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Sarah Szabo

Raphael and Titian

May 1, 2013



            Raphael and Titian were central figures of the High and, for Titian, late Renaissance, who, in complementary ways, brought a visionary level of expressive possibility to art. Though they are born closely in time, there are significant differences in their respective spheres of influence, aesthetic sensibilities, and conceptual aims. The cultural differences between central Italy (Florence and Rome) and Northern Italy (mainly Venice) are essential the understanding of their personal artistic development. It is important to remember, though, that there was much communication between Northern and Central Italy, and each exerted influence on the other. This sharing of knowledge and ideas lies at the heart of the artistic climate in the Renaissance. Without the desire for knowledge outside of their hometown, the openness to new ideas, and the dedication to pushing the possibilities of artistic solutions, they would not have become the artists they did. These characteristics are evident in how drastically their styles evolved through the course of their lifetimes. By examining how Raphael and Titian synthesized various influences throughout their lifetimes, one can more deeply understand how, through their innovations, they revolutionized the art of their time, igniting the course of Western Art.  I will chronologically review their lives, mentioning specific works, to give a context in which the evolution of their work can be understood. I will then analyze the influences of the places in which they lived, which relates to the ideas they were exposed to, and the artists they encountered. Next, I will  describe the artistic problems that were dealt with through different technical approaches, comparing and contrasting the effects of their different processes, concluding with how they used their technique to charge painting with new meaning and endless possibilities.

            Raphael was born in the mountain town of Urbino, southeast of Florence, his father, Giovanni Santi, a painter for the provincial court. Though Raphael was orphaned at age 11, his father set the artistic foundation from which Raphael continued. He would have learned about the leading artists of the time through his father's praise, and by viewing various works left in Urbino. He must have also met a variety of leading artists, as they would visit his father when passing through Urbino. Raphael trained in Urbino with a local artist, possibly a friend of his father's, until he was 18, when he began working with Pietro Perugino, who was considered the leading artist in central Italy. By age 21, it is said Raphael's work had become almost indistinguishable from Perugino's, showing strong promise at a young age. [1] To quote Vasari in Lives of the Artists, “Here he did a panel in S. Agostino in that style, and a Crucifixion in S. Domenico, which, if not signed with Raphael's name, would be taken by everyone to be a work of Perugino. [2]

            In 1504, Raphael moved to Florence, where the intellectual and artistic environment stimulated much change and growth in his personal style. He became exposed to a wide variety of traditions. Of particularly strong influence was the work of Leonardo Da Vinci, who was in Florence at the time. This can be seen in his portraiture, drawings, triangular composition of figures. Leonardo's softness of form and sensuality in expression is particularly evident in La Belle Jardinere, 1507-8.  Although not as obvious, he was also influenced by Michelangelo and artists of the older tradition, including Lorenzo di Credi, Piero di Cosimo, and Botticelli. [3] His figures in composition become more dynamic classical in their form and his color becomes much more subtle. In 1505, Raphael listed various cities in which he might be found, one being Venice. Although, at this time, he does not have the same degree of interest in light as Venetians acquired after Bellini, a visit to Venice would explain his use of background landscape elements unlike that seen around Florence, as well as a heightened awareness to the use of landscape in Venetian painting. [4]

            Raphael obtained patronage from Pope Julius II, who was asserting the most ambitious effort to artistically reform Rome of any pope. And so, in 1508, Raphael, along with many other artists, came to Rome. As with Florence, the change of location was significant to Raphael's artistic development. It was here that he really embraced the classical ideas of the Renaissance, while incorporating more dynamic movement and fluidity through composition, increased drama in narrative, and a greater attention to color and tonal unity. The majestic ancient ruins of Rome were very impressive to Raphael, unlike anything he had seen before. The scale and feeling of closeness to antiquity recast his vision. He was also profoundly affected by his viewing of Michelangelo's Sistine ceiling. It was during this time that the work of Michelangelo became increasingly significant for Raphael. Raphael's first major commission was in the Stanza della Segnatura, where he painted Disputa, The School of Athens, and Parnassus. These frescoes represents the development in Raphael's style that is now often thought of as defining the standard for classic art in the Renaissance-- a harmony of parts, clarity of composition, classical expression in the figures, the incorporation of classical architecture, and a limited palette. [5] The complex movement of the figures exemplifies his attention to drawing, which was considered even more important than color in central Italy and the classical Renaissance.  After the success of Stanza della Segnatura, he was given a nearby room, where he completed frescoes showing further experimentation. The Expulsion of Heliodorus from the Temple shows strong movement and a greater variation in tone through the form of the architecture. The Liberation of Saint Peter from Prison shows experimentation with light sources, and the interiors of The Mass of Bolsena and The Repulse of Attila by Leo the Great show a heightened interest and understanding in architecture [6]. This period, from 1508 to the death of Julius in 1513, is known as Raphael's “early Roman” or “Julian” period. It is during this time that he became recognized as Rome's leading painter.

            In 1513, Pope Julius II died, to be replaced by Leo X. Fortunately, Leo X was also a strong supporter of the arts and so Raphael continued to receive commissions.  This period became known as the second Roman, or Leonine period. This period marked a shift in style, which continued to evolve and expand and he strove for new artistic solutions. It was at this time that Leonardo Da Vinci came to Rome. It is likely that they were in correspondence, and Leonardo's particular interest in light was of inspiration to Raphael, breaking the 5 year period of his main influence being Michelangelo. He also became increasingly interested in complex architectural combinations. This is not surprising, as, after the death of Bramante, Leo X appointed him as chief architect for the building of the new Church of St. Peter's, and, in 1515, as director of antiquities, mainly in charge of preserving antique marble scriptures. [7] As he progressed, as can be seen in The Way to Calvary and Portrait of Leo X, he more deeply explored a range of “visual, physical, and emotional” experiences through a variety of techniques and languages, creating inventive solutions to convey particular subjects and experiences. [8]

This is also exemplified in his Portrait of Baldassacre Castiglione, 1515. Admirable qualities in a Renaissance Man--“grace, seriousness, penetrating intellect, a balanced temperament, bridled self control” can all be felt through this portrait. [9] There is also restraint in the way it is painted, though the limited palette and neutralized tones, reminiscent of Leonardo. The technique also seems to draw influence from Flemish technique in it's careful application and attention to detail. The techniques of painting reflect the content of the subject. Unfortunately, Raphael died very young, at age 26.

            This continues into his last work, The Transfiguration. The Way to Calvary, 1516-17, which I will discuss at length because it fully employs Raphael's interest in altering style based on the subject to bring a greater sense of meaning and powerful impact to his paintings. The painting shows a struggling boy on the right, who has been possessed by a demon.The Apostles are trying to help him, but are unable and there is a lot of struggle. In the sky, christ has appeared and is about to help him. In the lower half, the figures are painted with chirascuro-- strong, sharp, contrasts of dark and light, created through the use of added black and white (first suggested by Alberti in his Della Pictura, a manual written in 1435 that was very influential in the departure from the Early Renaissance style), to create a heightened sense of drama and the earthly. His use of chiarscuro here differs from the suggestion of Alberti, though, because he uses intense color in the mid tone, where Alberti would have suggested to tone down all colors for greater realism. This intense color is created through glazing of various pure hues, a technique taken from Flemish painting, particularly that of Van Eyck. Another technique Raphael uses is a sense of varied light within the figures that gives a feeling of flickering and breaking of the planes. This intensifies the drama through the movement of contrast, and because it gives the feeling that the figures are toppling over each other, bringing that drama to another dimension, which becomes a reality in the viewer's mind. The idea of flickering light was probably influenced by the Leonardo Da Vinci and the attention to light in Venetian painting. In the top half of the image, meant to show the heavenly, he varies his technique to the “unione” style, which he is invented. “Unione” is characterized by a preserved chromacity in the color (a midway saturation, not too greyed but not completely saturated), a unity of color by considering it in composition, but also by maintaining a limited tonal range. He also uses some “cangiantismo,” a technique of Michelangelo, where the lights are articulated by a contrasting, paler color, the midtones have a darker color but less white, and the darkest areas are represented with the pure color. This style takes influence from early Renaissance Art, as seen in the Cinnini system. At that time, the concern was more on creating and otherworldy image, rather than with realism. This is appropriate to use higher in the painting, as it is in this area that the supernatural event it occurring.[10]

            Venice differed from Florence and Rome in that, due to it's geographical position, it was a center of trade, creating a culture rich with outside influences. Perhaps partially do to the strong connection with the east and Byzantine art, Venetian art did not change much in the earlier parts of the Renaissance. Giovanni Bellini is recognized as the central figure in moving Venice towards it's period of High Renaissance. Giovanni Bellini internalized the technical innovations of a particular selection of artists, including Mantegna and Donatello from nearby Padua, and the Flemish inspired style of Antonello da Messina from Silicy, who spent some time in Venice.[11] In the mid 1470's Bellini gradually transitioned to oil painting, pioneering the technique in Venice.  Bellini pioneered oil painting in Venice, referencing the glazing techniques of Van Eck, which lent itself to creating a luminosity from within. Bellini accomplished this by working with a white gessoed ground, applying highlights and midtones with a paler color, mixed with white, accordingly. The shadows were then painted with thin layers (glaze), creating deep, intense color without disrupting the tonal unity of the painting. Without having to add black, the intensity and luminosity were maintained.  Bellini studied the effects of different atmospheres and times of day on the landscape, initiating an interest in creating a sense of time in imagery, particularly through the use of light and color, which oil paint was particularly good for capturing.[12] Bellini's study of light and color through landscape was an important step in the Venetian aesthetic to come, particularly manifested in the paintings of Titian.

            Titian was born in a town North of Venice, but, showing artistic promise, moved to Venice at Age 10. According to Giorgio Vasari in his Lives of the Artists, 1568, he first apprenticed to Giovanni Bellini, and then to Giorgione. According to Dolce's Arentino, 1557, he  first was apprenticed with a medicore painter, who he left to work for Gentile Bellini, then, recognizing Gentile's brother, Giovanni, as being more talented, asked to work for him. Then, seeing Giorgione as being more progressive in his style, decided on working for Giorgione instead. Giorgione had developed a new genre of painting, meant to rival poetry. It had secular subjects, and a soft, atmospheric style, creating a dreamy mood. This soft, atmospheric quality was very characteristic of the climate in Venice, where the climate is more atmospheric due to the heavier, humid area, which creates more clouds and subtle variations in light. The subject matter of Giorgione was highly influenced by the revival of ancient pastoral poetry in Venice--Theocritus' Idylls from Greece and Virgil's Eclogues from Rome. A contemporary poet also wrote such poetry, published as Arcadia. In this story, a poet escapes urban life to find solace in nature, where he encounters shephards, nymphs, and satyrs. Giorgione's most famous painting, Tempesta is a good example of the subject matter, atmospheric, and mood of his paintings. It has an approaching storm with casually posed figures. The carefree mood of the figures, at distance from the city, can be later be seen in many of Titian's paintings. Giorgione's processs was also significantly different from that of central Italy. He did very little drawing, and most of it was on the canvas. In Central Italy, a detailed study would always be done beforehand, and carefully transferred to the canvas. Giorgione composed mostly with paint on canvas. He laid in large areas first, then placed figures on top, composing with the paint as he went, opposed to a following a prior detailed drawing. Forms would be adjusted as he went, and color was considered above drawing. [13] In his younger years, Titian embodied much of Giorgione's techniques and ideas, however, Titian had more interest in making meanings clear, while Giorgione would often leave the meaning rather ambiguous.

            Titian's Fete Champetre of 1510, one of Titian's earlier works, shows the influence of Giorgione, Bellini, Leonardo Da Vinci, and the glazing techniques of Van Eyck. The painting shows the escape from daily life to a somewhat mysterious, utopia of nature, with nymphs among men dressed as if from the city, highly referencing Giorgione and pastoral poetry. Influence from Leonardo is felt in its soft light, blending of figures with environment, and limited tonal range, except for in the red velvet shirt of lute player. The tone of the shirt, however, is reflected throughout the field, trees, and sky, which helps it remain unified. It is also felt in the overall sensuality of the image, created through the poses, lighting, and subject matter. This sensuality becomes a defining characteristic of Venetian Renaissance art. [14] The harmonious overall tonality also gives a feeling of harmony in mood.

This overall tone, as practiced in Venice, is referred to as “Tonal Painting.” The continuity of tones is more important than balanced local color. Blending of color between forms would unite them, departing from the linear concept of drawing, so important in Central Italy. Sometimes different glazes  would be applied next to each other, with a softened transition between them creating an increasingly complex surface. At first, color was still never mixed, as this had been traditionally forbidden, referred to as broken color. This became the standard technique for Venetian painting. The other techniques as used by Raphael, particularly Michelangelo's cangiantismo and harsh chiarscuro were not used. Titian did not practice true tonal painting until his late work, as he preferred to maintain the original color of draperies, as practiced in Central Italy. If it was true tonal painting, the color would be relative, not based on what color an object is known to be.

            As with Raphael, Titian became increasingly experimental in his later work, though Raphael died at age 26, and Titian lived to be very old. His brushwork became much looser, making use of the roughness of the canvas. The texture of the canvas affected how the layered color would show through. Textures would show through more when the surface was not smooth. He would play with the layering of pigments in new ways, as even opaque pigments would not completely hide what was underneath. He would also leave some brushstrokes unblended, referencing how Michelangelo would leave some remnants of his chiseling to bring contrast in texture. This would more strongly convey passion and sensuality. Another technique he started using was to layer unblended dabs of paint (macchie) placed next to each other, that merge in the mind of the viewer., as exploited later in Pointilism. Having to put the image together more in one's own mind engages the viewer to be involved with the painting in a more active way. [15] He also started to blend colors, which further created the feeling of softness and unity.

            A very good example of Titian's later work is  Danae visited by the Shower of Gold, 1553, particularly the second version. In the myth it represents, Danae is being visited by Jupiter as a cloud, as to impregnate her. He alters it by making the cloud filled with gold. The changes he makes from the first, done in 1545-6, and the second show his evolution in creating a painting that communications more powerfully, through composition, pose, and by usign the application of paint to convey the meaning. In the second version, he changes the position of the woman's legs. They are brought closer to the body,  implying she is actively engaged in receiving the cloud of gold, opposed to passively accepting it. The energy of Danae's pose invites the viewer to also be more stimulated in response to the painting. The cupid on the right side is replaced with an old woman attempting to catch the gold for herself. The idea of contrapposto as contrast essential to the painting. The old woman is contrasted with Danae in pose, viewed from the back instead of the front, in the lack of beauty, lack of wealth, emphasized by raggity clothing, and in the dark, neutralized color, opposed to the golden colors used in the triangular created composed of the cloud of gold and Danae. Even the cloud turns dark above the old woman. The application of the paint further emphasis this contrast. Danae is painted smoothly, with gradual transitions in modeling, while the old woman is painted with harsh, angular, unblended, brushstrokes. This more energetic brushstroke is also used in the cloud with heavy impasto. The brushstroke and the light of the cloud give the feeling of a motion in time, further prompting an emotional response in the viewer, appropriate to the sensual subject matter. [16] p. 228-30


            In conclusion, the environments in which these two artists developed had tremendous influence on the different styles of their paintings. Raphael's paintings tended to reference reason and intellect in their formal elements, with more emphasis on drawing as can be seen in his harsher edges, stronger emphasis on geometry in composition, and in the use of architecture. However, more so then Michelangelo, he was in touch with the sensual. He included landscape of much of his work, as well as clouds, but it was not atmospheric to the extent that Titian's were. Although the main common influence was definitely Leonardo, it is safe to assume they were looking at each other. It is highly likely that Titian was looking at prints of Raphael's work at a young age, and although Raphael died while Titian was still developing, it is difficult to say how much he was of influence, but the emphasis of light, landscape, and mood as developed by Bellini and Giorgione certainly was certainly in mind. The openness towards experimentation, especially apparently in the later work of Raphael and Titian led them to make technical decisions based on the particular subject matter, bringing another dimension to the the concept of painting. Though form and composition, application of paint, and different methods and techniques in the use light and color, they are able to create paintings that convey the subject in such a way that engages the viewer, bringing them to a heightened plane of being. By experimenting with different artistic solutions, and consciously altering the style of painting based on the kind of subject, they embodied innovation within the idea of progress, which had been so central to the Renaissance. Progress arises from the synthesis of external influences and personal innovation. The idea of personal innovation, especially in the arts, is very important because it is essential to the change that occurred in the Renaissance in how people viewed themselves as individuals. Through a new level of innovation, they further pushed the artist's role as an intellectual individual, bringing radical new possibilities in how painting could embody intellectual as well as emotional exploration.




Beck, James H. Raphael. New York: Harry N. Abrams, Inc., 1976.

Berrie, Barbara H. and Louisa C. Matthew, “Venetian 'Colore': Artists at the Intersection of Technology and History,” in Bellini, Giorgione, Titian, and the Renaissance of Venetian Painting, 301-310. Vienna, Washington and New Haven: Vienna Kunthistoriches Museum and National Gallery of Art in association with Yale Univesity Press, 2006.

Brown, David Alan. “Venetian Painting and the Invention of Art,” in Bellini, Giorgione, Titian, and the Renaissance of Venetian Painting, 15-38. Vienna, Washington and New Haven: Vienna Kunthistoriches Museum and National Gallery of Art in association with Yale Univesity Press, 2006.

Hall, Marcia. Color and Meaning, Practice and Theory in Renaissance Painting. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1992.

Pignatti, Terisio. “Abbozzi and Ricordi: New Observations on Titian's Technique,” in Titian 500,  edited by Joseph Manca, 73-84. Washington: National Gallery of Art, 1993.



[1]      James Beck, Raphael (New York: Harry N. Abrams, Inc., 1976), 10-13.

[2]   Giorgio Vasari, Lives of the Artist, 1550

[3]   James Beck, Raphael (New York: Harry N. Abrams, Inc., 1976), 20.

[4]   James Beck, Raphael (New York: Harry N. Abrams, Inc., 1976), 23.

[5]      James Beck, Raphael (New York: Harry N. Abrams, Inc., 1976), 26.

[6]   James Beck, Raphael (New York: Harry N. Abrams, Inc., 1976), 29.

[7]      James Beck, Raphael (New York: Harry N. Abrams, Inc., 1976), 35.

[8]   James Beck, Raphael (New York: Harry N. Abrams, Inc., 1976), 47.

[9]   James Beck, Raphael (New York: Harry N. Abrams, Inc., 1976), 160.

[10]           Marcia Hall, Color and Meaning, Practice and Theory in Renaissance Painting (New York: Cambridge University Press, 1992) 131.

[11]    David Alan Brown, “Venetian Painting and the Invention of Art,” in Bellini, Giorgione, Titian, and the Renaissance of Venetian Painting (Vienna, Washington and New Haven: Vienna Kunthistoriches Museum and National Gallery of Art in association with Yale Univesity Press, 2006), 17.

[12]         Marcia Hall, Color and Meaning, Practice and Theory in Renaissance Painting (New York: Cambridge University Press, 1992), 199.

[13]         Marcia Hall, Color and Meaning, Practice and Theory in Renaissance Painting (New York: Cambridge University Press, 1992), 210.

[14]    Marcia Hall, Color and Meaning, Practice and Theory in Renaissance Painting (New York: Cambridge University Press, 1992) 202-203.

[15]         Marcia Hall, Color and Meaning, Practice and Theory in Renaissance Painting. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1992.

[16] Marcia Hall, Color and Meaning, Practice and Theory in Renaissance Painting (New York: Cambridge University Press, 1992). 228-30.

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