Tuesday, December 04, 2007

"Late Titian and the Sensuality of Painting" On View at the Kunsthistorisches Museum

"Late Titian and the Sensuality of Painting" On View at the Kunsthistorisches Museum

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Titian, Danae, 1550 - 1553. © Museo Nacional del Prado, Madrid.

VIENNA.-Following the exhibition “Bellini, Giorgione, Titian and the Renaissance of Venetian Painting” - organised by the Kunsthistorisches Museum last year in collaboration with the National Gallery in Washington - we now present an exhibition dedicated to Titan’s late works. “Late Titian and the Sensuality of Painting” is on view, and will be on show in Venice (Gallerie dell’Accademia) from February 1 till April 21, 2008.

The exhibition, the result of extensive research, scholarship and planning, brings together about sixty paintings, among them more than thirty loans. It focuses on a wide range of topics ranging from the fertile cultural conditions found in Venice during the third quarter of the 16th century to Titian’s patrons and colleagues (especially Sciavone, Tintoretto and Jacopo Bassano) to the figure of the artist himself. The main focus is on the last twenty-five years of Titian’s creative life, which will be viewed against the background of the master’s family circumstances, questions of inheritance, and the role of his studio assistants. In addition, the exhibition includes around fifteen sixteenth-century graphic works from the Albertina that document the overwhelming popularity of Titian’s compositions, and illustrate how his inventions were translated into a simpler pictorial language that appealed to a wider public.

Titian’s late manner with its increasingly free handling – characterised by everything from visible brushstrokes to “patchiness” (pittura di macchie) - surprised, irritated and enraged not only some of his contemporaries such as patrons, men of letters and writers on art theory, but also many modern visitors. Only recently has Titian’s late manner - which may vary greatly within a single painting - been recognised as a highly effective way of increasing the drama of the composition. The sensuality of Titian’s brushstrokes reaches a high-point in his erotic-poetic compositions in which the master focuses on the beauty of the female nude. Over the years, however, his manner becomes increasingly loaded with a spiritual expressiveness and a mysticism of suffering that allow us to imagine the aged artist’s visions of death.

The following are some of the remaining central questions surrounding Titian’s late works - characterised as they are by their powerful expressiveness and a remarkable philosophical content, appearing almost monochrome despite their varied palette: do these works reflect Titian’s artistic vision, or are they nothing more than unfinished pictures? And how much in Titian’s late paintings is by his own hand? Extensive technical and scientific research carried out on many of his paintings has helped us to understand better his creative process and the role played by his assistants. With the help of a grant from the Fond zur Förderung der wissenschaftlichen Forschung (FWF – Fund for the Support of Scientific Research) we were able to analyse his paintings now in the Kunsthistorisches Museum - with surprising results.

In preparation for this exhibition, the Kunsthistorisches Museum undertook the highly complex and difficult restoration of one of Titian’s most important late works, his Nymph and Shepherd. In addition, several other seminal late works are included in the exhibition: Tarquin and Lucretia from Cambridge/England (this version will be juxtaposed with two other versions of the same subject), his celebrated Flaying of Marsyas from Kroměříž, the Saint Sebastian from the Hermitage in Saint Petersburg, Boy with Dogs from Rotterdam, two versions of Danae (one from Vienna, the other from Madrid), as well as three versions of depictions of Venus from Washington, Rome and New York, respectively.

Examples of Titian’s consummate skill as a portrait painter are some recently restored works, foremost of them his celebrated Self-Portrait now in the Prado, and the Girl with a Fan from Dresden. Religious painting is represented by several versions of Saint Mary Magdalene, Saint Jerome, and the Ecce Homo. In addition, there is the Annunciation from the church of San Salvador in Venice and the Crucifixion from the Sacristy in the Escorial, the latter especially cleaned for this exhibition.

The exhibition aims to throw new light on the evolution of Titian’s style, on his technique and on his almost alchemistic handling of materials, all of which helped him to capture the charms of the world as he experienced them in a highly sensual way. The exhibition’s main focus, however, is on Titian’s works, as paintings touch our hearts even stronger than the stories they depict.

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