Titian, Venus with a Mirror, 1555, Washington D.C., National Gallery of Art (image credit to National Gallery of Art online)

Years after the Assumption was completed, Titian completed Venus with a Mirror in 1555. Titian was a very important portrait artist and also produced many mythological pieces, this work being a mix of the two. The representation of the female nude is one of the most important elements for an artist in Renaissance Italy to perfect. But the idea of naturalism in the form is different between Venice and Central Italy. Here Titian is showing the ideal woman but through the application of color and the relationship of the medium with the canvas. This type of woman would become the “epitome of the theme” of Venus and the representation of beauty.[1] Dolce wrote, that along with the contrast of dark and light, “the principal difficulty of colorito resides in the imitation of flesh and involves diversifying the tones and in achieving softness” which Titian was perfecting with his Venus.[2]

Venus with a Mirror detail (Image Credit to National Gallery of Art online)

There are many elements to this work that show how well Titian worked both the medium and the canvas. The mirror becomes an important object to include in painterly quality works. The mirror’s reflective quality led to the painter’s ability “enhance his representation of an object to include a full 360 degrees,” which will help them imitate nature.[3] This quality was important for the method and medium of oil painting and the style of colorito by being “responsive to the challenge of representing luminosity and surface tension.”[4] This important addition to this style of “the juxtaposition of female flesh and reflecting surface would become especially important to the Venetian development of the oil medium…particularly with the use of a thicker impasto that gave new material substance to the medium.”[5]

Venus with a Mirror detail (Image Credit to National Gallery of Art online)

Observed in Venus’s garment, Titian’s coloring and brushwork advanced. The red velvet folds perfectly in the light and seems to breathe on the canvas. Titian uses this garment to “[play a] role in enhancing tactile invitation” because of the garment’s “varied textures – of rich velvet, etched embroidery, and, especially, deep fur lining – set off the broad display of her exposed flesh.”[6] To the right of the painting, the black and yellow stripped fabric shows that Titian wanted his brushstrokes to be seen. They are not straight lines by any means, creating the illusion that it is being stepped on, and in many cases there is more paint present on one line then on another. It is a physical work because it remains in the moment of painting that Titian wanted the viewer to experience.

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[1] Frederick Ilchman, Titian, Tintoretto, Veronese: Rivals in Renaissance Venice, (Boston: MFA Publications, 2009), 185.

[2] Paul Hills, Venetian Colour: Marble, Mosaic, Painting and Glass 1250-1550, (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1999), 220.

[3] Ilchman,  Titian, Tintoretto, Veronese: Rivals in Renaissance Venice, 185.

[4] Ibid, 185.

[5] Ibid, 185.

[6] Ibid, 185.


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