Titian and His Venetian Venuses
For my research, I intend to focus on Titian’s paintings of Venus as the representation of female beauty. So many of the artist’s most celebrated and studied works involve depictions of women. As Rona Goffen suggests, “Indeed Titian’s professional investment in paintings of women is so striking that it may be related to his deepest creative impulse”. Why was Titian so often drawn to the representations of Venus? In what ways does this theme showcase his “creative impulses”? How do his depictions of Venus differ from those of the classical past and those of his Italian contemporaries? Titian’s paintings of Venus brilliantly highlight his artistic genius, his understanding and reinterpretation of the Classical tradition, as well as many of the contemporary perceptions of female beauty and the roles of Renaissance women.
Titian painted numerous variations on this theme of the Venus and so the paintings on which my research will center will undoubtedly act as diverse counterpoints to one another. No study of the subject could be complete without addressing the Venus of Urbino, of which I plan to look closely,
perhaps even as the source of comparison to the other depictions. Other works I may include are
Flora, Sacred and Profane Love, Venus with the Mirror, Venus with an Organist and Dog, Venus Anadyomene, and perhaps even La Bella as a possible counterpoint. Is Titian consciously choosing to
depict the female nude differently in each work? Are there shared characteristics amongst all of his
Venuses? Are they to be considered as a thematic group or as individuals? In regards to Titian’s
influences, Giorgione’s (and possibly Titan’s as well) Sleeping Venus will serve as a source of
comparison as will Bellini’s Nude with a Mirror and even classical representations such as Praxitiles’ Aphrodite of Knidos.
A number of art historical approaches are blended into this topic. I plan on using formal analysis as a means of analyzing the choices Titian makes in his portrayals of Venus and the ways in
which they both diverge from and converge upon past traditions. The social and historical context of
renaissance Venice will be incorporated to shed light on the meaning of the works to a contemporary
audience as well as the ways in which the Venuses stand in as representations of (or even as anti-
representations of) women in Venetian society. Thirdly, I plan on using a feminist approach to
explore the issues of any possible misogyny, sexual exploitation/objectification that surround
depictions of female nudes created by male artists. To the extent it is possible, I am interested in
questioning Titian’s own views of women. Is Titian generally being sympathetic to women? Does he
offer insight into their psyches? Or is he more concerned with their physical appearance?
While there has been much research conducted on the subject of Titian’s paintings of Venus (or
simply women as Venus in art in general) there is still much to be gained and many new angles to
address. After all, if an artistic talent as renowned and influential as Titian saw such richness and
meaning in the subject, who are we to second-guess? These portrayals of “Venetian” Venuses may
coquettishly reveal some of their secrets only then to leave their viewers with twice as many
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