the most anticipated art exhibition of the year, Tiziano
(Titian), has been unveiled at the Scuderie del Quirinale.
And it delivers on its promise: to bring together, for the first time, dozens
of pieces by Venice’s most famous painter and to show how his style developed
over the course of the 16th Century.
could be more ambitious than this one. The artist, born Tiziano Vecelli in
1490, found success by the first decade of the 1500s, was known across Europe
by the 1520s and had become a favourite of such notable patrons as Holy Roman
Emperor Charles V by the 1530s. When he died in 1576, Titian wasn’t just the
most famous painter in Venice; he was one of the most influential Italian
artists in history.
retrospectives on famous artists run a serious risk: it’s not easy to acquire a
real sampling of the artist’s best works, or even those from different stages in
the artist’s development. Curators often use pieces by the artist’s peers or
students to contextualise the artist or fill in the gaps.
In Tiziano, which runs until 16 June,
one showstopper follows the next. And every one of the 39
works on display are by Titian himself, with the exception of a mosaic by
Valerio Zuccato, done after the master’s preparatory design.
first room, it is clear that this exhibition is dedicated to the artist’s best
pieces. His famed Self-Portrait, a sombre piece showing the master at 75
(on loan from Madrid’s Museo Nacional
del Prado), proves he was just as attentive to psychological detail when it
came to painting himself as when he painted others. On the adjacent wall hangs
of St Lawrence, a monumental – and
spine-tingling – canvas commissioned in 1547 for the Jesuit church of Santa
Maria Assunta in Venice, which shows the saint being burned alive beneath a
stormy night sky.
powerful start, the show reverts to Titian’s early years, particularly as a
painter of religious scenes. With its vibrant colours, skilled sfumato (the Renaissance painting
technique perfected by Leonardo da Vinci that makes outlines look super-soft
and almost smoky), and limpid-eyed Mary, the Madonna and Child from the Accademia Carrara in Bergamo
shows the painter’s precocity: he painted it when he was only 17 years old. The
show follows the master through his various phases, right up to the 1563 to 1565
from Venice’s Chiesa di San Salvador, a piece so innovative, thanks to its
sketchy brushstrokes and diffused dashes of light, that painters wouldn’t explore a similar style for
another three centuries.
upper floor explores Titian’s secular paintings, including his famed portraits.
Titian wasn’t just talented technically; he was penetratingly perceptive,
especially of his subjects’ emotions and personalities. The celebrated Charles
V with Dog shows the Holy Roman
Emperor at the height of his power, with an expression and pose to match. Some
of Titian’s most beloved female portraits are here, too, including La
Bella from Palazzo Pitti in Florence.
With her honey-coloured hair, arched brows and white skin, she wasn’t just a beauty; she represented the beauty (“la bella”) of the era.
not every one of Titian’s masterpieces is on display. Among the most notable
omissions are the ground-breaking Assunta
of the Basilica di Santa Maria
Gloriosa dei Frari in Venice, which skyrocketed the then-28-year-old to
fame; his mysterious Sacred and Profane Love
from the Borghese Gallery in Rome; and his very last work, the
heart-wrenching Pietà from the
Accademia of Venice, complete with a self-portrait of 85-year-old Titian
as an anguished Nicodemus to the dead Christ.
those absences though, the only note of discord is – as so often with Italian
exhibits – the show’s English translations. Luckily, Titian’s work is brilliant
enough to appreciate on its own… even if you don’t wade through the
Entrance to the
exhibition costs 12 euros; you also can book
your ticket online.
Amanda Ruggeri is the
Rome Localite for BBC Travel. She also writes revealedrome.com.