Thursday 15 March 2018


Titian’s Colour and the Transformation of European Painting
Speaker: Nicholas Watkins

Members of Stradfas were treated to a lecture on Titian which was packed with information
and insight by Dr. Nicholas Watkins. He argued that although the first art historian, Vasari, had placed Michelangelo, Raphael and Leonardo da Vinci   ahead of Titian in terms of achievements, Titian in fact transformed Venetian painting and European art. He came from lowly origins but by the end of his career Charles 5 had granted him nobility in honour of his great paintings.

His repertoire was vast; ranging from religious paintings to portraits, group pictures and pictures of children. His use of colour was ground breaking at the time as he did not just illustrate light and dark as in the style of Leonardo but represented the colour that existed between the two which showed form. He produced evocative mood paintings based on literary texts which he wanted to be felt rather than decoded. His inspiring “Sacred and Profane Love “painted in 1515 was commissioned to commemorate the marriage of Niccolia Aurelio to a young widow and shows a sunset and a poetic landscape reinforcing the symbolism of the figures. 

He used colours that appeared alive and natural and from afar they appear perfect. They convey feeling and seduction. His depiction of the beautiful Venetian courtesan in “The Venus of Urbino “who is clutching red roses for love inspired many nudes such as in Toilet of Venus by Velasquez and Goya’s Maya Desmuda. Titian’s Danae inspired Rembrandt to produce his own interpretation which can be seen in the Hermitage Museum in St. Petersburg. He pioneered a new type of painting when a history painting commemorates a specific moment such as in The Allocution of The Marquis del Vasto” to his troops in 1540. Titian used architecture in his paintings such as in the Pesaro Altarpiece in The Friari in Venice which influenced Van Dyck using a column slightly off centre. His “Man with a Quilted Sleeve” created new conventions of three quarter length portraits. His portrayal of the richness of black, the furs and textures displayed grandeur but in an informal way such as in “Frederico11 Gonzaga.”He could portray tenderness and charm in his child portraits as well as icons of power such as Charles 5 on horseback. Later in life his style developed into one showing agony when illustrating a terrifying subject. This can be seen in The Flaying of Marsyas. His final painting called The Pieta shows light shining through symbolising hope which he wanted this on his grave.

Nicholas Watkins is Emeritus Reader in the Department of the of Art and Film, University of Leicester, curator, critic, author and lecturer. His numerous publications include Matisse (1984), Bonnard (1994), Bonnard Colour and Light (1998), The Genesis of a Decorative Aesthetic (2001), Marino Marini (2007), Behind the Mirror: Aimé Maeght and His Artists (Royal Academy, London 2008), Bonard Peindre L’arcadie (Musee D’Orsay, Paris 2015). Also Televion ‘Pierre Bonnard: A Love Exposed’ (1998). He is a regular contributor to The Burlington Magazine and other leading art journals and lectures extensively to universities, museums, art galleries and art societies.