plague by thieves.


Titian himself never attempted engraving, but he was very conscious of the importance of printmaking as a means of further expanding his reputation. In the period 1517� he designed a number of woodcuts, including an enormous and impressive one of The Crossing of the Red Sea, and collaborated with Domenico Campagnola and others, who produced further prints based on his paintings and drawings. Much later he provided drawings based on his paintings to Cornelius Cort from the Netherlands who engraved them. Martino Rota followed Cort from about 1558 to 1568.

Several other artists of the Vecelli family followed in the wake of Titian. Francesco Vecellio, his elder brother, was introduced to painting by Titian (it is said at the age of twelve, but chronology will hardly admit of this), and painted in the church of S. Vito in Cadore a picture of the titular saint armed. This was a noteworthy performance, of which Titian (the usual story) became jealous so Francesco was diverted from painting to soldiering, and afterwards to mercantile life.

Marco Vecellio, called Marco di Tiziano, Titian's nephew, born in 1545, was constantly with the master in his old age, and learned his methods of work. He has left some able productions in the ducal palace, the Meeting of Charles V. and Clement VII. in 1529 in S. Giacomo di Rialto, an Annunciation in SS. Giovani e Paolo, Christ Fulminant. A son of Marco, named Tiziano (or Tizianello), painted early in the 17th century.

The painting The Allegory of Age Governed by Prudence (c. 1565�) is thought to depict Titian, his son Orazio, and a young cousin, Marco Vecellio.

From a different branch of the family came Fabrizio di Ettore, a painter who died in 1580. His brother Cesare, who also left some pictures, is well known by his book of engraved costumes, Abiti antichi e moderni. Tommaso Vecelli, also a painter, died in 1620. There was another relative, Girolamo Dante, who, being a scholar and assistant of Titian, was called Girolamo di Tiziano. Various pictures of his were touched up by the master, and are difficult to distinguish from originals.

Few of the pupils and assistants of Titian became well-known in their own right for some being his assistant was probably a lifetime career. Paris Bordone and Bonifazio Veronese were his assistants during at some point in their careers. Giulio Clovio said Titian employed El Greco (or Dominikos Theotokopoulos) in his last years.

. Ebbe dalla moglie Cecilia, morta nel 1530, tre figli: Pomponio, Orazio, Lavinia.

Watch the video: Raffaello, Giorgione e Tiziano. Documentario. (May 2022).