The art of Titian in Venice


One of my favourite topics is Art. I haven’t been writing about art in a while, thus I thought to go back to my personal expert, Luca Simoncello, to discuss about his latest excursion to Venice, one of the best destinations on earth for those who are mad about the arts. We discussed about one of the most impressive Renaissant Artist of the 1500s, called Titian, and his masterpiece, kept at Basilica dei Frari in Venice.

Titian’s Assumption, by Luca Simoncello (aka Luca Boerio)

In Venice there always are things to discover and while heading to see the tomb of the great Venetian Painter Titian I walked over Ponte delle Tette, not far from Basilica dei Frari; this bridge is located in the former “red light” district of the city. The bridge is named after the prostitutes who were used to show their breasts, from the windows of the brothels, to catch the customers’ attention. In Venice a stroll is never just a transfer from one point to another but a fascinating adventure full of surprises. You may know the destination but you don’t know what you can find along the way.

Ponte delle Tette – Venice. Photo by Matteo Gazzarata

Today, however, I will introduce a masterpiece by the supreme painter Titian, which is located at the same place of his Tomb: the Basilica of the Frari, which also keeps the remains of other great artists such as Claudio Monteverdi or Antonio Canova.

Although Basilica dei Frari is well known, it is located a little outside the usual tourist area: you have to go beyond Rialto in the San Polo District. After a pit stop to enjoy the smells and the noise of the fish market, opposite Ca ‘d’Oro, continue towards the Frari.

Titian’s Tomb at Basilica dei Frari – Photo by Matteo Gazzarata

You will find yourself in front of the largest church in Venice, 102 meters long and 48 meters high. It size is so big, it was elevated to the title of “minor basilica” in 1926. It’s interiors offer numerous works of art, including a wooden statue of San Giovanni Battista by Donatello. However, the item that catch visitors’ attention is the painting over the main altar.

The Facade of Santa Maria dei Frari. Photo by Matteo Gazzarata

It is the “Assumption” by Titian. He painted it in 1535 at the age of 30, by the time another Venetian artist, Giovanni Bellini, died; This altarpiece marks a fundamental change in the Venetian painting tradition. Titian abandoned the hieratic patterns of the Nordic influences, which was the main feature of Bellini’s art, and approaches the dynamic and colourful pulse of the Renaissance brought to light by Michelangelo and Raphael. The altarpiece depicts the ascension to heaven of the Virgin, which occupies the central band of the painting, in the lower section we find the Apostles, who observe her ascent to heaven while in the upper one, the figure of God in backlight illuminates the scene.

The Aussmption by Titian. Photo by Matteo Gazzarata

The division by pictorial bands can still be considered an old heritage, however strength and dynamism dominate the work and make it very modern.  By the time Titian painted it, there were many doubts about his talent. So many to lead the Friars to the edge of refusing his work. As soon as rumours about a possible refusal of the painting started, the ambassador of Austria negotiated the purchase, thus making the Friars understand the importance and the beauty of the painting. The purchase never happened: the painting still today dominates the marble stand specifically meant to underline and emphasize its importance.

Each pictorial band shows “moving” subjects: the apostles, for example show disbelief. Titian must have taken his fellow citizens as models. In fact he used their massive bodies to dramatize the scene with a skilful play of lights and shadows which emphasize the pathos of the moment.

Lower band – The Apostles.
Central Band – The Assumption
Upper band – God Almighty

You can see the bright colours of this former commercial super power and you understand how they flow into a dazzling intensity that culminates in the red vest of the Virgin’s. It is the core of the painting. Everything around is blurred, contours are faded, until it all goes into a pasty dazzling light where there is no matter at all. The figure of God is motionless, hidden by the glow, his face can hardly be seen due to the intense light.

The face of the Virgin shows peace, unconditional joy and quiet: the end of all sufferings. Each of us would like to find that inner peace: her flight tells us about the possibility of a place without sufferings and pain.

Titian took a distance from Bellini’s static compositions and without him there would probably be neither Tintoretto nor Veronese and many others. Thankfully, in the end, the Friars understood his talent: the painting is shown at the very place it was originally meant to be placed, since 1535.

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