Tiziano Vecellio was born in Pieve di Cadore around 1490 and dominates the Venetian and European pictorial scene of the sixteenth century.
He arrived in Venice at a young age and started his apprenticeship in the workshop of Sebastiano Zuccato. Later on, he moved to the one of Gentile Bellini but his artistic growth leads him to become a pupil and collaborator of Giorgione with whom he painted with between 1508 and 1509, the frescoes of the facades of Fondaco dei Tedeschi in Venice.
His painting, as the one of Giorgione, recalls the chiaroscuro effect of his Master but focuses mainly on an accurate study of colours and the play of light and shadow. His art places its roots in a “tonal” painting. Technically, it was Giovanni Bellini who gave birth to this “tonal” painting synthesized by the elements learned from Mantegna and Antonello da Messina.
Such painting evokes the depth of space in the image without resorting to the employment of linear perspective. In this way, the hue of colour, light, and shade produced by the variations of the light intensity create and define the chiaroscuro dimensional volumes and the space, through different levels of depth of light and dark tones.
This expressive dimension, a harmonious bond between light and colour, is reflected in Tiziano’s first artistic period and will be one of the most important features of his art.
During the years of Tonalism Style he began working at the Courts of Ferrara, Mantua and Urbino and for Emperor Carlo V for whom he created mythological scenes, but he is also known for his portrait production. His portraits are real masterpieces where one can actually grasp the personality of the characters.
Examples are the portraits of Federico Gonzaga, Cardinal Ippolito dei Medici, Francesco della Rovere, Francesco I and Carlo V. In the following period his art changes direction: Tiziano’s focus in Venice shifts toward religious altarpieces such as The Martyrdom of St. Lawrence, dated 1559, the Annunciation, Tarquinio and Lucrezia, and The Crowning of Thorns.
All of these works emphasize how the artist’s painting, first focused on the representation of dimensional volumes through colour, now focuses on chiaroscuro and formal elements instead of colour.
This work highlights the artist’s definitive transition to the Mannerism phase during which he brought to the extreme the “colour” painting, creating one in which the subjects are often not in the centre of the painting. Even the colours are distorted: from natural and realistic tones they become unreal and unnatural ones.
Tiziano dies in 1576 and is buried in the Church of Santa Maria Gloriosa dei Frari.