Crystal Hancock - Titian: A Short Biographical Sketch

Self-portrait (early 1550's)

Tiziano Vecellio, better known as Titian, was born in Peve di Cadore to a rather prosperous family; however, unlike most artists of the time, he did not come from a family of artists. His father, Gregorie DI Conte dei Vecelli came from a line of soldiers and governmental officials and little is known of his mother Lucia (Cole 1999). There is much debate as to the actual date of his birth since no actual record exists. In a letter written by Titian to Philip II in 1571, the artist complains of being ninety-five years old, which would place his date of birth in 1476. Most modern scholars, however, believe the artist was actually born somewhere between 1488 and 1490 (Pedrocco 1993). The actual year of Titianís birth is important so that the chronology of his works can be accurately pieced together; therefore, this is not a trivial issue.

Despite the controversy surrounding his birth date, it is obvious that Titian was quite young when he first got started, probably around ten years old. At this time, he and his brother Francesco went to Venice to live with their uncle. While in Venice, they got their first experience in the workshop of Sebastiano Zuccato, who was a prominent mosaicist of the time. From there, Titian went on to work with the Bellini brothers, Gentile and Giovanni, leading artists of the day. It was in the Bellini studio that he met the young Giorgione. The style of this artist around the time Titian met him relied heavily on gradations of tone rather than line and he showed a preoccupation with landscape (Hope 1980). Titian was influenced by this style, as seen in The Three Ages of Man from 1511-1512.

The first works of Titian are not documented; however, it is thought that he worked on many devotional paintings prior to the first documented work in 1508. These devotional paintings were done in the style of Giovanni Bellini, indicating that they were probably completed prior to the documented frescoes. The subject of these early paintings was usually the Madonna and child, either alone or in the presence of saints. The figures were half-length and placed before a landscape, drapery, or prop, a style popularized by Giovanni (Cole 1999). The most famous of these paintings is the Gypsy Madonna, which is unsigned and undocumented like most of the earlier works of Titian.
The Santo frescoes, completed in 1510, were the first documented works by Titian. It is seen in these works that Titian has moved away from the style of Giovanni Bellini. The detail of these works indicates that these were more than likely not the paintings of an inexperienced artist, illustrating the point that these were probably not indeed the first works of this artist (Cole 1999). Titian also did some early portraits around this time, including the Portrait of a Man from around 1512. In these early paintings, idealization was quite important to the artist.
In 1516, Giovanni Bellini passed away, and Titian became the official painter of the republic. During this middle period of Titianís career, he painted many mythologies and religious paintings. He painted the Assumption of the Virgin, which is the worldís largest painting on panel (690 x 360 cm). This piece was intended for the altar in the choir of the Franciscan Church of Santa Maria Gloriosa dei Frari in Venice. It was commissioned sometime around 1516 and completed around 1520. Titian also painted many courtesan portraits that were popular at the time. This type of portrait depicts the courtesansí upper body in a state of undress and usually with an "attribute that suggests a mythological or allegorical identity" (Cole 1999). Titianís Flora of 1520 is an excellent example of this style portrait, containing all of the elements.

Titian was gaining much acclaim with his painting; however, it was his portraits of the next part of his career that would make him famous. Portraits were quite important to the Renaissance society in order to project the image and nature of the rulers since they had no photographic devices (Cole 1999). By painting famous personages, artists such as Titian could become quite successful. Among those painted by Titian were the Holy Roman Emperor Charles V and Pope Paul III. Charles V went on to appoint him court painter and give him the rank of Count Palatine and Knight of the Golden Spur (Cole 1999).

In Titianís later works, he again portrayed many mythological and religious scenes; however, the style had changed tremendously. The forms lost their solidity and the color was more intense. Titian referred to his later paintings as poesie (poems) (Pedrocco 1993). Many of Titianís later works reveal a sense of tragedy, as seen in the Flaying of Marsyas from 1570. In his final works, he often added finishing touches with his fingers. His final work was Pieta, which he created for the Chapel of Christ in the Frari Church, the place where he was to be buried. When Titian passed away on August 27, 1576, the work was incomplete and was completed by Palma the Younger who merely added glazing and some final touches (Pedrocco 1993).


Titian lived a long and productive life, although we do not know exactly how long due to the absence of a record of his date of birth. He was a famous Venetian painter, whose works, especially his portraits, gained him international acclaim, something not known to artists before him. In the words of Vasari, who is best known for his book on Renaissance painters, "there was almost no famous lord, nor prince, nor great woman, who was not painted by Titian."

Works Cited

Cole, Bruce. Titian and Venetian Painting, 1450-1590. United States of America: Westview Press, 1999.
Pedrocco, Filippo. The Library of Great Masters: Titian. Italy: SCALA, 1993.
Hope, Charles. Titian. London: Jupiter Books, 1980.

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