Detail from assumption of the virgin by Titian

On this day in history: Renaissance artist Titian died

By Region Culture History of Italy North-east Italy

Tiziano Vecellio, the artist better known as Titian, died in Venice on August 27th, 1576. Regarded as the greatest painter of 16th century Venice, Titian is believed to have succumbed to the plague.

Tiziano Vecelli, known in English as Titian, was the most important member of the 16th-century Venetian school. Born in Pieve di Cadore, near Belluno in 1488/90, he was recognised by most of his contemporaries as “The Sun Amidst Small Stars” (recalling the famous final line of Dante’s Paradiso).

However, not all of his contemporaries were quite so enthusiastic about his skills. According to Vasari, Michelangelo said of Titian, ‘he’d be a good painter of he just learnt how to draw first’.

Versatility of Titian


 Titian was an incredibly versatile painter, adept with portraits, landscape backgrounds, and mythological and religious subjects. His painting methods, particularly the application and use of colour, had a profound influence not only on painters of the Italian Renaissance, but on future generations of Western art.

Titian’s artistic manner changed drastically during his long career, but he retained a lifelong interest in colour. Although his later works displayed loose brushwork, possibly due to failing eyesight, the subtlety of tone is without precedent in the history of Western painting.

A leading artist of the Italian Renaissance, he painted works for Pope Paul III, King Philip II of Spain and Holy Roman Emperor Charles V.

Major Works

In his teens, Titian became an apprentice to the Venetian artist Sebastiano Zuccato. He also worked with leading artists as Giovanni Bellini and Giorgione, the latter being especially influential to the young painter.

In 1516, Titian began work on his first major commission for a church called Santa Maria Gloriosa dei Frari in Venice. He painted Assumption of the Virgin (1516-1518) for the church’s high altar. This masterpiece established Titian as one of the leading painters in the area. He was particularly known for his deft use of color and for his appealing renderings of the human form.

Assumption of the Virgin by Titian
Assumption of the Virgin

Titian then created The Worship of Venus. A mythology-inspired work, it was commissioned by Alfonso I d’Este, duke of Ferrara, who went on to commission several more. Titian also painted portraits of nobles including the Queen of Cyprus.

In his later career, Titian focused more on religious and mythological works. For Spain’s Philip II, he painted Venus and Adonis, a piece inspired by Ovid’s “Metamorphoses”.

Death and Legacy

In 1576, the plague raged in Venice. Titian died of a fever on 27th August that year. He was interred in the Basilica di Santa Maria Gloriosa dei Frari.

He lies near his own work, the Madonna di Ca’ Pesaro. No memorial marked his grave, until much later the Austrian rulers of Venice commissioned Canova to provide a large monument.

Through the works he left behind, Titian has inspired countless generations of artists. Rembrandt, Velazquez, van Dyck and Rubens are just some painters who were influenced by the great Venetian artist.

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