Florentine and Venetian Painting

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The Italian artists, Titian (Tiziano Vecellio) and Raphael (Raffaello Santi) are prominent artists of the Italian Renaissance. Titian was active in Venice and Raphael in Florence. The Italian painters were at the forefront of radical change in painting styles from previous periods. Advances in sciences, especially human anatomy, brought unprecedented knowledge of the human form and body to the practice of art. While the works of the painters share many similar characteristics, there were distinct differences between Florentine and Venetian schools of painting. 

Works commissioned in Venice often were of subjects that were not religious as is the case with Venus and Adonis. The citizenry of Venice was often very wealthy and powerful and desired artwork that was beautiful and that celebrated man and classical Greek life (“Venetian Painting”). Florence’s powerful families were tied closely to the Catholic Church. They wished to have their homes adorned with frescoes and murals of religiously themed works (“Venetian Painting”).

The Florentine painters were known for their painting through the use of frescoes and tempera. Tempera eventually gave way to the use of oils as they became more popular in Italy after being introduced by the Flemish masters (Nelson). Many of the Florentines most famous paintings were commissioned frescoes in homes and churches. Raphael’s Madonna and Child Enthroned by Saints is painted on wood which is not as stable as canvas for a medium. In Venice, painters were the first to be introduced to the use of oils and they became Italy’s first masters of this new medium. Titian’s Venus and Adonis is an excellent example of the use of oil paints. Oils allowed artists to achieve color and shading that tempera could never match (Saw).

Venetians artists became well known for their use of color in their painting compared to other regions of Italy (Nelson). The use of oil paints was the reason for this attribute. In his Venus and Adonis, Titian is able to capture subtle shading and color as it reacts with the light in the painting. The colors are soft and well blended to achieve a glow of color. In contrast, Raphael’s Madonna and Child Enthroned by Saints uses strong colors and very little shading. The deep reds, blues, and greens are not reacting with the natural sunlight. The use of color is stark and severe (Berenson 3). 

Subject matter and style of painting which are evident in these two paintings were characteristic of the political climate and society’s attitudes in Venice and Florence. Venice had remained peaceful and its government kept citizens busy with their duties. Business and trade flourished in this atmosphere. This allowed artists to express themselves openly in their work (Berenson 10). The Catholic Church did not have as much influence here as it did in Florence. As evident in Venus and Adonis, the subject matter is not religious but based on classical Greek myth. Venus embraces Adonis and their posture is casual. They gaze into each other’s eyes. In contrast, Raphael’s work pays homage to the Catholic Church, which had more influence in Florence. The Madonna, Child, and saints are formally posed. They stand more formally and there is little emotional interaction among the subjects.

The Venetian artists were ahead of the Florentine artists in their desire to depict the classical myths. The motivation for Titian and other Venetian painters was a humanist expression of the classical Greek myths which was encouraged by their patrons (Freedman 12). Florentine painters would remain fixated on religious compositions due to the demand of their patrons (Freedman 12). Venus and Adonis is an excellent example of the humanist movement in Venice. The painting depicts Adonis leaving Venus with his dogs to begin a hunt. The subjects are natural and emotional. The activity is human in nature, Venus imploring her love not to leave her and Adonis firm in his resolve to go hunting. Sunlight pours from the clouds to illuminate the scene in golden light which causes the pastel effects of the colors used and the deft shading. In contrast, the religious composition of Madonna and Child Enthroned by Saints, is extremely formal and religious. Despite the blue sky, there is no natural sunlight illuminating the subjects, instead, the light originates in the Virgin and Child and moves outward. The human form is more stylized and dressed formally. The saints are engaged in worship and prayer. 

The use of space is markedly different in the two works. Titian uses the entire canvas and fills it with both his figures and the background of trees in the forests. The dogs round out the balance of the scene to the right excited to leave for the hunt with Adonis. Cupid balances the left side of the scene, gazing at Venus as her support. The composition of Raphael’s painting is very different in his use of space. The outer part of the painting is framed in black, he does not fill the entire piece with his scene. His controls his space and his subjects. Within the painting itself, the Virgin and the Child are at the center. The saints and angels frame them on the throne. Columns on either side and an arch above contain the painting and define the space.

The differences in the societies of Venice and Florence are responsible for the differences in their artistic output. While both cities were responsible for the development of talented artists and beautiful paintings, the styles and subject matter are very different in many respects. Venice was a city of art, music, business, and trade with the world. This is reflected in the dramatic departures from traditional painting at the time. Florence was a city that was heavily influenced by the Catholic Church and often involved in fighting amongst its powerful families. Religious themes and an austere style of painting is the main characteristic of the work produced there.

Works Cited

Berenson, Bernhard. The Venetian Painters of the Renaissance. Read Books Ltd.: 2013

Freedman, Luba. Classical Myths in Italian Renaissance Painting.  Cambridge University Press: 2013.

Nelson, Lynn. “Italian Renaissance Art.” CARRIE, European University Institute, 9 Jan. 2013. Accessed 26 Sept. 2016.

Raphael. Madonna and Child Enthroned by Saints. Circa 1504, oil and gold on wood, Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York.

Saw, James. “Paint.” 2D Design Notes. n.d.  Accessed 26 Sept. 2016.

Titian. Venus and Adonis. Circa 1550, oil on canvas, Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York.

“Venetian Painting.” Encyclopedia of Art History, n.d. Accessed 26 Sept. 2016.