Titian's Entombment of Christ

Titian (Tiziano Vecellio) was undisputedly one of the great masters of the Venetian Italian Renaissance in the 16th century.  He studied under two other great masters: Bellini and Giorgione, and built on the skills he learned to become the most influential painter to come out of the Venetian school.  Titian became the official painter of the Venetian Republic in 1516.

 The Entombment of Christ, Titian, The Louvre, 1523-26

One of Titian's most significant contributions to painting was his style of brushwork.  Titian broke from the tradition of meticulously painting every minute detail from life, instead using expressive bold strokes and dots of color to create illusions, which captured reality.  His technique revolutionized painting in the 16th century.  Another thing he was known for were his sophisticated mathematical compositions within his works, breaking from earlier more symmetrical paintings.

The Entombment of Christ was a work which embodied the new harmony of the Renaissance.  In this composition the figures are placed with a mathematical precision forming two isosceles triangles within the painting.  The curving shapes of several others then enhance these triangular shapes. This emphasizes the harmonious proportions that were used in ancient Greek art and revived in the Renaissance.  His use of mathematics within the work draws the eye of the viewer into the action taking place. 

 Death of Meleager, Roman sarcophagus lid, marble, The Louvre, c-180 AD
photo- © user Mbzt / public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

The Entombment of Christ is a relatively early work in Titian's sixty-eight year career as an artist.  Frederick Hartt in his History of Italian Renaissance Art wrote of this work:

            "The pose of Christ is borrowed from that of the dead Meleager carried from
            the boar hunt in a well-known group of Roman sarcophagus reliefs."*

I am not certain if the example of the Roman sarcophagus from the Louvre (shown above) is the specific work that influenced Titian.  Even if it was not, it does help illustrate the idea of placing figures within a composition using mathematical arrangement which was common in antiquity.

Pesaro Madonna, Titian, Sta. Maria Gloriosa dei Frari, 1519-26

Another early example of this type of composition can be seen in the Pesaro Madonna, shown above.  This work also breaks from the perfect symmetry of the High Renaissance to give us a new type of interesting arrangement of form.  Again the various sets of figures are arranged in a triangular form.

As I stated in my blog post on Chartres Cathedral, the triangle was the number of divinity.  This can be seen in the Trinity and in Christian art and architecture is repeated many times over: the trefoil in Gothic architecture, tripartite naves, figures grouped into three, etc.

The Pesaro Madonna (so named as it was commissioned for the Pesaro family) rearragnes the standard frontal Madonna and Child portrait so as better to create depth, move the viewers eye through the painting and pull the viewer into this divine space.  In this Titian uses his trademark brushwork and coloring.

These are just two examples of painting from Titian who created hundreds throughout his long painting career.  He was nearly 90 when he died and continued to use the triangle in his compositions up until his final painting of the Pieta which he began for his own tomb.

*Hartt, Frederick. History of Italian Renaissance Art. 4th edition, New York: Harry N. Abrams Inc. Publishers, 1994. p. 591.

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