Friday, March 25, 2011

40 Days of Artists: Titian

Of all the artists I have and will be covering over Lent, I would imagine that Titian is the artist that had the most fun with paint above all others. Titian never had one set-in-stone style of painting throughout his life. Even near the end of his life, he was changing the way he painted. He was always experimenting and trying new ways of applying his medium. In other words, he was the quintessential Venetian painter.
The two main schools of art in Italy during the Renaissance were the Florentine and the Venetian. The Florentine artists focused heavily on the discipline of drawing with accurate proportion, and the Venetian artists tended to shift their focus on the medium - how to achieve great effects using color and application. Titian was a master at this. The critics of his time certainly noticed that drawing was not his strongest talent. Seems odd, because I am personally of the opinion that Titian had drawing down pretty well, even though he focused more on the painting part. Vasari is noted for saying that had Titian applied the art of drawing to his mastery of color, he would have been an even greater artist.
Titian's manner of painting is so widely discussed, and there are even stories of paintings of his being scraped down layer by layer to determine how he achieved his colors. X-rays of his paintings show how fluid he was in his style. He would often change his mind and work experimentally until he had his figures just right. Titian certainly embraced a trial and error manner of painting.
One of the things that Titian would have certainly made other artists jealous over was his palette of colors. Titian used some of the most rare and expensive pigments that an artist could use. Particularly colors like ultramarine blue, a pigment ground from a stone called lapis lazuli found in Afghanistan were among the most expensive at the time. Though ultramarine is most commonly manufactured chemically today, the lapis lazuli is still used today by some artists, and is one of the most precious pigments in the world. A prime example of Titian's that uses these most beautiful and purest pigments is Bacchus and Ariadne, painted in the 1520s. It is almost an attempt by Titian to show off all the colors he had on one painting.
By the end of his career, Titian once again changed his style, and it is believed he quite often abandoned his brush altogether for some paintings, and simply applied and manipulated the paint with his fingers. He would also quite often scumble the paint, using only a few quick and spontaneous brush strokes - a technique that greatly influenced perhaps the greatest painter of the next generation in Spain - Diego Velázquez.

Bacchus and Ariadne
oil on canvas
175 x 190 cm

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