TITIAN | Madonna and Child in a landscape [Madonna col Bambino nel paesaggio]

Veneto 1488 /1490 – Venice 1576

Madonna and Child in a landscape [Madonna col Bambino nel paesaggio] c.1507
oil on wood panel
38.8 (h) x 48.3 (w) cm Accademia Carrara, Bergamo
Legacy of Guglielmo Lochis 1866

A little painting of extraordinary beauty, this was one of the most treasured possessions of Count Guglielmo Lochis.[1] He fervently believed it was by Titian, although the painting is so very close to the style of Giorgione  in 1507 that the attribution has sometimes been questioned. [2] It is one of those fascinating works that will be discussed endlessly because it contains the excitement of a new style of  Venetian painting.[3] Comparisons are often made, but the surest indicator of Titian’s style are his first documented works, the frescoes in the Scuola del Santo, Padua, in 1511, which introduced a softer form of colouring and greater relief to the figures.

The Madonna is seated before a wall in the Venetian countryside, where trees and bushes frame the pastoral scene in the foreground and valleys wind into the distance, with mountains that recall Titian’s birthplace, Cadore. The rosy colours suggest that the time of day is dusk. The composition shows that deep intimacy between a mother and her child that tugs at our emotions. The plump Infant playing with his Mother’s hair is fluently painted in the bravura
style that is characteristic of the young Titian when he is very close to Giorgione.

In his ‘life’ of Titian, Giorgio Vasari wrote of the young artist following the manner of Giorgione. In a famous passage he observed that in about 1507 Giorgione began to give his works a new softness, ‘morbidezza’, combined with greater relief, and to mix both brutal and sweet colours, applying the paint without making preliminary drawings, ‘senza far disegno’.[4] Vasari’s appraisal could apply equally to the sharpness of the reds and blues of the Madonna’s garments contrasted with Titian’s emotive style, where the contours of the Child’s body and the Madonna’s face and neckline are defined by a soft way of colouring.

Having a monocentric view of the Renaissance, Vasari approved of the Florentine way of painting, with artists who made all kinds of preparatory drawings for details, even entire compositions, so that when it came to applying paint the composition was well worked out. While he grudgingly praised the new Venetian style invented by Giorgione in 1507 and continued by his students, especially Titian and Sebastiano del Piombo,[5] Vasari complained that what Giorgione had introduced was a fashion of composing straight on the canvas with colours alone, without making preliminary drawings. Vasari even asserted that the Venetians relied on their charming colouring to conceal their incompetence as draftsmen—hinting at a provincialism due to the fact that they had never been to Florence or Rome to study works of true perfection.

Scientific analysis of early sixteenth-century Venetian paintings confirms Vasari’s observations. Compositions were indeed worked out on the canvas, with layers of brilliant colours and minimal underdrawing. For later Baroque artists who loved the Venetian style, such as the Carracci,[6] there was nothing the matter with composing directly on the canvas as Titian has done. In fact it was the best way of creating works of art.

Jaynie Anderson

[1]Guglielmo Lochis, La pinacoteca e la villa Lochis alla Crocetta di Mozzo presso Bergamo con notizie biografiche degli Autori dei Quadri, Bergamo: Tipografia Natali, 1858, pp. 57–58.

[2]Giorgione (1477/1478?–1510).

[3]Luisa Attardi, in Giovanni Valagussa and Giovanni Villa (eds), I grandi veneti: Da Pisanello a Tiziano, da Tintoretto a Tiepolo. Capolavori dall’Accademia Carrara di Bergamo, Cinisello Balsamo: Silvana Editoriale, 2010, pp. 88–89.

[4]Giorgio Vasari (1568), Le vite de’ più eccellenti architetti, pittori et scultori, Florence: Giunti, 1569,VI, p. 155.

[5]Sebastiano del Piombo (c. 1485–1547).

[6]Annibale Carracci (1560–1609), his cousin Ludovico (1555–1619) and his brother Agostino (1557–1602).