Titian\'s Altarpieces

What was the importance of these two altarpieces for the development of painting
in Venice, both from a stylistic and iconographic point of view? It has been
said that Titianís Assunta, which adorns the high altar, and Pesaro (on the
left aisle of the chapel of the Immaculate Conception) stand mid-way between the
past and the future of Venetian painting. This infers that Titian drew on
established traditions learnt from his masters Bellini and Giorgione, and imbued
his works with a freshness and inspiration not seen before. Furthermore, it
becomes apparent that his sensitive construction of the works Ė considering
the authority of his patrons Ė facilitate a depth of interpretation which
highlight both the sacred and civic concerns of the time. To illustrate

Titianís progressive role in Venetian art history, I will draw on Renaissance
documentation, and contemporary research that notes the stylistic and
iconographic elements of these altarpieces. In 1568 the Florentine chronicler

Vasari wrote of Titian, "Titian...who has adorned with great pictures the City
of Venice...deserves the love and respect of all craftsmen, who ought to admire
and imitate him in many things. For he is a painter who has produced...work
which...will live as long as the memory of illustrious men endures" . This is
a useful starting point for such an investigation: this representation is valid,
since Vasari had met and spoken to him while writing the book, and being a

Florentine he wasnít so susceptible to employing the Venetian rhetoric which
could tend to be biased The contemporary chronicler Ludovico Dolce recorded the
shock and criticism the Assunta attracted when it was first unveiled. Such
controversy points to its radicalism and supports assertions that it was
influential for developing artists: "For all [the panelís grandeur and
awesomeness], the oafish painters and the foolish masses, who until then had
seen nothing but the dead and cold works of Giovanni Bellini, of Gentile, and of

Vivarino..., which were without movement and modelling, grossly defamed the
picture. Then, as envy cooled and the truth slowly dawned on them, people began
to marvel at the new style established in Venice by Titian..." There is good
reason to conclude that the Assunta and Pesaro altarpieces rank amongst the
finest and most notary of Titianís works. In his book, The Altarpiece in

Renaissance Venice, Peter Humfrey claims that the exceptionally large number of
churches in Venice elevated the prevalence of this style, as they all needed to
be decorated. The lack of fresco painting (due to the humid climate) meant more
panel paintings were constructed, and so "Venetian painters tended to
concentrate their most ambitious efforts...on altar painting" Limitations of
the investigation The lack of primary documentation from this era hinders our
ability to place the artwork in its socio-cultural context. When relying on the
rhetoric of the State-appointed historians, we must consider the bias that
results from their upholding of the ĎMyth of Veniceí. Obviously, the value
of these to the research question is limited; being contemporary, they are
unable to describe Titianís long-term influence on Venetian painting.

Definition of key terms When analysing artwork from a stylistic point of view,
all visual (not metaphorical) factors are taken into account. Issues of
composition, symmetry and asymmetry, colour palette, application of paint, and
rendering of forms are all relevant. Iconography refers to any elements of the
painting that can be left open for a religious or sacred interpretation. These
two points of view are inextricably linked: for example, the placement (re:
composition, thus stylistic element) of the Madonna and Child, elevated in the
centre of a devotional painting also has iconographic references: this was their
traditional position, and portrayed their roles as intercessors between the
figures below, and God in Heaven above. In this context, the altarpiece refers
to a painting set behind an above the altar in a Christian church. Painted
altarpieces might be accompanied by sculpture, as in the case of Titianís

Assunta, which features three free-standing marble figures on the frame. The
term sacra conversazione refers to the type of composition made popular by

Bellini, where a group of saints are gathered in a unified space. Any
Ďconversationí between saints is solely spiritual and internal;
paradoxically, as soon as obvious communication takes place (in the case of

Titianís Pesaro), the composition no longer conforms to what constitutes a
sacra conversazione . Established traditions in altarpiece design Titian was
painting amongst the turbulent climate of the age of Reformation and the

Counter-Reformation: this may have influenced his work, endowing it with a
greater sense of drama and more overt display of emotion which is evident
especially in Assunta. This was a significant development from the