Titian and his Venetian Venuses Paper Proposal

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

Preliminary Bibliography

Brown, Judith C., and Robert C. Davis. Gender and Society in Renaissance Italy.
London: Longman, 1998.

Cole, Bruce. Titian and Venetian Painting, 1450-1590. Boulder: Westview,

Goffen, Rona ed. Titian’s “Venus of Urbino”. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1

Goffen, Rona. “Titian’s Sacred and Profane Love and Marriage.” In The Expanding
Discourse: Feminism and Art History. eds. Norma Broude and Mary D. Garrard, 110-125, New York: Westview Press, 1992.

_____ Titian’s Women. New Haven and London, 1997.

______”The Problematic Patronage of Titian’s Venus of Urbino.” In Journal of Medieval
and Renaissance Studies 24 (1994): 301-21.

Goldfarb, Hilliard T., David Freedberg, and Manuela B. Mena Marqués. Titian and
Rubens: Power, Politics, and Style. Boston: Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum, 1998.

Hope, Charles. Titian. New York: Harper and Row, 1980.

Jaffe, David ed. Titian. London: Yale University Press, 2003.

Joannides, Paul. Titian to 1518: The Assumption of Genius. New Haven: Yale University
Press, 2001.

Meilman, Patricia ed. The Cambridge Companion to Titian. Cambridge: Cambridge
University Press, 2004.

Pardo, Mary. “Artifice as Seduction in Titian.” In Sexuality and Gender in Early Modern
Europe: Institutions, Texts, Images. ed. James Grantham Turner, 55-89 London: Cambridge University Press, 1993.

Pope, Arthur. Titian’s Rape of Europa: A Study of the Composition and the Mode of
Representation in This and Related Paintings. Cambridge MA: Harvard University Press, 1960.

Ridolfi, Carlo. The Life of Titian. eds.Julia Conaway Bondanella, Peter Bondanella,
Bruce Cole, and Jody Robin Shiffman, trans. Julia Conaway Bondanella and Peter Bondanella. University Park, PA: Pennsylvania State University Press, 1996.

Wethey, Harold E. The Paintings of Titian. 3 vols. London: Phaidon, 1969-75.

Wiesner, Merry E. Women and Gender in Early Modern Europe 2nd ed. New York:
Cambridge University Press, 2000.


3 Responses to “Titian and his Venetian Venuses Paper Proposal”

  1. maoch says:

    You’ll also want to look at the work of Elizabeth Cropper, “On Beautiful Women.” This may get you thinking abut the woman’s body as an allegory or metaphor for painting / art.

    It’s probably no coincidence that Titian’s paintings of Venus are created at the same time as a literature about love and beauty develops in Italian courts. Are Titian’s paintings a visual parallel for this interest?

    Does Titian follow mythology or modify it to suit his compositional purposes?

    Also, Panofsky on “Love and Beauty,” and Gilbert on “Subject and Not-Subject.”

  2. […] titian and his venetian venuses paper proposal 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 … […]

  3. paul doughton says:

    i really do think that analysis based around feminist agendas will merely reflect the 20th prejudices that assume such a voice to be an integal position in the construction of an artwork in 16th century italy. it is barking way up the wrong tree. i suspect that analysis of any artwork allows the mind to soar – however it is a vastly different thing to remain in concentration of the ‘thing in itself’ – the ‘an sich’ rather than employing the bias of those who have not shed any further light on the works specific meaning. as a poet wrote; ‘what the mind wrought is there’ , and goffen is a mile off explaining this piece, rather, we know more about goffens pointless gender posturings which are of no actual relevance in elucidating the subject matter of this painting. who says the child is cupid? who says it is ‘venus and the bride’? or is someone writing with authority more attractive than focusing ones mind on the painting itself? textual language is inferior to pictorial metaphor. there are probably more ridiculous academic ‘flops’ presented around the ‘meaning’ of the sacred and profane love than any other artwork. to see a historians mind ‘soar’ is as silly as releasing the air from a balloon at a childs party and watching it blurt around the room. hmm… not a bad metaphor. just remember, the only source that holds the correct answer is the painting itself. rergards, paul