In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Titian

  • Introduction
  • Primary Sources
  • Serials, Catalogue Raisonnés, and Reference Resources
  • Monographs
  • Collections of Essays
  • Titian in Context
  • Portraiture
  • Religious Works
  • Erotic Works, Images of Women, and Gender Issues
  • Later Works
  • Pictorial Technique
  • Patronage
  • Drawings and Prints
  • Workshop Practices
  • Personality, Family, and Early Biographies
  • Critical Reception and Artistic Influence

Renaissance and Reformation Titian
Tom Nichols, Rose Z. King
  • LAST REVIEWED: 24 February 2021
  • LAST MODIFIED: 24 February 2021
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195399301-0128


Titian (Tiziano Vecellio, b. c. 1488–d. 1576) was born in the remote mountain village of Pieve di Cadore but worked in Venice. He quickly became the dominant painter in the city, and by the end of his long career he was the most famous and wealthiest artist in Europe. His oil paintings (particularly his portraits) were much loved and sought after by courtly and aristocratic patrons in many countries and had a major impact on leading Baroque painters, such as Peter Paul Rubens, Anthony Van Dyck, and Diego Velasquez. On a critical level, however, idealist art theorists considered them too naturalistic and thus as less perfect in design (disegno) than Italian works from Florence and Rome. It was only toward the end of the 18th century, as cultural values shifted, that Titian’s paintings began to be taken seriously again as works of art. Under the impact of Romanticism and then modernism, Titian’s works were rapidly rehabilitated, their intense naturalism and masterly freedom of brushwork serving as a model for the newly individualistic cultural values. Interest in every aspect of Titian’s life and work quickly burgeoned: archival documents were gathered and published, and a newly historical image of Titian emerged. From the mid-20th century onward, attention shifted from a presiding concern with artistic form toward context, with new attention paid to Titian’s patterns of patronage; to his subject matter (literary and philosophical sources), materials, and techniques; and to the audience and critical reception of his paintings. More recently still scholars have intensified this kind of contextual understanding, focusing less on Titian as an individual genius and more on his place within wider cultural webs of material practice and meaning.

Primary Sources

The contemporary accounts of Lodovico Dolce (Roskill 2000) and Vasari 1966–1987, first published in 1557 and 1568, respectively, are of major importance for our basic understanding of Titian’s career. Written when the painter was still alive and probably based on his own testimony, these accounts are more reliable than Ridolfi 1914–1924 and Boschini 1966, published in the following century. Historical inaccuracies and polemical distortions are present in all of these early accounts, but they nonetheless generate a broad picture of the character of Titian’s art and supply much important documentary and anecdotal information regarding individual paintings and commissions. Reading should be supplemented by attention to the many letters about Titian and his paintings written by the poet Pietro Aretino, the artist’s great friend and supporter in Venice from around 1530 onward (Camesasca 1957–1960). The publication of the correspondence between Titian and the imperial Hapsburg court at Augsburg regarding commissions for paintings (Mancini 1998) makes an important addition to this primary material, as does the more recent publication of Corsato 2019, which offers a number of key writings about Titian by his contemporaries and near contemporaries.

  • Boschini, Marco. La carta del navegar pitoresco: Edizione critica con la Breve Istruzione, premessa alle Ricche Minere della Pittura Veneziana. Edited by Anna Pallucchini. Venice and Rome: Istituto per la Collaborazione Culturale, 1966.

    Originally 1660. Boschini’s Brevi Istruzione includes an important description of the late Titian’s working method, supposedly based on the testimony of a pupil, Palma Giovane. Boschini describes a process that is laborious and precise, for all its painterly freedom. Recent technical evidence suggests that Boschini’s claim that Titian “painted more with his fingers than his brushes” was something more than an exaggeration.

  • Camesasca, Ettore, ed. Lettere sull’arte di Pietro Aretino. 4 vols. Notes by Fidenzio Pertile. Milan: Edizione del Milione, 1957–1960.

    Pietro Aretino’s letters on art include many devoted to the paintings of his close friend Titian. Famous examples are the poet’s learned ekphrastic description of the lost St. Peter Martyr altarpiece and his romantic description of a sunset over the Grand Canal as if it had been painted by Titian.

  • Corsato, Carlo, ed. Lives of Titian. Translated by Carlo Corsato and Frank Dabell. Los Angeles: J. Paul Getty Museum, 2019.

    Contains English translations, some new, of important biographical accounts and personal letters by Titian’s contemporaries, including Giorgio Vasari, Sperone Speroni, Ludovico Dolce, Pietro Aretino, and Francesco Priscianese. These documents detail Titian’s life, work, and critical reception; volume’s introduction contextualizes these writings. Includes the first English translation of Annibale Carraci’s marginal commentary found in his own copy of Vasari’s Lives (1568), which pointedly challenge Vasari’s appraisal of Titian.

  • Mancini, Matteo. Tiziano e le corti d’Asburgo nei documenti degli archive spagnoli. Venice: Istituto Veneto di Scienze, Lettere ed Arti, 1998.

    An important contribution to the documentary understanding of Titian. Includes new transcriptions of Titian’s correspondence with Charles V and Philip II and the Hapsburg court at Augsburg held in Spanish archives.

  • Ridolfi, Carlo. Le Maraviglie dell’arte (1648). 2 vols. Edited by Detlev von Hadeln. Berlin: G. Grote, 1914–1924.

    Originally 1648. The Venetian patriot Ridolfi actually draws much on Giorgio Vasari in his own “Life of Titian” (see Vasari 1966–1987). His “Life” is, however, less accurate and includes some information he may have invented (e.g., his account of the exequies that followed Titian’s death).

  • Roskill, Mark W. Dolce’s Aretino and Venetian Art Theory of the Cinquecento. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2000.

    First published in 1968. Parallel text edition, with full critical apparatus, of Lodovico Dolce’s Dialogo della Pittura (Venice, 1557). Features “Aretino” praising Titian’s paintings in conversation with a Florentine who supports Michelangelo. Written as a repost to Giorgio Vasari’s initial omission of a “Life of Titian” from his Lives (see Vasari 1966–1987).

  • Vasari, Giorgio. Le vite de’piu eccellenti pittori scultori e architettori. Vol. 6. Edited by Rosanna Bettarini. Annotated by Paola Barocchi. Florence, Italy: SPES, 1966–1987.

    Vasari’s “Life of Titian” of 1568 has long provided the cornerstone for any serious study of the painter’s work. Despite polemical passages criticizing Titian’s colorism and some mistakes in the chronology of his work, Vasari’s “Life” is more accurate in terms of its attributions and information on Titian’s career than other sources, such as Ridolfi 1914–1924. His information was probably based on a visit to the painter’s studio in 1566.

back to top

Users without a subscription are not able to see the full content on this page. Please subscribe or login.

How to Subscribe

Oxford Bibliographies Online is available by subscription and perpetual access to institutions. For more information or to contact an Oxford Sales Representative click here.