Palma il Giovane on Titian

Tiziano Vecelli (ca. 1490 to 1576), called Titian in English, is one of the most famous painters during the High Renaissance period. Titian was a supreme colorist and the most extraordinary and prolific of the great Venetian painters. He was very talented and had a remarkable coloristic sense. Titian had the ability to convey dramatic light through painting. Below are a couple examples of his paintings…

Titian, Assumption of the Virgin, 1516-1518

Titian, Madonna of the Pesaro Family, 1519-1526

Titian, Meeting of Bacchus and Ariadne, 1522-1523

Titian, Isabella d’Este, 1534-1536

During Titian’s time, there was a shift in painting from painting on wood panels to painting oil on canvas. One of Titian’s students, Palma il Giovani, wrote an account of how his master teacher used effectively used the medium of oil on canvas:

Titian [employed] a great mass of colors, which served… as a base for the compositions… I too have seen some of these, formed with bold stokes made with brushes laden with colors, sometimes of a pure red earth, which he used, so to speak, for a middle tone, and at other times of white lead; and with the same brush tinted with red, black and yellow he formed a highlight; and observing these principles he made the promise of an exceptional figure appear in four brushstrokes…. Having constructed these precious foundations he used to turn his pictures to the wall and leave them there without looking at them, sometimes for several months. When he wanted to apply his brush again he would examine the with the utmost rigor … to see fi he could find any faults….In this way, working on the figures and revising them, he brought them to the most perfect symmetry that the beauty of art and  nature can reveal…. [T]hus he gradually covered those quintessential forms with living flesh, bringing them by many stages to a state in which they lacked only the breath of life. He never painted a figure all at once and… in the last stages he painted more with his fingers than his brushes.”*

Palma il Giovane argues that Titian used color as the foundation of his paintings. He didn’t focus on brushstrokes, or organization of the work. He focused on color. He would create a variety of different colors. In fact, Titian so concentrated on color that he would paint his figures in very few brushstrokes.

Then Palma il Giovane describes Titian’s method of painting. “He never painted a figure all at once,” explained Giovane. Rather, Giovane makes the argument that Titian’s painting process was a revised and multi-step process. He explains that Titian would paint parts of the figure and leave them alone, sometimes so several months. This process allows Titian to fin faults in his works and paint the most life-like and beautiful masterpieces.

I agree with Palma il Giovane.  I think that it is Titian’s focus on color and his process of painting that allows him to create the most marvelous works of art in his own distinct style.

*Quoted in Francesco Valcanover, “An Introduction to Titian,” in Susanna Biadene and Mary Yakush, eds, Titian: Prince of Painters (Venice: Marsilio Editori, 1990), 23-24.

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