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Tiziano Vecellio, famously known as Titian, was the 16th century’s greatest Venetian artist. Above all, Titian is famous for the remarkable way in which he used color in his paintings. Titian’s painterly approaches become highly influential throughout the sixteenth and the beginning of the seventeenth centuries. He greatly contributed to all Renaissance art’s major areas, including painting, mythologies, and portraits among others. Moreover, he influenced the manner and style of painting of artists who lived later. One of such painters was Peter Paul Rubens.
Peter Paul Rubens was the most famous painter of the Baroque epoch, who lived during the years 1577-1640. In addition, Ruben was well-known as a diplomat and a scholar who spoke as well as wrote French, Latin, German, and Spanish along with his native Flemish. His famous paintings were best assessed within the political and social context that gave rise to the Baroque style. Classically trained, he devoted his time to reproducing Italian masters in his paintings and sketches, thus creating his artwork for private citizens, the church, and nobility. Just like other famous painters who were in great demand at that time, Rubens owned a massive workshop that had notable assistants such as Jan Brueghel and Anthony Van Dyck. The term ‘Rubenesque’ was used to describe his voluptuous, plump, and ample–bodied women. Such a Rubenesque woman can be seen in his paintings known as Venus and Adonis.
Both artists have used the theme of Venus and Adonis in their paintings. Titian’s version of the theme was the inspiration for Rubens’ work. Titian depicts Venus as a victim of love, unlike Rubens, who views her as the object of love. Even though Titian and Rubens’ paintings have a similar title and represent the same moment in time, their versions of Venus and Adonis are slightly dissimilar because were made using different characteristics and methods that best suited that particular period.
Background of the Theme
The story of these famous paintings is recounted in Ovid’s Metamorphoses. In Ovid’s account, one of the cupid’s arrows accidentally wounds Venus, and she falls in love with Adonis, a handsome hunter. Venus forgets her divide duties and descents to earth so that she can be with him. In order for her to please her younger lover, the goddess decides to take up hunting and pursue a harmless prey. She warns Adonis regarding the peril that could befall the huner. Adonis is careless of her waning and when the goddess goes back to her realm, a wild boar slays him.
Titian creation of Venus and Adonis was during the Late Renaissance period in 1570. On the contrary, Rubens’ version was created during the Flemish Baroque style period in mid to late 1630s. Titian created the Venus and Adonis painting using a canvas that measured 42 1/16 x 53 9/16 in (106.8 x 136 cm). The artist has located the main figures in the center while the supporting figures enclose them. The supporting figures that Titian has used are a tree on the left and a dog on the right. The secondary figure plays an essential role in the painting of conveying the composition to the canvas’ borders. In addition, the manner in which Titian has placed Venus’ body constructs a strong diagonal stretching to the top right from the lower left of the painting’s composition. Titian’s painting shows a limited sense of depth. However, it has a clearly defined background and foreground. The accurate modeling of the figures in the painting creates a very strong three-dimensional space. The accuracy of the figures’ details shows Titian’s skills in handling of this material. From the painting, it is evident that the artist handled the figures more carefully than the background images, but they have a similar quality.
Titian’s loose and energetic stroke of paint gives the painting a sense of movement and spontaneity. The artist used his fingers to paint in some areas such as Adonis’ arm. The dynamism springs of the composition due to the torsion that the awkward pose of Venus causes. It was an inspiration from an ancient sculptural relief. Titian used rich colors, lush landscape, and shimmering highlights to make the painting’s evocative and poignant mood. He created this piece by handling the brushes smoothly. Brushstrokes appear more on the background that on the figures. The background of the painting consists of saturated greens and a warm golden brown color. Titian has framed the pale blue sky with illumination and warm rainbow. A deep red shade sprawls under Venus while the other tones wrap around the figure and move upwards to the illuminated sky. The illumination from above the heavens shines downwards from the composition’s top right corner. Titian has also given a strong glow to the figures that makes them stand out from the dark background. The diagonal that Venus’ body position has formed divides the color of the painting. On the right side, there is bright, warm light, whereas, on the left side, there is darkness left. Titan considered color a highly sophisticated complement in his paintings. Finally, Venus sits on a red piece of cloth. Titian could have used this to depict her aggression and strength.
Rubens’ Venus and Adonis painting was influenced by Titian’s painting which he saw when he visited Madrid and copied it in 1628-1629. However, overall, Rubens’ painting design in both mood and composition is more similar to the engraving made by Crispijn de Passe, a printmaker. There is a possibility that Rubens based his painting of Venus and Adonis on an ancient relief figure or stature holding a spear.
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Rubens’ painting of Venus and Adonis is different from Titian’s one in a number of aspects. Ruben used oil on canvas to come up with his paintings, which added strips measured 197.5 x 242.9 cm. In Rubens’ painting, he used an elegiac tone and depicted Adonis as tanned male clothed in a red, dazzling tunic. He depicted Adonis wearing red as a symbol of masculinity. In this painting, the figures are slightly concentrated on the left side of the painting, and much of the right side has been taken up by the image of the tree. Just like in Titian’s case, Rubens used the dog as well as the tree as supporting figures. However, he places the dogs on the left side while the tree is situated on the right. Many of the supporting images can be found in the background, thus, more emphasis is put on the figures in the foreground Rubens placed Venus’ body in a gracefully sitting position, and Adonis body stands out against the luminous sky.
In his painting, Titian reverses the gender roles where he depicts Venus as more masculine than feminine. He depicts her as very hostile and almost aggressive, which is evident from her physical attempt to restrain Adonis. On the other hand, Rubens depicts Venus in a gracious and elegant manner evident from the way she poses gently coaxing Adonis garment from his shoulder while giving him a beseeching glance. The portrait is full of greens colors and shades in both the background and foreground to depict harmony and universal love. Green strikes the eye in a manner that does not require adjustments; therefore, it is restful. Being the most visible color in the painting, it indicates balance, reassurance, and probably the undying love that both Venus and Adonis feel for each other.