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									           VENUS OF URBINO

              Sherry Adkins
GS_601_OL5: Aesthetics and the Renaissance
        Prof. Cheryl Lynne Barton
           December 14, 2005

                                  VENUS OF URBINO

       Like the mythological subject, Venus, this painting became a pivotal point for
future painters and their interpretations. All of which are within strikingly different
realms of consciousness. Originally painted for Guidobaldo della Rovere, the heir of
Francesco Maria della Rovere, Duke of Urbino, the “pose” was copied by Tiziano
Vecellio (Titian) from Giorgio Barbarella, a fellow colleague. After his sudden death in
1510, Titian completed his work and was inspired to create his own version. His
attempts articulate no interest in an idealized image of female beauty but rather that
of an interpretation in allegory of marital love. It is this attempt to differentiate and
correlate the depiction and symbolism as related to Aristotle’s theories of dramatic
art, psychomachia and platonic love.

       Titian was born was born in Pieve di Cadore, Austria in a small village nestled
deep in the Alps in 1485. At an early age, Titian started his training as a painter at
the mosaicist Sebastiano Zuccato and later became influenced by such artists as
Giovanni Bellini and Gentile Bellini. In 1507, Titian joined the workshop of Giorgione
or Giorgio Barbarelli da Castelfranco as his assistant.        Studying under such an
outstanding master influence the young Titian to such a degree, that some works
which are now thought to have been painted by Titian used to be attributed to
Giorgione, and vice versa. (Gable, C.I. Titian [Tiziano Vecellio and Mataev, Titian
1488/90 - 1576). In the second decade of the century Titian broke free from the
stylistic domination of Giorgione and developed a manner of his own. About 1530, a
change in Titian's manner becomes apparent. The vivacity of former years gave way
to a more restrained and meditative art. He now began to use related rather than
contrasting colours in juxtaposition, yellows and pale shades rather than the strong
blues and reds of his previous work. In composition too he became less adventurous
and used schemes which, compared with some of his earlier works, appear almost
archaic. During the last twenty years of his life Titian's personal works, showed an
increasing looseness in the handling and a sensitive merging of subdued colors, so
that outlines disappear and the forms become more immaterial. Later Titian's work
became more heavily weighted toward portraiture. With this went a growing
emphasis on intimate pathos rather than external drama. (Kern, Marx TIZIANO

       Venus of Urbino was originally painted for Guidobaldo della Rovere, the heir of
Francesco Maria della Rovere, Duke of Urbino. It is assumed that the model is
Eleonora Gonzaga, the wife and Duchess of Francesco Maria della Rovere. It is
interesting to note that some instances maintain that the Duchess was not only
advanced in years, but she was "vain and ugly." So a compromise was devised
where a seductive girl model of Titians’ choosing from a local brothel was hired to
pose for the body and a glamorized portrait of the Duchess for the head was stuck
on. When the Duke of Urbino saw Titian's picture of his wife, he said, "If I could have
had that girl's body even with my wife's head I'd have been a happier man."
(Wallechinsky, and

       Aristotle was the first to introduce the theory that art imitates nature. He
considered the origin of art as a basis for his argument. Throughout his theory, he
developed a method for evaluation and classification of art. Aristotle attributed the
origin of art to the human affinity for imitation. From childhood, imitation is the
primary method of learning. Aristotle presented three methods for classifying art
based on the idea of art as imitation. The first method involves a difference in the
means of imitation. The means or elements with them are rhythm, language, and
harmony. These three elements, whether they are combined or employed separately,
constitute the means of imitation. Examination of the object being represented is
another way to classify art. Aristotle introduced the idea of virtue as a factor in the
object of imitation. The object or action being represented is the main difference
between a comedy and a tragedy. Both can be presented using the same means and
with the same dramatic manner, but the actions being imitated in a comedy are
positive like love and humor while a tragedy brings out the darker side of human
nature. The manner in which the object is presented is the final way to evaluate the
arts. Aristotle outlined three ways an object may be presented: "one may either
speak at one moment in narrative and at another in assumed character . . . or one
may remain the same throughout . . . or the imitators may represent the whole story
dramatically." Aristotle's theory on art examines art as a productive science. The
quality of the object produced determines the merit of the art. The art is found
within the product not within the mind of the artist. The message of the artist may
be absent or unclear, but if the object itself is a nearly perfect imitation, it could be
considered a wonderful piece of art. The circumstances or history behind the work

are also insignificant during the assessment of its artistic value. (Lawrence,

       Titians use and representations of dramatic art can be surmised as art being a
selective re-creation of reality according to his metaphysical value judgments. Titian
recreates those aspects of reality which represent his fundamental view of man's
nature. Titian was 48 years old when he painted Venus of Urbino. It is not an old
man’s picture but rather its explicit eroticism is designed in one sense, to please a
younger audience then his own, mainly Guidobaldo della Rovere. Titians use of
dramatic art imitates and illustrates two facets, one being youth as depicted in the
live model’s body and maturity with the slightly more aged head. Titian use of
Aristotle idea of virtue is suggestive of the examination of the object being
represented by the actions being imitated in a loving and positive manner. It should
be noted as to whether the model is in fact the wife or courtesan of Guidobaldo della
Rovere which could ultimately surmise Titians depiction as a true representation of
art imitating nature. Some lines of parallel can be drawn from taking a more detailed
look at particular elements in the painting and the history of the times when it was
commissioned. The female figure at this time was stylish with its slightly swollen
belly and relatively small breasts. Titian proportions are of a slightly shorter stature
presumably a result of his decision to follow antiquity’s use of equidistant intervals
on the canvas between mouth and right breast, left and right nipple, left nipple and
navel, navel to crotch-all matching the height of the woman’s face from her chin to
the top of the forehead.

       In mythological terms, Titian’s Venus of Urbino again depicts imitation. In his
representation of art imitating nature, Titian’s Venus is decorated with jewelry-a
bracelet, a pearl earring and a finger ring on her left hand. No real goddess or
mythological Venus would need such adornment.

       It can be noticed too the small dog at the foot of the bed, asleep. Dogs were
traditionally used as a sign of fidelity. Titian assuredly chooses to portray his dog
firmly asleep as its lack of alertness suggests that fidelity, too, can take a temporary
holiday which would be consistent with the female being a courtesan rather than a
married woman.

       Titians uses of mythological themes are also represented in the small cluster
of roses she holds in her right hand and the myrtle that appears in the pot in the
foreground. Both are traditionally symbols of love and beauty through their
association with Aphrodite/Venus, the three Graces and the Flora.

       Titian presents us with an erotic image that bridges the gap between
idealized, unapproachable beauty and a visceral experience. The interplay of
meaning and the active engagement with the viewer means that Titian’s Venus of
Urbino successfully appeals to the sensibilities of dramatic art.

Psychomachia describes the struggle of faith, supported by the cardinal virtues,
against idolatry and the corresponding vices. In respect to Titian, we will first talk
about psychomachia in regard to his depictions of elements, images and subjects in
his painting and their idolatry and corresponding vices. The struggle of faith is
between the religious atmosphere in Venice of Catholics and the Christian Counter-
Reformation. He gave his Christian paintings a new heroism, a startling violence,
and an unparalleled sensuality while solving problems of decorum with such
consummate skill as debates about style; on tensions or contradictions between form
and content, theory and practice, and word and image. The huge success of Titian as
a portrait painter in the high society of his time can be explained largely by his
capacity to divine unerringly and represent vividly the "Ideal persona" of his sitters,
without, however, distorting either the physical or the psychological likeness of the

personage, but rather exalting and emphasizing the one and the other in equal
proportion. Titian’s abilities as an extraordinary historian, witness and interpreter of
the reality of his time, through the vehicle of his portraiture is where his sublime
ability to penetrate to the real character of his models, is perhaps his greatest gift.

"Aretino wrote of Titian's "sense of things in his brush". But for Titian the "things" to
be understood and represented were not only the physical semblance or the
psychological peculiarities of the sitter, or the various objects and props - clothes,
jewels, armor which had their own role and meaning. One has the impression that
for him the "things" to be depicted, to the same degree of intensity, included the
social rank, cultural or political standing of the sitter and in a more general sense,
the "Ideal" persona of the individual, the collection of all meanings that constituted
the sitter's identity for us and also for himself. Titian bridges the contradictory gap
between these major struggles of faith by justifying in the belief that in his portraits
the pope and the emperor, the doge and the Marquis of Mantua, recognized
themselves not only in the flesh, but also in the guise of all that they represented.
(Paolucci, The Artchive)

       Platonic love can be best interpreted as love between homosexuals void of
sexuality and purely spiritual. Titian and Giorgio Barbarella can be said to have

possessed such a relationship. As one of Titians first teachers Giovanni Bellini,
schooled Titian in drawing, and showed him in a short time to be endowed by nature
with all that was necessary for the art of painting. Gian Bellini and the other painters
of that country, having no knowledge of ancient art, were accustomed mostly, in fact
entirely, to draw from life, though in a dry, crude manner. Titian therefore learnt in
this way. But when Giorgione da Castelfranco came, the manner of working did not
altogether please Bellini, and he began to give his works more softness and greater
relief, following nature indeed, and imitating him as well as he could in color, but not
making any drawing, holding firmly that painting in colors without studying the
drawing in a cartoon was the true and best way of working. Titian then, seeing
Giorgione's method, left Gian Bellini's manner and adopted the new way, imitating it
so well that his pictures were mistaken for works of Giorgione. And when Giorgione
was employed upon the facade of the German Exchange a part was given to Titian.
Some gentlemen, not knowing that Giorgione had ceased to work there, and that
Titian was employed upon it, meeting Giorgione one day, began to congratulate him,
saying he was doing better on this facade than he had done on the one on the Grand
Canal. And this vexed Giorgione so much that until the work was finished, and it was
known that Titian had done that part, he would not be seen, and from that time he
would not let Titian work with him or be his friend to complete the deception. In
1506-08 Titian assisted Giorgione with fresco decoration in Venice, then after
Giorgione's early death in 1510, it fell to Titian to complete a number of his
unfinished paintings as he became the official painter to the Republic. The authorship
of some of Giorgione's famous works is still disputed: the two styles are somewhat a
fusion of Titian's worldliness with Giorgione's painted poetry.

       More then twenty years after Giogione’s death, it is evident that Titian he was
still under the spell of Giorgione, when he created Venus of Urbino. While there are
some striking differences in the composition of the two Venus’ such as the
appearance of her eyes, her gaze or lack of, the position of her body on the sheet or
floating slightly above it, the correlation between the rich green color in the drapes
and the grass, the sense of calm contemplation versus active participation, indoors
or out and the inclusion or exclusion therefore of people in the foreground ultimately
give way to the similarities remaining as to the “pose” and direct perspective
placement of her right hand to form the focal point. Both Giorgiones’ and Titians’
Venus’s are superb works of art that reflect the varying depictions of each artists. It
is Titians’ dramatic display of art and its principals of imitating nature as noted

through Aristotle’s theories, that we see too the contrasting combination of platonic
love for Giorgione. The student emulates what the teacher teaches in such a way as
to influence another’s way of perception through the basics. It would seem to be an
example of clear spiritual love and respect for one another.

       In conclusion, through Giorgione’s Venus, Titians Venus of Urbino has inspired
and influenced countless generations of artists right on up to even today’s standards.
Many examples can be seen not only in Titian work but also in that of Rubens,
Angelica and the Hermit, 1636, Goyas’, The Naked Maja, 1800, Manets’, Olympia,
1863, Sargents’, Male Nude Draped,1921 and Lempickas’, Reclining Woman, 1920.
Titian had a marvelous capacity to place himself at the same time and without
contradiction on a plane that is completely detached from things that is inside the
skin and even the emotions and thoughts of his sitters and included the social rank,
cultural or political standing in a more general sense as to the "Ideal" persona of the
individual regardless too of the psychomachia of the times and subjects.


                                   WORKS CITED

Gable, C.I. Titian [Tiziano Vecellio], 1997 – 1999

Kren,Emily and Marx, Daniel. Web Gallery of Art. TIZIANO Vecellio 1993 – 1998

Lawrence, Joyce. Aristotle's theory on art 2002

Mataev, Olga. Olga’s Gallery. Titian (1488/90 - 1576) 1999 - 2005

Paolucci, Antonio. The Artchive. THE PORTRAITS OF TITIAN 1995

Wallechinsky,David & Wallace, Famous Painters and
Paintings: Titian's Venus of Urbino 1975 - 1981


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