Friday, July 20, 2012

Venus of Urbino by Titian

Taylor Speer-Sims
June 27, 2012

                                                            The Beauteous Venus

The Italian Renaissance had a great amount of artists come to the forefront. The rebirth of styles of the ancient world became very popular. It was the humanist painters that brought the old world into new light. It was not just the style of the paintings, but the artist too, that created the humanist style. A painter’s education, interest, and subject was also important for this particular fashion. Beautiful work for itself became popular. Humanist beauty was the key to Renaissance art, and especially Titian’s work Venus of Urbino.
The Venus of Urbino was a beauteous work completed in 1538 by the master artist Titian.[1] Titian was born Tiziano Vecelli in Venice, Italy sometime around the year 1485. Titian trained under the founder of the Venetian School of Painting, Giovanni Bellini. But it was under the tutelage of Giorgione between the years of 1506 and 1508 that he found his direction. Titian not only acted as painter’s assistant to Giorgione, but at the death of the master, the pupil took over the unfinished paintings and frescoes. Thus finding himself at the head of an art house, he had his first commission in 1511 for three frescoes in Padua.[2]

              Padua was not the only location where Titian created beautiful paintings. He created

paintings of oil and canvas to a degree that no one else had at that time in history.[3] Titian created

religious, mythological and portraits more vivid and higher in movement than any of his

predecessors. He found that when his old master, Bellini, died, he was created the official painter to

the Republic of Venice. Reasoning behind this official position was not just his because of his

amazing talent, but also because he had broken free of his masters styling, and had created a style

of his own. The artist’s apparent pleasure in forms in vivacious color against darker backgrounds

endeared him to his people. Then later, with the death of his wife, his mood changed to a more

restrained and meditative style the elevated the style of related color palettes.[4]

               Most painters of the Renaissance had been considered working in a type of mechanical

position because they worked with their hands. The Archbishop of Genoa used the words of Carisius

to put their position in perspective, “And then thereto, he said: …, thou art nothing more noble, ne

more mighty than be thy painters.”[5] The un-noble profession of most painters was not that of

Titian, who later did become ennobled. When Titian met Charles V of Bolgna, he painted a portrait

of the ruler that would become one of the most prized, as well as famous, of the king. Titian then

received the title of Court Painter and was given a noble tile of Count Palatine and Knight of the

Golden Spur.  All of this was of great value because his paintings became more sought after, and his

prices soared. It was at this time that he painted the painting the Venus of Urbino.[6] Titian was at the

 height of his glory at the time of this great commission.[7]
              It was the Duke of Urbino that had requested the commission of Titian for a beautiful

nude. The original title of the painting was lost to time. However, the general belief that the title was

merely Nude and was titled later after the Venus De Milo because of the beauty of the subject of the

painting. The addition of Urbino was due to the location of Duke’s palace. The presumption of the

title bears the idea of great, idealized, beauty. The real identity of the painting’s subject has also been

lost to time. Only the fact that the Duke requested a nude painting for his rooms of his palazzo has

            Requisitions of art works was a very important form of having a reliable source of income

for the humanist painters of the Renaissance. This was not new, nor was it uncommon. Nor was the

idea of nudity unusual for these painters either. Humanist painters were just as the humanist writers

in that they used their art to glorify God.[9] They also wanted to make their artwork as true to nature

as possible, or even better. They wanted to create a more idealized version of the human form.[10]

While some believed that these paintings should be banished because of they created temptations of

 the flesh, others believed that they should not only continue, but were in fact allegorical to God’s


            This was the background for Titian and his painting of the nude woman that would later be

described as Venus. Titian had the training of a master that the humanist favored. He painted

religious paintings for the glory of God. And, Titian created the painting of Venus of Urbino where

many other humanist beliefs were included for the viewer to behold. Titian included some of the most

 basic ideas of humanist paintings, such as the life-like body, natural scenery, perspective, and had a

 strong concern for human interests, as well as interest in the Roman and Greek Empires.[12]
         The Venus of Urbino gives these qualities that completely indicated the humanist side of

Titian. The main focus of the painting was the woman, or Venus, who was obviously a lady of means

due to her high quality housing, staff and puppy. The scenery, while not outdoors, showed the natural

side of a noble woman       in her own bedchamber. Venus was painted in an open pose, lying on her

bed, with her two servants in the background. All of this was in an open room with a large courtyard

style window that gave a glimpse of the outdoors.[13]
         The background of blue sky of either dawn or dusk showed that Titian wanted to give the

impression that the lady could either be lying down to bed, or beginning her day. This would have

been left up to the viewer, which would have been the Duke of Urbino. The tree, which was another

indicator of humanist painting, was just on the other side of the Grecian column of the room’s

window. Titian even painted a little topiary to give the room more elegance, which was another point

of the style of painting.[14]

            What was so incredibly real about this art piece, was the wall panels that were painted with

such amazing detail. He also included tile floors of multiple colors. The two servants were dressed in

rich reds, and bright whites that would have indicated that only the very wealthy would have been

able to afford to have such an incredible staff.[15] Who would have wanted to have their maids

dressed in clothing that would have shown soil so easily? Titian even included Venus’ cassone,

which one of the maids was heavily leaning inside. Cassones were beautifully painted chests of the

Renaissance that usually contained the bride’s trousseau.[16] Was a meaning behind this painting

indicative of marital romance? Due to the multiply included cassones, that could be one possibility.

           Another factor of romance in this humanistic painting was the inviting pose of Venus. She

was lounging on a rumpled bed. Was this due to her lover? She had blushed somewhat as she

leaned over openly, and inviting the viewer into her realm, and possibly her bed. Her hair was styled

as an ancient goddesses would have been, with long golden hair that also had a crown of braided

tresses atop her head.[17]

           She held roses in her right hand, which indicated her fresh beauty and sweetness. With her 

head painted a little smaller than the rest of her body, as well as her blush, Titian may have

confessed a type of insecurity with his subject matter. However, he also showed that Venus was

a fertile woman with the shape of her slightly protruding underbelly. Her fecundity was also

indicative of her left hand covering her pubic region. In fact, this seemed to be the true announcement

of this painting. Due to the central position within the painting, her reproductive availability was

positioned at true center.[18]
         Venus also gave a clue to her status by having her lap dog at the foot of her bed. A lady of

leisure would have been able to have such a dog, which had no other function except to be cuddled

by its owner. There was a silk velvet drape to portion off her bed from the rest of the chamber. The

numerous pillows, and the multiple layers of linen also reveal wealth of the subject.[19] These were

all part of the humanist painters repertoire.[20]

            Humanist painters wanted to include the styles of the ancient world. They wanted to not only

make people more lifelike, but to actually make them into an ideal. The humanist artist studied

behind a master, but also created his own works. He made work ennoble Christ, but he also wanted

to give the painting a sense of elegance. A painter’s background made him who he was, and assisted

with what he painted. But, it was the scene, the subject, and quality of idealized naturalistic life that

made the best of humanist paintings. Titian created the key to Renaissance beautiful art with his

Venus of Urbino.

Burke, Peter. The Italian Renaissance: Culture and Society in Italy. Princeton, NJ:Princeton
           University Press, 1999.
de Voragine, Jacobus. “Here Beginneth the Life of S. Thomas the Apostle.”. 1470. Quoted in
           “Modern History Sourcebook”, Fordham University. Last modified August 1998.                
     (accessed June 27, 2012).
Kleiner, Fred S.  Gardner’s Art Through the Ages: A Global History, Vol. 2, 13th Ed. Boston,
             MA: Thomson Higher Education, 2009
Hale, J.R.. Renaissance Europe 1480-1520, 2nd. Ed. (Malden, MA: Blackwell Publishing,
Honour, Hugh and John Fleming. The Visual Arts: A History, 2nd ed.. Englewood Cliffs, New
            Jersey: Prentice-Hall, Inc., 1986.
“Humanisn in the Renaissance.”  In “The Renaissance Connection.”, Allentown Art Museum. 
           n.d. (accessed June 27, 2012).
“Titian” WebMuseum, Paris. (last modified October 2002). (accessed June 27, 2012).

Originally written for class at American Military University.

[1] Titian, Venus of Urbino (1538, Oil on Canvas, 3’ 11” x 5’ 5”. Galleria degli Uffizi, Florence) in Fred S. Kleiner, Gardner’s Art Through the Ages: A Global History, Vol. 2, 13th Ed. (Boston, MA: Thomson Higher Education, 2009.), 610.
[2] “Titian” WebMuseum, Paris. (last modified October 2002). (accessed June 27, 2012).
[3] Hugh Honour and John Fleming, The Visual Arts: A History, 2nd ed.. (Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey: Prentice-Hall, Inc., 1986.), 391.
[4] “Titian”.
[5] Jacobus de Voragine, Archbishop of Genoa, “Here Beginneth the Life of S. Thomas the Apostle.”. 1470. Quoted in “Modern History Sourcebook”, Fordham University. Last modified August 1998.  (accessed June 27, 2012).
[6] Ibid.
[7] Kleiner, 610.
[8] Ibid.
[9] J.R. Hale. Renaissance Europe 1480-1520, 2nd. Ed. (Malden, MA: Blackwell Publishing, 2000), 229.
[10] Peter Burke. The Italian Renaissance: Culture and Society in Italy. (Princeton, NJ:Princeton University Press, 1999.), 147.
[11] Ibid, 141.
[12] “Humanisn in the Renaissance.”  In “The Renaissance Connection.”, Allentown Art Museum.  n.d. (accessed June 27, 2012).
[13] Titian, Venus of Urbino.
[14] Ibid.
[15] Ibid.
[16] Burke, 141.
[17] Titian, Venus of Urbino.

[18] Ibid.
[19] Ibid.
[20] “Humanisn in the Renaissance.” 

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