Venus of Urbino by Titian
Interpretation, Analysis of Venetian Renaissance Female Nude Portrait Painting

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Venus of Urbino by Titian
Venus of Urbino (detail)
By Tiziano Vecellio (Titian).
Regarded as one of the
Greatest Paintings Ever.

Venus of Urbino (1538)


Interpretation of Venus of Urbino
Other Famous Paintings by Titian


Artist: Titian (c.1488–1576)
Medium: Oil painting on canvas
Genre: Portrait art - one of the most famous female nudes in art history
Movement: School of Venetian Painting
Location: Uffizi Gallery, Florence.

For explanations of other pictures, see: Famous Paintings Analyzed.

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Venetian Renaissance
painters like Titian, see
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Interpretation of Venus of Urbino

One of the greatest Renaissance paintings of a mythological nature, the life-size Venus of Urbino remains the iconic version of the reclining female nude, and a treasure of the Venetian High Renaissance. Painted by Titian, the picture was based on the earlier work The Sleeping Venus (1510, Alte Meister, Dresden) by Giorgione (1477-1510), a close friend of the artist. Titian's exceptional talent, his bold depiction of female sensuality, and his status as the leading Venetian painter of the cinquecento, is why this picture is often cited as the origin of many of Western art's most controversial images - including, for instance, The Nude Maja (c.1797) by Goya, as well as Olympia (1863, Musee d'Orsay) by Edouard Manet - and is considered to be the original precursor to the pin-up.




Titian painted this picture for the Duke of Camerino Guidobaldo della Rovere (1514-74), who later became the Duke of Urbino, possibly to celebrate his 1534 marriage to Giuliana Varano. It shows a nude young woman, reclining on a bed in the opulent surroundings of a Renaissance palace. Although the pose of the subject, identified as Venus, recalls that of Giorgione's outdoor Sleeping Venus (which the young Titian had allegedly completed after Giorgione's death) the intent behind it - as well as its detailed execution - is quite different. Titian has relocated Venus to an intimate, indoor setting, and made her look directly at the viewer - lending her a coquettish air in the process. Where Giorgione's nude is idealized, unattainable and almost demure, Titian's is both available and deliberately tempting. Indeed, the directness of Venus's expression is unmistakable: she stares directly at the viewer, quite unfazed about her nudity.


Despite her erotic air, however, Titian's Venus is no courtesan, and the painting is not a subtle promotion of casual infidelity. On the contrary, given that it was painted to commemorate Guidobaldo's marriage, it is almost certainly celebrating marital love and the physical intimacy between man and wife, a supposition supported by a number of details. In her right hand, for instance, the girl holds a posy of roses, which usually symbolize love; also, the sleeping dog is a common symbol of fidelity; lastly, the maids in the background are depicted rummaging in a traditional cassone, where wives commonly stored their trousseaux. Perhaps the picture was conceived as an ideal model of behaviour for Giuliana, the Duke's young bride. It was certainly not uncommon for pictures of an explicitly erotic nature to be commissioned to celebrate a wedding, although they would be intended for private viewing only.

Painterly Technique

The Venus of Urbino is full of artistic devices. To begin with, Titian achieves a beautiful contrast between the voluptuous curves of the girl's body and the vertical and horizontal lines of the dividing screen, floor tiles and other architectural elements. In addition, the play of light on the girl's body and Titian's delicate chiaroscuro lends a sculptural quality to her figure, and also enhances the silky drapery of the bed sheets. The floor tiles provide extra linear perspective, while the floral patterns of the couch, cassoni, and background tapestry - in conjunction with the rich colour pigments of the screen and the maid's costume - help to unify and activate the composition.

Tiziano Vecellio

By the time he executed this work, Titian was established as the leading master of Renaissance art in Venice. Above all, he was known for his remarkable use of colour, and his works - which spanned all the major genres, including church altarpieces, mythological painting, portrait art, and pastoral landscape - were increasingly sought after by members of Italian Royal Houses. He went on to become recognized as a genius in his own time, and has since been revered by such Old Masters as Anthony Van Dyck (1599-1641), Nicolas Poussin (1594-1665), Rubens (1577-1640) and Velazquez (1599-1660). In many subjects and painting genres he set patterns that were copied by generations of painters, especially in portraiture. Unfortunately, his talent as an artist was not matched by his generosity of spirit: he became notorious for his greed and miserliness.



Other Famous Paintings by Titian

Among his many other masterpieces of history painting, portraiture and altarpieces, are the following:

Portrait of a Man (1512) oil on canvas, National Gallery, London.
Assumption of the Virgin (1516-18) S. Maria Gloriosa dei Frari, Venice.
The Madonna of the Pesaro Family (1519-26) S. Maria Gloriosa dei Frari.
Bacchus and Ariadne (1522) National Gallery, London.
The Bacchanal of the Andrians (1523-4) Prado, Madrid.
Man With a Glove (1525) Louvre, Paris.
The Man with the Blue-Green Eyes (The Young Englishman) (1540-5)
Pope Paul III with his Grandsons (1546) Museo Nazionale di Capodimonte.
Portrait of Emperor Charles V Seated (1548) Alte Pinakothek, Munich.
Venus and Adonis (1553) Prado Museum, Madrid.
The Rape of Europa (1559-62) Isabella Stewart Gardener Museum, Boston.

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