Room 6

Titian and Venice 1500–1575

In the first decade or so of the 16th century, Venetian painting was transformed by a new generation of young artists, among them Giorgione and Titian. In their successful efforts to depict the fall of natural light on landscape and figures, they revolutionised the use of oil paint.

Giorgione painted with a new freedom, his brushstrokes looser and lighter than those of his predecessors. This style lent itself to capturing atmospheric effects in landscape, and the creation of new poetic moods for his subject matter. Many other Venetian painters, including Titian, adopted this way of painting to convey emotion. 

After Giorgione’s early death, Titian became the city’s pre-eminent painter. His earliest works include monumental and subtly characterised portraits, and devotional pictures that combined artistic beauty with profound religious feeling. 

In the decades that followed, he further expanded his range as a painter of drama and psychological nuance, as well as a storyteller. His Bacchus and Ariadne, painted for Alfonso d’Este, Duke of Ferrara, as part of a series of mythologies, is a high point to this development.

By the 1540s, Titian had become the most sought-after painter across Europe. He produced works for the patrician families of Venice but also for Philip II of Spain, then the most powerful monarch in the world, such as The Tribute Money, which was sent to Spain in 1568.

Titian’s style in the last years of his life developed into one of extraordinary freedom, a personal manner based on a lifetime experimenting with colour and the possibilities inherent in oil paints. His Death of Actaeon, remained in his studio unfinished at his death, and can be seen as the culmination of this late style.